rice in bowls unequal portions

Why the sharing economy isn’t always good for you

I’m inspired to write this by an excellent article by the great Sara Horowitz of the Freelancer’s Union in Fast Company this week.

Let me caveat first. In essence, there is nothing wrong with many of the great new peer-to-peer sharing sites that are popping up in every sector, encouraging a whole new way to think about the way we consume. These sites open up opportunity for many and challenge the current ways of thinking about the economy.

But I have found myself thinking that we need to step back and think before we all climb on the bandwagon. I should also explain that despite the headline (designed to make you read on ;-)) that KindredHQ is very much a sharing, collaborative platform.

What’s concerning is that whilst some of these platforms can help freelancers and independents find a whole new way to find and develop income, it’s pin money unless you make it your business.  And in the meantime, no thought has been given to the effect that the sharing economy has on working conditions and basic rights, or dignity.

The dark side of the sharing economy

There is a dark side to the sharing economy, and I’m talking about some of the sites that you will be aware of. There can be a rather unpleasant undercurrent of cliquiness.  If you’re not totally in with our hip sharing then you’re yesterday, dude.  Excuse me for wanting to make a living.

As Sara Horowitz says: ‘Collaboration has created the kind of tremendous economic wealth that trend pieces can’t help but gush over. But what has been overlooked is the opportunity to create equally transformative social wealth. It’s time to tap the do-it-yourself freelancer ethic and build social-purpose institutions at the local level’.

I’m looking around for support on this. Surely the government would be up for that? But there doesn’t seem to be any desire to support freelancers and independents as we make this almost inevitable transition.  Least of all from some of these platforms where you are quickly persona non-grata if your ratings fall.  Evgeny Morozov put it perfectly in his recent Financial Times column:

‘When SF Weekly, a San Francisco newspaper, asked an executive at Uber, an upmarket taxi app, about a protest by Uber drivers concerned by recent firings, he responded that a “driver contracting with Uber is not a bona fide employee” so that “firing, in this case, amounts to deactivating a driver’s account because he’s received low ratings from passengers.” At TaskRabbit, a company that connects those who need their errands run with those who need the money to run them, the “task rabbits” cannot easily communicate with each other. Who knows what trouble they could cause on discovering the subversive Wikipedia page about trade unions?’

The freelance trust economy

Freelancing allows you to be human again. We already know about sharing. Freelancers have been doing it for centuries.  That’s the way it’s always worked.  We support each other, and often we don’t ask for anything in return.  We swop skills, but usually on a pay it forward basis rather than the rather awkward ‘my 3 hours of marketing advice is worth 5 hours of your website design’.

One thing is for sure. The relationship between freelancers is usually based on trust, not transaction and algorithm and that should be what continues to sustain the freelance economy.

So, what can we do to help each other, and build a sustainable future for freelancers based on real collaboration?

The first thing is to stick together.  If you hire another freelancer to help with a project, pay them the market rate if you can. Your reward will come back many times over, as that freelancer won’t let you down.

The second is to look out for opportunities for each other.

The third is to help us try and persuade governments to create policy and legislation that ensure fair practice.  Like, for example, requiring businesses to pay freelancers on time, or creating tax breaks.

Hey. I’m up for the sharing economy. I just want there to be equal rewards for everyone when it works. After all, it is on the back off a lot of freelance work that the sharing economy is taking off.






Who is Alex Butler

Based in Wiltshire and London, I am the Founder of Kindredhq.com andl I do a little bit of everything. But mainly, business strategy, partnership and community development and marketing. You won’t find me doing much of the techie stuff. I live in the Kindredhq community, having struck out independently in November 2010. As a freelance consultant, I noticed that although many more people are choosing to work outside of organisations, there is very little in the way of support, practical or emotional, and I decided to learn more about why and what could be done to help. One of the important things that I’ve learnt is that I’m only ever as good as the people that I work and collaborate with, so although there are some impressive things on my CV, I haven’t put them in here. If you still want to know though, you can always visit my LinkedIn profile.

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