How the internet has changed the way we work for the better

In his latest Western Mail column, Matt Southall, Acorn's Managing Director examines how the internet has changed the way we work for the better. 

It is well known that the internet has revolutionised working practices in the last 30 years and one of the main impacts of the digitalisation is that it has created an increasingly mobile workforce, no longer constrained by the need to be office based or the standard 9-5 working day. 

It has meant that flexible working has become normal, allowing more people to work in a way that fits around their lives, instead of simply fitting their lives around their work.

Figures from ONS show that self-employment is on the up with 209,000 more people across the UK self-employed in April 2016, taking the number up to 4.7 million, confirming that people are increasingly attracted to the idea of working on their own terms, giving rise to a new 'gig economy'. 

A gig economy might be better described as a 'sharing' or 'freelance' economy. In a nutshell, it's an environment in which temporary positions are common and organisations increasingly contract freelancers for short-term projects.

Global development 

This is a global evolution, which started in the US during the 2009 financial crisis, when people turned to gig working to make ends meet. Hillary Clinton has described it as 'unleashing innovation' and businesses like Uber, Airbnb and Deliveroo are all forerunners of this new economy.

With the number of people choosing self-employment or temporary jobs increasing, the Recruitment Employment Confederation (REC) recently published its findings into the gig economy. 

As well as looking at the impact on the recruitment industry itself, they have suggested that the benefits perceived by employers are fundamentally financial, meaning where businesses are unwilling or unable to take on full-time staff, they are able instead to hire on a temporary or project basis. They also make savings in terms or resources in the form of employee benefits, office space and training.

Of course, workers too believe that they will benefit. As well as the increased flexibility, they set their own price and might find themselves finding opportunities in a global marketplace.

The downside 

However, there does remain the issue that it is a relatively insecure way of working, which could devalue people's worth and, crucially, mean that many are also missing out on protections people typically receive through more traditional employment.

In fact, it is this last point that is arguably the most crucial. The difference between being an employee and being self-employed means that workers may lose out on access to pensions, sick pay and holidays.

In America, many now believe this to be the case and in the UK there have also been high profile protests at Uber and Deliveroo, where potential changes to contracts have been widely criticised for leaving workers vulnerable.

Unfortunately, for all the obvious positives, the very nature of this economy being largely driven and accessed online means that it is extremely difficult to regulate and monitor.

The gig economy presents both workers and businesses with opportunities and challenges. It is important for everyone to feel that they have a good work-life balance, and from a business perspective, where competitive advantage is ultimately secured through retaining a reliable, talented and loyal workforce, we have to be sure we capture the best people available and work hard to keep them. 

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