We Must Protect the On-Demand Economy to Protect the Future of Work

handshake-agreement-economy-551958429WHEN PEOPLE TALK about innovation, the term “disruptive” often tags along. Aside from being woefully overused, I’ve always thought this term missed the point. “Disruptive” focuses on the effect innovation has on competitors, instead of focusing on the those who benefit most from technological innovation—the people using the technology. From the perspective of users, technology is not a great “disruptor,” it is a great “creator.” It creates new ways of doing things, new solutions to old problems. At a fundamental level, it creates opportunity.

This has never been more apparent than in the on-demand or “sharing” economy. The innovative ideas that have emerged in this sector have created new ways for consumers to obtain the services they need while simultaneously creating great new opportunities for the people who are ready to supply those services. In the case of our platform, Handy, we’ve made it easier for people who need home services (such as plumbing or cleaning) to connect with qualified professionals who provide those services. More importantly, we’re connecting professionals to new opportunities to make money. The same holds true for other on-demand platforms, such as Uber, Lyft, Instacart and a host of others.

The response to these on-demand options from users speaks for itself. Just last year alone, more than 250,000 customers used Handy to secure home services, and these numbers continue to grow. The public has voiced their support by flocking to platforms like ours because they provide easier, more natural ways of finding whatever resource they need. Service providers have in turn signed up in droves because it provides income opportunities and flexible arrangements that may not have been available otherwise.

Indeed, when it comes to talk of “disruption” the people who are all too often overlooked are the service providers—those who are increasingly turning to on-demand platforms as a source of income. I’ve talked to many service providers who use our platform and asked them why they signed up. Overwhelmingly, the answer is that they wanted the independence and flexibility it gives them. The service professionals using Handy have the freedom to select the jobs they want. They can work the hours they want, whenever they want. They can take a week off, or more. Or they can take on more clients and jobs to build their businesses. In short, the platforms give them the power to craft a work arrangement that works best for them.

Flexibility and independence are incredibly important to many people. Some of our professionals were previously pushed out of the workforce because of personal obligations like caring for young children or elderly parents, but are now able to reenter the workforce and contribute to their own or their family’s financial security. Others are in college and need a flexible schedule they can control. Still others I’ve talked to simply value the independence the on-demand platforms offer them. Whatever the underlying reason, a growing number of people are depending on these platforms as a source of flexible income and are fueling the growth of the on-demand sector.
Recently, these new working arrangements have started to garner attention in political circles. Earlier this month, President Obama addressed the on-demand economy in a speech on worker issues, highlighting how on-demand companies are creating “flexibility and autonomy and opportunity for workers.” Senator Mark Warner and Senator Marco Rubio have also recently focused attention on the fundamental transformation occurring in the workforce as a result of technological changes and took the important step of calling on legislators to revise regulations to better reflect the needs and challenges of these new work arrangements.

This increased attention is a welcome development, because the current regulations never contemplated these new ways to work. A federal judge examining how some of these outdated regulations apply to the on-demand model remarked that it was like being handed a square peg for round holes. This situation has created unnecessary challenges and confusion, frustrating both workers and companies and preventing them from realizing the on-demand economy’s full promise. A new approach is sorely needed.

But as we come together to find a balanced solution, we should keep in mind that there is no one-size-fits-all working arrangement. We know that the on-demand model doesn’t work for everyone, but it’s just as clear that the traditional, 40-hour work week doesn’t work for everyone either. Workers need choices. And we must ensure that our laws and regulations support the creation of innovative options so that everyone has the freedom to choose the best solution for themselves and their families.