Happy Groundhog Day! Ready for a bit of deja vu, all over again? In the spirit of the occasion, I invite you to join me as I rewind the #WorkTrends podcast dial to 2021 for an enlightening interview with a workforce technology expert. Why? Because the topics we explored then are still just as relevant today — remote work, on-demand workers, and what to expect going forward.
Revisiting this conversation can help us gain perspective. It reminds us how far we’ve come over these three eventful years. And, as Winston Churchill once said, “Those that fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it.” So once more with feeling, let’s replay this eye-opening discussion…
Where Do On-Demand Workers Fit In Today’s Labor Scheme?
Driven by the desire for more work-life flexibility, people are increasingly turning to gig work as an important source of income. In fact, just prior to the pandemic, on-demand work had surged to 43%. Now, on-demand workers represent $1 trillion of total U.S. freelancing income.
But this new work landscape hasn’t materialized overnight. It started more than 40 years ago, when the traditional lifetime employment model began to crumble. Since then, various trends have been rewriting modern work experiences and expectations:
All these factors suggest that on-demand work is here to stay. And with 90% of U.S. workers willing to consider an on-demand job either as a full-time or side gig, the labor pool seems to be embracing this shift.
But what does this mean for the future of work? Let’s take a closer look at one expert’s perspective…
The End of Jobs: A Second Look
Early in 2021, I was fortunate to discuss this subject with Jeff Wald, Founder of multiple companies, including Work Market, an enterprise platform for on-demand worker management. Jeff is much more than a successful serial entrepreneur. He is also an avid interpreter of employment trends. In fact, after ADP acquired Work Market in 2018, he wrote the popular book, The End of Jobs: The Rise of On-Demand Workers and Agile Corporations.
The insights Jeff shared in this interview were fascinating. And I think you’ll agree, it’s worth another listen…
Innovative Tech and the Nature of Work
What are the pros and cons of a future where work depends even more heavily on technology?
Predicting the future of work is really hard. A lot of people assume that when a disruptive technology is introduced, all the jobs will go. But history tells us that’s almost never the case. So we need to be very careful about drawing simplistic conclusions.
It helps to look at how companies actually engage workers and deploy capital. That gives us a sense of how the 4th industrial revolution – robots and automation and AI – is going to impact companies, workers, and society.
Labor is so complicated and varied, we have to look industry-by-industry and function-by-function to get a sense of how a specific technology is likely to impact a specific kind of job.
How can we renegotiate the social contract to ensure fairness at work, especially in light of the pandemic?
Again, history tells us that when employers gain power, 3 counter-balancing forces help workers gain more balance:
- The social safety net
One Example: Bank Technology
What kind of examples illustrate these forces at work?
Here’s an anecdote I love about ATMs – automated teller machines.
By 1995, ATMs had been around for 25 years, but they weren’t available in every U.S. bank branch until that year. Also at that time, there were 500,000 bank tellers in the country.
Every single expert said tellers were going away. But how many are employed in the U.S. now? 600,000. Teller employment has actually increased by 20%!
The biggest factor was regulation that allowed cross-state banking competition. Because, while the number of tellers per branch dropped by about half, the total number of branches doubled.
But again, it is a complex situation, so we need to be thoughtful when predicting the future of work.
Why On-Demand Workers Matter
So, what inspired you to focus on on-demand workers in your book, The End of Jobs?
Frankly, annoyance. In 2010, people were predicting that 50% of the labor market would be on-demand by 2020. At that time, it was 25%, so that meant it would double. No chance.
Then by 2020, on-demand labor had grown only about 3% to 28%. So everyone shifted their predictions to 2030 – saying it would reach 50% by then.
That’s when I decided to develop a framework. We don’t need random predictions. Instead, we need to look at history and at data. Also, we need to look at how companies actually engage workers, so we can make thoughtful predictions.
How has the pandemic affected your view of work trends?
The shift to remote work surprised me. In the past, only 3% of the workforce worked remotely. It had already doubled from 1.5% of workers between 2010 and 2020. That kind of growth is unusual for labor statistics.
So if you had asked me before the pandemic, I would’ve said two huge impediments would keep it at 3-4%:
1. Mindset – Managers need to be supportive for this to work. But they tend to think people must be present to be productive, or magic happens when people are together.
2. Technology infrastructure, policies, and procedures – It’s one thing to say, “Jeff is going to work remotely.” It’s another to make sure Jeff has access to all the company systems from outside company walls, and he can participate remotely in every meeting.
I’m surprised with how quickly, and effectively companies put everything into place. Because workers have been clamoring for these things for decades, but employers didn’t respond. Then suddenly, they made it happen within weeks.
Other Notes on The Changing Nature of Work
For additional insights from Jeff, check these takeaways I found in several articles he’s written:
1. On-Demand Labor Realities Now Extend to All
On-demand workers know a world of total responsibility:
- They own their training and development.
- They market their skills and manage their back office.
- They are responsible for covering their health care and retirement.
Going forward, we see a convergence between on-demand workers and full-time workers, where all workers carry the same level of responsibility. This will include the need for continuous learning. As the pace of technological change accelerates, in-demand skills will fade even more quickly. To stay ahead of the curve, individuals will rely more heavily on distance learning, online resources, and self-service tools to align their skill sets with employer needs.
2. On-Demand Workers Deserve Inclusion
During challenging business times, employers tend to cut their gig workforce first. But even though these workers are not “employees,” it does not remove an employer’s social responsibilities. So, keep in mind that on-demand workers are a flexible source of valuable knowledge and skills that contribute to your organization’s long-term success.
As you manage these extended workforce relationships, follow these guidelines:
- Communicate early and often. Make sure to include gig workers in company and team communications.
- Honor all agreed payment terms. Pay contractors and gig workers on time, just as you would full-time employees.
- If a project stalls, don’t automatically cancel existing gig contracts. Instead, look for ways to factor on-demand team members into adjusted project plans.
- When planning employee recognition or bonuses, consider ways to acknowledge on-demand contributors, as well.
3. The Shift to Remote Work Favors On-Demand Workers
As full-time employees learn to navigate hybrid and remote work, remember that on-demand workers are often accustomed to contributing as part of a remote team. Typically, they are ready to jump into tasks quickly, fit in easily with minimal onsite hand-holding, and adjust to variable conditions. This can be particularly valuable as businesses and work cultures experience continued uncertainty.
EDITOR’S NOTE: For more insights about the road ahead and on-demand work, listen to this full podcast episode. And for other #WorkTrends interviews, check our growing collection of episodes at Apple or Spotify and subscribe!