Reopening and Rebuilding Gig-Economy Post COVID-19


The story of the impact of COVID-19 on India’s gig economy—largely dominated by the on-demand sector—is quite interesting. On one hand, we have job losses and reverse-migration and on the other, we hear about isolated yet unparalleled demand for services (Swiggy and Zomato both received their biggest share of orders yet on the New Year’s Eve 2020).

One could conclude that the business model of these organisations allows for a controlled exposure compared to other ODE players, hence, promotes customer confidence. But how does one explain 20-25 per cent recovery for Uber and Ola in August 2020 and INR 135 crore of reduced net losses for PVR in Q3 of FY20 than Q2?

A report by the Boston Consulting Group and the Michael and Susan Dell Foundation might provide some answers. As per the report, the gig economy has the potential to create up to 90 million jobs in India post pandemic. The number is largely derived from the combination of three factors:

A positive sentiment amongst the gig workers: Reportedly, 80 per cent of the gig workers are equally or more likely to take up gig work as compared to before lockdown. This is validated by figures shared by Apna, a professional networking platform for blue and grey collar employees. Approximately, 35 million unique recruiter and candidate interactions happened on their platform since COVID-19 started in March 2020. Further, a commitment of INR 500 crore by the largest aggregators in the space to the proposed social security fund for gig workers has added to the positive sentiment.

Digital infrastructure: The largest players and employment generators in the Indian on-demand space are app-based companies that had the technology edge even before COVID-19. In fact, cost of application and website development and maintenance are one of the top expenses that these businesses incur. The ability to reach their customers without exposing them to grave risks has been a key differentiator for these companies. Introduction of in-app features like delivery partner/driver temperature updates, option for contactless delivery, chef-to-customer packaging badges have been timely moves that will continue to ensure participation.

Innovation by ecosystem enablers to support hybrid models of work: In our constant interactions with clients in the on-demand space over the past year, one thing has been clear—the sector has been pushing hard to rebuild trust with customers in the world that is wary of human contact.

The need of the hour is to strike a balance between reopening slowly and strengthening the existing digital infrastructure to support the hybrid models of interaction with customers. To that end, ecosystem enables like AuthBridge have a big a part to play.

Tenets of Building Trust in the New Age of Work Background verification and credentialing have always been the top two priorities for the gig-economy. The AuthBridge Annual Trend Report 2020 on discrepancy trends observed in the gig-economy confirms why this is so important. 44/1000 candidates misrepresented their information to get a job and 22/1000 candidates had a criminal record.

In the background of this black swan event, the ODE sector must look to adopt a range of pre-built, tech-led solutions that ecosystem enablers have innovated to introduce.

Vaccination verification has emerged as one of the most sought-after solution. With a simple API-integration, aggregators can get the vaccination history of a blue or grey-collar worker who might not have access to their own vaccination certificates due to digital illiteracy.

Moreover, verifying and onboarding vaccinated workers at scale after a monumental workforce shuffle becomes frictionless with this solution.

On-demand players across ride sharing, and personal home services are using this solution as the first step towards getting customers back to their old consumption patterns.

Digital driver’s license verification is an addition to the solid digital infrastructure that minimises risks and facilitates business as usual, especially in essential services and home delivery market. The ability to verify a driver’s license 100 per cent digitally has led to 40 per cent more accuracy for our clients. The AI-powered verification reduces onboarding time for drivers from weeks to days. The solution, coupled with vaccination verification, will enable the ride sharing players to win back lost customers, and drive efficiency.

Database-driven criminal verification

Technologies like data mining, supervised learning, and deep search algorithms look for identity and criminal history matches at a pan-India level and come up with possible matches and a probability score in just a few seconds. Without an informed AI, and following a pre-COVID physical verification process, this search would usually take 36 hours or so. The workforce shuffle to and from the remote parts of the country necessitates that gig players undertake identity and criminal verification of the returned employees. This search can now be carried out 100% digitally in near real time, without exposing customers or vendor partners to any undue health risks.

The Journey Ahead

It is being reported that the gig economy could potentially contribute an incremental 1.25 per cent to India’s GDP. A large part of this growth is expected to be driven by ODE aggregators who are bringing a structure to this economy with tech-led innovation. Affirmative policy action, like the social security fund, and the quick adoption of these policies will go a long way in driving 90 per cent of India’s workforce in the informal sector towards finding viable employment opportunities with tech-based gig players. The possibilities for the sector are exciting.

With the right combination of policy, digital infrastructure and supporting services, the sector can become a growth engine for the country and drive millions of low-wage workers, who have so far been left out of India’s growth story, out of poverty.

Ajay Trehan, Founder & CEO, AuthBridge


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