1 December 2015

Sharing economy transforms working 9 to 5


The sharing economy is undoubtedly good for consumers, but less often discussed are the benefits it can provide for those people actually offering their goods, services, property or labour on sharing economy platforms.

The rewards are clear. Renting out your apartment when you are not there offers a good use of assets and can turn us all into small businesses, making the best economic use of resources that would otherwise sit idle. Driving for Uber in your spare time or offering your services to an online marketplace can provide a useful second, or main income to people who previously would not have been able to use their skills, assets or time outside of working within a traditional regulated workplace environment.

This has the potential to turn us all into freelancers, able to offer our labour or our resources to the highest bidder and reduce the cost of leaving our valuable assets idle. It also allows us the freedom from stifling workplace restrictions which come with signing a full time work contract. Most full time jobs come with significant obligations. For a monthly salary, we give up control over significant parts of our lives to our employer or direct manager, who then have huge influence over virtually every aspect of our lives, including how much time we can spend with our family and when we can spend it, and how much food we will be able to put on the table.

Our employer decides our family’s standard of living and as workers we are virtually powerless to influence many aspects of our life once we have contracted to work full time. This was the only choice: trade your time for money with one employer and sign a contract that commits you to being in a certain place at the same time, every day. Today, an alternative to such a dependent employer-employee relationship must be seriously considered.

The sharing economy, through the use of modern digital technology allows for this by cutting out interfering regulation and allowing consumers to call on the service of someone directly through mobile phone apps and other means. People are empowered to become self-employed in industries previously characterized by severe restrictions.

Self-employment is hitting record levels. Today, over 15 percent of the UK workforce is self-employed, against only 7.5 percent in 1975. For those in full time work, flexible working hours are becoming more prevalent but are still nowhere near flexible enough. For families with children where both parents are working, inflexible working conditions are one of the biggest reasons that people, especially women, are forced to leave the workforce.

The digital revolution is eroding these traditional workplace attitudes and is giving everyone the possibility to be self-employed, or to build up a second income using items they already own — their house, apartment, car, skills or time — regardless of age, gender of family commitments. The sharing economy offers equality of opportunity, with anyone able to offer their services in response to consumer demand.

This change can fundamentally liberalise our approach to work. Uber drivers benefit hugely from controlling their own hours, fitting them around other jobs or obligations at home. They can work for 10 hours to support a child’s tuition fees or 40 hours a week. Crucially, there is a choice. This is why there has been an exodus of workers from large taxi companies to Uber. Many drivers enjoy the freedom to choose when they work, without having a “boss” in the traditional sense. For those of us who believe in personal liberty this can only be a good thing.

Of course, employment contracts afford protections and rights, including holiday and sick pay and a guaranteed salary. The vast majority of people will feel that these benefits and stability are worth the restrictions. We shouldn’t assume that they are right for everyone. In a modern, digital, 24 hour world flexibility is becoming increasingly important in all aspects of our lives, work included and the sharing economy offers people the opportunity to work in a more flexible environment.

The sharing economy, simply offers an alternative that some people will take and others will not. But that choice is an important part of fulfilling the legacy that the digital revolution and the sharing economy afford.

Daniel Dalton is a Member of the European Parliament