If we sound like a broken record, please bear with us. COVID-19 has taken the world by storm and in these unprecedented circumstances, digital transformation has become a pressing necessity rather than a long-term aspiration.

Given the changing landscape, the explosion of technological advancements such as digital platforms and marketplaces has contributed to the rise of the gig economy. Many workers turn to perform a gig either in order to supplement their primary income or due to their inability in finding a permanent job during these tumultuous times. The gig economy then became a necessity rather than a convenience.

To find out how the gig economy is faring, and what this means for the region, we spoke to Muna Munirah Wan Nordin, CEO and co-founder of Qwork. This is a Malaysia-based staffing and recruiting platform that empowers talents and businesses to sustainability navigate the gig economy, especially in dynamic and fluid environments. They were recent graduates from the 500 Startups Global Launch accelerator based in Singapore.

Stephanie Ping WORQ

The rise of the flexible workplace according to WORQ

The startup now claims to have a pool of more than 20,000 reliable and trained giggers of whom 30% are skilled giggers. They have served more than 50 companies across industries such as DHL, Lazada, Love Bonito, McDonalds, TBWA\ Group and Sheraton Hotels and Resorts.

How has COVID-19 changed the Malaysian job market?

Since the pandemic, the unemployment rate has been a record high. An estimated 1 million people were laid off or underemployed in 2020 alone. Institutions of higher learning (IHL) have also seen large numbers of students postpone their studies while interns struggle to find placements in the industry. On the bright side, gigs or flexible jobs have become the norm during the pandemic where they act as an income supplement or the primary source of income.

Qwork co-founders Dini (CSO – Left), Mimi (CTO – Middle) & Muna (CEO – Right)

How has the ‘gig’ industry changed from you first started Qwork to now?

Qwork has a unique founding story, my co-founders and I are sisters and we have inherited our father’s production house. We learned very early how to be creative narrators, acquire projects, manage the company and successfully land projects. The exposures have led me to study accounting and finance to leverage my know-how in commerce and management skills. As I took over our father’s company, I soon realised that we had to be sustainable and that the contents we created were not our own.

Working on projects meant that we needed a team of skilled and highly skilled workers during projects and it was not sustainable to keep them employed after. Being part of the community of other small businesses, we learned that this issue is not unique to us alone. The initial idea for Qwork was to solve the OPEX issue for small businesses.

When we first started, the gig economy was a relatively new concept, so we needed to educate employers and job seekers on the advantages of hiring and working on a gig basis. There were issues of trust and legitimacy of Qwork as a gig platform. Workers were worried about their salary while employers might have doubts about our fill rate.

Fast forward to the current situation with the pandemic; everyone is now talking about the gig economy and a growing number of people working in it. We have seen an increase of about 200% growth demand from employers and we have experienced 300% growth in job seekers on our platform. Partners we struggled to sign-up pre-pandemic have come on board as they got more familiar with the gig model and saw how time and cost-effective it is. 

Do you see the impact of COVID-19 in the workplace being permanent?

I do. Experts estimate that the global economic recovery will take about 25 years. Even after herd immunity, the working situation and environment will most likely remain the same.

Based on LinkedIn data, flexibility has become the top priority for the work environment in recent months. At Qwork, we support our giggers to find work wherever and whenever. Flexibility and accessible career paths to well-paying gigs have always been the perks we try to provide on Qwork.

Where do you see the most potential for Qwork in Southeast Asia?

In terms of economic potential, Deloitte stated that the gig economy in South East Asia pre-pandemic is about US$ 6 Trillion. Qwork currently operates in Malaysia and Indonesia but we are continuing to expand geographically. Next year, we are expanding our business to Singapore where the serviceable and obtainable markets have demonstrated robust growth.

The Qwork team in Malaysia

What’s next for Qwork?

As preparation for our expansion to Singapore in 2022, we have recently graduated from the Global Launch accelerator programme from 500 Startups Singapore. This program has helped us unlock Singapore’s market potential.

We’re also improving our app to help giggers and businesses to make the most out of the gig economy. People would jump into the gig economy and need two key things: they will need to make sure that they earn enough and need a safety net built for giggers. At Qwork, those are the things that we are trying to provide.