What do Washio, HomeJoy, Mechanical Turk, and SpoonRocket have in common? They are all emerging players in the growing on-demand economy. Like their better known compatriots Uber and AirBnB, these firms all provide on-demand freelance services in a host of areas. SpoonRocket delivers meals, Mechanical Turk supports data tasks, Washio provides laundry services, and HomeJoy provides housecleaning services. All of these firms are seeking to establish lead positions in the fast-growing on-demand economy, and their success (or failure) will greatly affect the growing ranks of U.S. freelancers and independent workers (the 1099 Economy).
As an excellent new issue summary in The Economist notes, these developments are sparking a debate on the future of work—a discussion that will likely gets lots of attention in 2015. The battlelines are pretty clear. The on-demand economy can be a great thing. It provides needed services at lower cost, and provides employment opportunities for workers who prefer a flexible schedule and opportunities to pursue other interests as well. The deal is less sweet for those seeking stability, good regular pay, career ladders, or enough income to raise a family. Creating multiple job and career opportunities is a good thing—as long as the freelance economy grows along with an economy that can generate other more stable “real jobs.” That’s the open question as many developed economies continue to struggle in creating good jobs for large shares of the workforce. As The Economist notes, the on-demand economy is a great thing for “outsiders and insurgents.” The debate in 2015—and beyond—will focus on how to make it work for everyone else as well.