The Missing Voices from the On-Demand Workforce Debate

News of the recent California Labor Commission case surrounding a contractor who argued she should have been treated as an employee by Uber brought increasing attention to the important conversation about on-demand worker classification: employees vs. independent contractors. Much of the debate has centered on on-demand marketplaces creating jobs that have none of the mandated benefits of traditional employment.

This debate has raised important questions, and the details of this new economy are surely a long way from being settled. But this isn’t just about employee versus independent contractor — it’s bigger than that. This is about the future of work and a new segment of people contributing to economic growth at every level — local, state and national. This is about what it will mean to be in control of your career and what the expanding definition of the entrepreneur must become for the dream of the on-demand economy to be realized.

After engaging with hundreds of people working in the on-demand economy during the last year and analyzing the trends of our tens of thousands of Self-Employed customers, I think there may be another side of the debate.

I’m reminded of Jose, who drove for Uber and Lyft for nine months to earn the capital he needed to launch his Tex-Mex salsa business in San Diego. Startup capital wasn’t available to him, and this afforded him the flexibility and income to get his business up and running.

Or Margo, who’s worked for TaskRabbit for more than a year now. He started in Austin, but had to quickly move to Los Angeles when his girlfriend was relocated for her job. Without having to notify anyone, and within hours of arriving in a new city, Margo’s income picked right back up through TaskRabbit.

There’s Mason, who left his chauffer job to drive for Uber. Mason doesn’t consider himself a business owner, but says the thing he loves best about his work today is he can take his son to Giants day games during the summer and still work that evening to “pay the bills.”

None of these folks were yearning to be traditional “employees.” In their own unique circumstance, they wanted the freedom and flexibility of setting their own schedules and working towards their own goals. A QuickBooks Self-Employed survey of more than 125 women at a recent ridesharing event concluded that the top two reasons to drive for a ridesharing company were “I like to set my own hours” and “I like the flexibility.”

This isn’t the new face of employment. It’s the new face of entrepreneurship.

We’re only in the beginning stages of a shift that will have a transformative effect on how people work as well as change the shape of our economy. There is the potential to fuel this new wave of innovation and support an expanding entrepreneurial population if we broaden the debate to address empowering entrepreneurs in the new on-demand economy, and not limit it to employment questions.

It’s time that everyone — government, regulators and the private sector — champion this exciting new vision of entrepreneurship, engaging in the policy dialogue and creating the policies and tools needed to support these businesses.

This will require a new mindset, an understanding of their unique needs and an appetite to examine current systems and make changes as needed. For example, taxes, retirement, insurance and more are based on a model of employment that, for many, doesn’t exist anymore. The complexity and type of regulations that were enacted for traditional small businesses need to be re-examined and simplified for this new, self-employed entrepreneur. And we have to make it easy for the self-employed to stay compliant within these new rules. The less time they spend figuring out their finances and healthcare, the more time they have to delight customers and earn income.

There is no doubt our current system does not address this important and growing segment of our economy. Together we can create a better environment to help the new entrepreneur flourish, so as we continue this “employment” debate, let’s lean into the future.

What ideas do you have to foster and empower this new wave of entrepreneurs, while giving them the tools, services and protections they need to be successful?

Originally posted on LinkedIn

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