Ready, Set, GIG!

Covid-19 response demonstrates Brunei’s Readiness for Broadening Gig Economy

It has been more than 90 days since the first case was confirmed in Italy, and the coronavirus world tour has truly shocked the global system.  At one point in March, 3.2 billion people were across the world told to just #stayhome.

Most are rightly focusing on what can be done to curb the spread and save lives, and social distancing has shaken the world of work, 81% of the 3.3 billion world workforce population have all been affected and a scary proportion of businesses aren’t able to operate.

We’ve been keeping an eye on the gig economy, especially locally, because it has become an inspiring scene where out of the chaos, many have found opportunity. We’ve seen entertainment and communication take on a new life online and many businesses close their doors in real life but open them on the internet. And for the gig workers who have been able to leverage digital skills, many have found work amidst these changes, and here’s how.

Foot Traffic to Web Traffic

For gig workers in the time of Covid-19, how heavily you are impacted depends on what sector you work in. Freelancers have lost their jobs as abruptly as most full-time contract workers, but keep in mind that they are likely to be more at risk without the traditional employee benefits.

Worldwide social distancing has led to businesses that rely substantially on foot traffic and social gathering having to let their gig workers go. Without customer turnover and tips, many restaurant and retail workers are now forced to rely on savings, help from family, or government welfare stipends.

For the same reason, drivers on e-hailing and ride-sharing applications like Dart in Brunei, and Go-Jek/Uber/Grab/Lyft internationally, have seen their fares wiped out in countries where free population movement has been ruled out for the time being. The same situation is faced by freelance wedding photo- and video-graphers, event MC’s, DJ’s, performers, sound/lighting technicians, and the list goes on.

However, in Brunei in particular, the old cliche that “necessity is the mother of invention” has rung true, in that many gig workers (either through their own initiative or as a result of Micro, Small, and Medium Enterprise (MSME) leadership decision making) have managed to pivot online.

In the case of Dart drivers, the company has turned to food and essential goods delivery to make up for the lack of fares. GoMamam, a local food delivery upstart, has received a boost in its services. It has employed around 80 part-time drivers and is  pairing freelance driver dispatches with the growing demand for food takeaways.  Meanwhile, event photo- and videographers are now reaching out to companies by offering offline editing services, which has become a stopgap to make up for lost opportunity.

Online Mobilisation

The most important issue is the ability of gig workers and digital upstarts to not fall in the face of the current crisis, and this is directly related to the use of the internet. With so much of the world going online at home — in need of entertainment, human connection, goods and services — opportunity has arisen for those who can successfully leverage the internet.

The fitness industry, has managed to capitalise on the situation by using video-conferencing platforms and applications to deliver fitness classes remotely. To name a few locally, Shine Cycle, Helmi Abdullah Fitness, Hybrid Movement and Reebok Crossfit 673 have all been able to deliver daily home workout classes via video, providing their clients fitness instructions, who in many cases, still pay their monthly membership rates.

Music and tuition schools have similarly made the effort to shift to online instruction in ways that were unprecedented in Brunei, in order to keep the proverbial doors open and lights on. What this signals, more than anything else, is potential. Potential for businesses to keep running, albeit remotely, and also for more people with skills to join the gig economy if they are willing and able to trade goods or services online to a population stuck in their homes.

Collaboration is Key

A major ingredient in maintaining operations of certain gig economy sectors has been the willingness of society to band together and collaborate to keep people at work and the economy ticking over.

As a starting point, what has been important is for the consumers to maintain spending (where they can) to support local industry. Brunei has always had a remarkably strong restaurant culture, and even though restaurants can no longer receive patrons, the community is still willing to order for take out. This has allowed workers in the hospitality sector to keep their jobs, and for the aforementioned delivery drivers to maintain income.

Another recent innovation that has helped the gig economy is the collaboratively built Brunei Community online platform – – which has enabled small local food and artisanal businesses to sell their products online to community members who intend for the goods to be donated and delivered to frontliners as a show of solidarity and goodwill. Innovations such as these are ingenious ways to keep smalltime gig workers going, but are only possible when society and civic groups band together and collaborate to achieve shared goals.

It all begs the following questions:

  • What sectors that are currently down can be moved online, and how can this be achieved?

  • Since lockdown measures have been put in place, what new necessities have appeared for society at home, and how can innovative entrepreneurs and tenacious gig workers turn this chaos into opportunity?

  • With Government sectors having to begin interfacing with citizens online, what growth will we have in eGovernance technology and application?

  • With the abrupt growth in e-Commerce culture and capabilities, will digital sales and operation become the core competency for all enterprise?

  • How will the crisis change the way the global medicine industry uses technology for record-keeping, operation, and research?

  • How should the tourism sector be using the downtime to be preparing for a strong comeback?