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Why we’ll all work like Uber soon
When I recently attended a dinner party, I was struck by the observation that of the ten people at the table only two had traditional full time “jobs.” Four people were self-employed, two searching for new opportunities and others were pursuing interests, such as writing a book or completing a PhD.
It was the four self-employed people that intrigued me — particularly given the domination of the news cycle by Uber, the ride-sharing technology company. Uber represents more than rides. Its business model is an historic shift in the way we work not seen since the industrial revolution.
The fragmentation of work that the Uber model represents is happening all over the economy as full time jobs are deconstructed and unproductive time is freed.
Take the example of a taxi driver. At certain times, when there is a fare, the cabbie is “employed,” but at other times when there is no fare, the cabbie has down time.
Until now, that down time — the ebb and flow in workflows — was internalized. Its costs were hidden in operational processes. For business, bureaucracy and overhead drive up costs in both dollar terms and time. As a result, it has been relentless in cutting labour costs.
The notion of how we account for time is key. In the Uber model, down time is externalized. This possibility appeals to many people who now have more control over when and how they work.
The Uber model is not entirely new. Hollywood has long operated in this way. Actors, directors, artists — all highly skilled labour — come together for a defined period of time to produce a result. Months — even years — of labour are embodied in the end product, but it is not necessary for the artists to be employed in full-time jobs. Instead, they participate in a project-driven talent marketplace.
Technology is driving this fragmentation of work. Uber is one example, but there are others. Toronto-based entrepreneur Muneeb Mushtaq started Ask for Task as an online marketplace for services. The platform links those seeking work with those offering it. Mushtaq describes it as “Ebay for services.”
Users are called “Taskers” extending the collaborative consumption model to employment. Mushtaq’s app started on university campuses where, not surprisingly, it is a hit with time pressed students seeking to balance studies and work.
No question the demise of the full-time job is a disruptive change, but consider that a “job” is itself relatively new in human experience. The idea of leaving one’s home for a job was unknown before the industrial revolution. The Luddites destroyed machinery found in factories because their traditional home-based weaving was under threat. Unemployment, a product of the Great Depression in the 1930s, was also previously unknown.
Only a generation ago, classic career paths started with an entry-level job, euphemistically in the mail room. Ambitious employees moved up a ladder in a linear manner often working for the same organization throughout their lives. This career path seems strangely old-fashioned in a world of Uber and Ask the Task.
The number of freelance workers in the U.S. grew from 20 million in 2001 to 32 million in 2014. Freelance work now comprises nearly 18 per cent of all American jobs. This trend is expanding explosively across the developed economies.
Daniel Pink predicted this change in Free Agent Nation more than a decade ago. Since its publication in 2002, the illusion of job security has been shattered for most people. Driven by technology, the way we work is undergoing another historic change. We can react like the Luddites or we can embrace it and start transforming our labour market institutions so benefits are tied to people and not full-time jobs.
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Posted with permission.
About the author
Tracey White is a negotiator, mediator and coach who specializes in strategic planning, execution, business operations, and analysis. She combines conceptual business acumen with a focus on metrics and data analysis to support evidence-based decision-making, planning and priority setting. Her strengths include Enterprise Project Management, Workforce Planning and Balanced Scorecard.
Tracey can be reached at tracey.white(at)strategyinaction.ca
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