Web Work – Who Benefits?

Long-time web conferencing and online collaboration suite vendor Central Desktop sent us a link to their latest press release. The actual news of the release is fairly unsurprising: companies using their collaboration platform see higher productivity and lower costs. After all, who would keep using something that didn’t have benefits? But what caught my eye was this quote from Isaac Garcia, Central Desktop’s CEO:

“And if the economy continues to weaken, we expect businesses to push harder for virtual workers to keep costs down, which will catapult collaboration software from a pure cost saving benefit to one that is more strategic in nature.”

This leads to the question: just who is benefiting from all this web work, anyhow?We tend to focus on the happy side of web working here at WWD: the ability to set your own hours, the increased freedom that web work can offer, the chance to use cutting-edge technology. But as the Central Desktop press release indicates, there’s another way to view the use of virtual workers: as a way to control costs for the company employing them.

Freelancing (whether over the web or in meatspace) has often been viewed as a “win-win” for both company and employee: the freelancer can charge a higher hourly rate than they would earn as a full-time employee, and yet the company can save money when compared to the “fully burdened” employee cost. The other way to view this, though, is as shifting costs to the worker. Health insurance is the most obvious area in which freelance web workers pay their own way, but there are a myriad of others: if we want a gym membership, or even a lunch, it comes out of our own pockets.

I don’t mean to say that web work isn’t a great thing; I’ve been doing this for over a decade, and don’t intend to stop now. But as master of your own fate, you have an extra responsibility to be smart about how you use all this great technology that we have access to. If online collaboration enables you to get more work done for more clients, then ultimately you’re reaping some of the benefits. On the other hand, if you’re locked into a single job, and more productivity translates only to fewer paid hours on your part, there’s an obvious imbalance. Choose wisely, and we can keep enjoying web work as a freedom producer instead of as a digital sweatshop.

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