The Spectator magazine recently published a thought-provoking article on the “sharing economy” epitomised by websites and apps like Airbnb and Uber.

According to the writer, the sharing economy has “little to do with sharing at all” but rather has the potential to turn absolutely everything – from your house, to your car, even pets – into a commodity.

As to the possible effects on work and the labour market, the writer was pessimistic saying:

Sharing is also part of the evolution of the gig economy, in which people with once-steady jobs try to piece together a living from scraps. The optimistic view of this is that by making a market of everything, technology has made it possible for real value to shine. No one can hide any longer behind regulations, job titles or middlemen. It’s what you produce that counts, the ratings you receive, the delight of your customers….

The grim view is that we are facing the Uberisation of everything. Every minute of your working life will soon be subject to the tools and habits emerging from the sharing economy. Secure jobs will be replaced by an endless series of gigs, in which you are measured and rated at every step, and if you slip even for a moment, you’re out because there are no barriers any more to becoming a landlord or a taxi driver and the community doesn’t want losers. Any joys derived from a flexible, collaborative, sharing economy are wiped out by ceaseless competition and the constant terror of public humiliation.

Supporters of the sharing or peer economy say the benefits include:

  • more efficient use of underutilised assets or skills;
  • better service through sharing of data (the obvious downside being loss of privacy); and
  • giving people access to an alternative source of income and more flexible work practices.

The interesting point for us will be the upside, for both workers and employers.  Given the sharing economy is now in its foundational stages, its effects (positive and negative) are not known.  In our view, those employers and workers who will do best out of this emerging development are those that can leverage this new way of working as a successful complement or substitute to traditional ways of working, in a way that meets their needs and desires (for security, stability, regular income, cost effectiveness, etc).