What Workers Need in the On-Demand Economy

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As the on-demand economy grows, so does the freelance workforce that supports it, one often without traditional salaries, benefits or human resource departments to protect it. 

We talked to Leah Busque about the implications. The former IBM software engineer founded TaskRabbit, a San Francisco-based site and app that connects time-starved individuals to locals in need of extra cash. In eight years, she’s raised more than $38 million, expanded to 19 cities and hired more than 50 full-time employees.

The company has grown a work pool of 30,000 independent contractors, whom the company calls “Taskers” -- up to 15 percent of whom use TaskRabbit as their primary source of income. Says Busque, “People want flexibility and control of their own schedules. There’s a freelance economic trend and TaskRabbit is coming to that.”  

As new services compete in this space, it's easy for startups to focus too heavily on customer service and overlook the needs of the independent worker, says Busque. That strategy is “a slippery slope and a race to the bottom.” 

Last year, the company let taskers set their own hourly rates, after abandoning its former bidding model to streamline interactions and logistics between contractors and customers. Today, taskers also have access to discounts on healthcare and phone plans, tax preparation services, transportation, and other perks they'd receive from a traditional employer. 

NYU business professor and sharing economy researcher Arun Sundararajan says moves like this make sense for companies at the critical early-stage of building brand perception. “It recognizes that these platforms are being built on the shoulders of providers. These platforms have to work extra hard to take care of providers and keep them close.”

In this video, Busque explains why the on-demand economy should think about the worker and what's ahead for this new industry. 

Related: Delegate Better: Advice From TaskRabbit's CEO

Edition: July 2017

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