oDesk, Freelancers & the Future of Work

Earlier this week, Menlo Park, Calif.-based startup oDesk announced a new service called oDesk Staffing, which gives U.S.-based freelancers access to benefits (including health coverage, retirement plans and education savings accounts), along with other services. This move by oDesk, which describes itself as a marketplace for work, is a smart one, as it positions the company to take advantage of a major societal shift.

The pervasiveness of connectivity and easy availability of broadband is not only going to transform how we interact, but it’s going to redefine the way we work. And as the notion of the workplace gets redefined, a trend we closely follow on WebWorkerDaily, the needs and desires of workers themselves are going to change.

While today services such as Amazon.com’s Mechanical Turk are little more than a curiosity, tomorrow similar services will be an integral part of global commerce. A world of loosely affiliated workers, who come together to do a specific task and then move on to the next project as part of another team, is the wave of the future. Even small startups such as our little company are becoming increasingly transglobal in nature. Large companies are already trying to come to terms with the reality of a highly distributed and disaggregated work forces.

Building a platform to service the needs of such a fluid workforce is, in my view, a big opportunity. One company that has bet on this trend is oDesk. Today oDesk’s business is helping freelancers connect with those who need their services and helping keep track of the time they spend working for payments and billings. (See WebWorkerDaily’s interview with oDesk’s CEO Gary Swart for more.) But the oDesk platform could be used by any large company that has a distributed and disaggregated work force. That realization came to me when I read this little snippet in the press release announcing the oDesk Staffing launch:

“oDesk Staffing helps us deal with compliance regulations around contract work, lets us offer benefits to our workers, and also enjoy the active productivity of high-visibility online collaboration,” said Jim Abolt, of VP of Human Resources at Trilogy, Inc. “Having the option to manage workers as independent contractors or as leased employees lets us hire on an as-needed basis, no matter what type of work needs to be done.”

That’s just it: The future of work will consist of independent contractors or so-called leased employees working in tandem with a core team, wherever it might be.

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