Analyst Report: Opportunities Abound as the “Rules of Work” are Broken


Easy access to broadband, mobile computing and cloud-based software is impacting the way that we work and the way that we think about building companies. The web work revolution is changing the way people are employed and how employees think about employers: An increasing number of people are working as freelancers, and employees are switching jobs far more rapidly than they have in the past. How, then, do we migrate the established “rules of work” to this new scenario?  How do we ensure that everyone has the same advocacy, the same protection from abusive employers that traditional employees have? And how can employers make sure that they attract and retain the best talent?

These questions were among those pondered at today’s “Future of Work” GigaOM Bunker Series event. None of them have easy answers. However, as companies like Elance and oDesk have shown, there are plenty of opportunities for companies that can help facilitate this shift.

Facilitating Freelance Work

Screen shot 2010-07-28 at 22.53.28As Fabio Rosati, CEO of Elance, pointed out, “The opportunity is to facilitate a connection between people with skills and companies that need those skills.” Freelance job marketplaces like Elance and oDesk are thriving as more people take to freelancing and more businesses hire more freelances. It’s a highly competitive space, though, and that competitive pressure is driving those marketplaces to help provide at least some of the protections and benefits that employees traditionally enjoy. oDesk, for example, has introduced a plan that provides health insurance and other benefits for its users. In a competitive market, the services that take better care of their providers (the freelancers and small businesses that look for work through the marketplaces) will prosper — those that allow companies to exploit their providers will not.

The freelance job marketplaces are an obvious place to turn to look for companies that are capitalizing on the changes in the way that we all work, but what other opportunities are there to explore? One place to look is in the world of recruitment and HR. In a business world that’s changing rapidly thanks to technology, recruitment and HR seems to be one area that clings to its traditional past, relying on resumes, phone, and in-person interviews — and a lot of paperwork. Recruiters may now use Twitter and LinkedIn to advertise available roles and allow candidates to email in PDF-based resumes, but much of their core processes remain unchanged.

The New Recruiting

According to Evy Wilkins, COO of DoYouBuzz, a startup that’s hoping to do away with the traditional, static resumes, an opportunity arises because recruitment often does not actively contribute to business strategy. There are also opportunities in metrics — what do we measure, and how do we measure it? A traditional recruitment metric that’s been used for years is “time to hire” — but is that still an effective measurement? Could other metrics be more relevant today?

As well as DoYouBuzz, there are plenty of interesting startups trying to shake up the recruitment and HR functions, such as ClearGears, a startup focused on improving performance reviews, and SayHired, a company that automates phone screening.

One of the reasons that businesses need to improve the processes and tools that their HR teams use is that talent development is vitally important. John Hagel III, co-author of “The Power of Pull,” also spoke at the “Future of Work” event and pointed out that business (of all sizes) are suffering from a catastrophic decline in Return on Assets. One of the drivers for this decline  has been a relentless drive to cut operating costs, resulting in offshoring and outsourcing — trends that mean that organizations are eroding the one thing that gives them a competitive advantage in the modern landscape:  the talent of their employees.

Hagel thinks this decline is unsustainable, and companies are going to have to realize that talent development — not just attracting and retaining talent, but redesigning the workplace itself to foster talent development — is going to be a key competitive differentiator and strategic advantage for businesses.

One question posed by the audience in response to Hagel’s argument was what incentive is there for organizations to develop talent if people are frequently moving from job to job? Hagel agreed that the current situation is a vicious cycle. However, if executives looked at the situation differently, making talent development their top priority, he argued, the company would create a virtuous cycle that allowed them to retain more talent and, in turn, attract more talent in the first place. After all, if a business invested more in talent development than other companies, why would that talent leave?

The world of work is changing. While there’s no clear agreement, yet, as to how things will shake out and how we’ll all be working in the future, what is clear is that there are many opportunities for businesses which can help facilitate the shift. Please share your questions and ideas in the comments area below!

See full archive videos of the event here.

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