Although Uber remains the poster child for the gig economy, driving isn’t the only task handed over to freelancers. In the tech world, a growing number of developers and programmers operate on a gig-by-gig (or even hour-by-hour) basis.
For companies, the benefits of hiring short-term contractors over full-time employees are obvious: you can scale your workforce as needed, pay less money (once you subtract full-timer benefits from the equation), and cherry-pick the skills you need at a particular moment.
For all the benefits of that model, however, there are also some drawbacks. For starters, contractors don’t have the institutional memory of full-time employees, which can lead to problems as they try to integrate into the company’s broader workflow. Second, giving contractors access to top-secret projects and proprietary data is always a potentially risky business, which is why many companies like to handle sensitive tasks (such as certain types of analytics) exclusively in-house.
That being said, here are some key tech areas affected by the gig economy:
Suppose a company is opening a new office. In the old days, you would ship your existing IT staff to that facility to set everything up. Not only is that costly—depending on the office’s location and needs, you might have to fly a lot of people across the country, or even to the other side of the world—but you deprive the rest of the organization of those pros’ expertise while they’re busy getting the new place online.
In theory, freelance sysadmins and other IT administrators can negate some of these issues by swooping in to set up a new office, train employees in the tech, and leaving as soon as the job’s completed.
Design and UX
Smaller tech firms may have all the software-development expertise they need to launch a new app or platform, but lack the design skills necessary to create a polished UX or attractive graphical assets. In those circumstances, bringing in a designer to create those frameworks can prove money well-spent, especially if the company doesn’t want to bring on a designer full-time for a relatively limited amount of work.
Not every developer or software engineer is skilled in every programming language or API. Your shop may specialize in iOS development, meaning you have a deep bench of employees skilled in Objective-C and Swift, but the popularity of your latest app means you need someone who can build an Android app. Rather than hiring a full-time expert in another language, many firms are turning to short-term freelancers to handle these micro-projects.
That’s not to say that using freelancers is always cheaper than full-time workers; if a project’s scope spirals out of control, relying on outside help could actually prove more expensive. With caveats like that in mind, though, recent data from the Freelancer’s Union shows that an increasing number of workers are independent; if you need short-term skills, the help is out there.