Management / Rene Carayol: The vibrant and inclusive on-demand economy is no longer just about the geeks

Rene Carayol: The vibrant and inclusive on-demand economy is no longer just about the geeks

During another two weeks of challenging travel, I visited Pune in India, Jeddah in Saudi Arabia, Johannesburg in South Africa and Washington DC in the USA. They could not be more different and my body clock is all over the place.

rene-199x300However, there were some striking similarities between all of them. The first thing we all noticed was the prominence of Uber in all the cities we visited. Not only were many (young) people using the service but we also couldn’t help but notice the rise of the freelance worker in all the places we visited.

A recent visit to Silicon Roundabout, back home here in London, shows that this approach of access to the right talent “on demand”, is starting to take traction. The building we were visiting had many start-ups resident on various floors, but they were in the main thinly staffed. Looks can be misleading, as most had the majority of their workforce working “elsewhere”. Many working from home, but some working on other company’s premises.

In San Francisco, a growing group of entrepreneurs are striving to do the same to services, bringing together computing power with freelance workers to supply luxuries that were once reserved for the wealthy. Uber provides chauffeurs. Handy supplies cleaners. SpoonRocket delivers restaurant meals to your door. Instacart keeps your fridge stocked.

This doesn’t stop at luxury goods. In fact this might be the biggest change in the way we all work for many years. The US Census Bureau in 2012 found that 33 per cent of the US workforce are freelancers (53 million). They will grow to 50 per cent by 2020 – 75 per cent of total US businesses, amounting to 22 million, have no paid employees.

This movement will not go away but, much like the working revolution that the march towards mass production created, it has profound implications for everything – from the organisation of work to the nature of the social contract in a capitalist society.

There are two compelling forces that are accelerating this, and pushing it into ever more parts of the economy. The first is obviously the ubiquitous disruptive technology. Cheaper computing power means a lone creative tied to their Apple Mac can create broadcast-quality videos at a small portion of the huge costs of the Hollywood studios.

But it’s no longer just about the geeks. Complex tasks, such as writing a legal brief, or preparing financial accounts, can now be divided into their small compact modules, and then subcontracted to specialists, who could be working from anywhere in the world.

The other massive driving force is our changing social habits. The world is being further subdivided between those who have money but no time, and those with time but no money.

The vibrant and inclusive nature of the on-demand economy provides a way for enabling these two groups to trade with each other – no matter where they choose to reside.

There was a time when the organisation chose the talent – but increasingly today, the talent is capable and brave enough to choose the organisation.

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