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October 24, 2018

On-Demand Staffing and the Gig Economy

From the desk of Dayna Gilchrist


My inbox lit up this week when Uber recently announced they are testing an on-demand staffing business called Uber Works. According to the Financial Times, the service would make it possible for businesses to hire short-term 1099 workers for things like “events and corporate functions, such as waiters or security guards,” the report says. The company is trialing the service in Chicago after testing it in Los Angeles earlier this year.


Since event staffing is the bread and butter of Hype’s business I thought I would weigh in on the subject. We are the “Uber of Event Staffing” after all…I had to go there. 😉


Nevertheless, in all seriousness, while still in the early stages, the new business would compete with more consumer-facing services like TaskRabbit, a mobile platform that connects customers in need of a service with appropriately qualified helpers. The idea that you can put out the need for something in our area and have someone respond to it at the drop of a dime is convenient, yes but it comes with risks and repercussions.


Let’s start by talking about the new “gig economy”. In theory, that’s what our brand ambassadors love about our industry. They can pick up different “gigs”, work for a handful of agencies, and make extra cash representing fun brands. Let’s take a minute and think about how we are inviting them into these opportunities.  Recently, I read a Vanity Fair article titled, “WHAT HAVE WE DONE? SILICON VALLEY ENGINEERS FEAR THEY’VE CREATED A MONSTER”, gig-economy “platforms,” as they’re called, take their inspiration from software engineering, where the goal is to create modular, scalable software applications. To do this, “engineers build small pieces of code that run concurrently, dividing a task into ever smaller pieces to conquer it more efficiently.” It’s been a successful approach for start-ups for the same reason it’s a successful approach to writing code: it is perfectly, beautifully efficient. Across so-called platforms, there are no individuals—no bosses delegating tasks. Instead, various algorithms run on the platform, matching consumers with workers, riders with the nearest driver, and hungry customers with delivery people- telling them where to go, what to do, and how to do it.


Okay, now let’s dissect that. A perfect platform perfectly choosing your perfect person for your staffing need. What?? Did someone propel us into the Jetsons’ living room? (I am an 80s baby, so for those of you reading this that don’t know, the Jetsons was the Hanna-Barbera cartoon that was synonymous with the gleaming utopia promised by technology).


Maybe that works for finding someone to help with moving boxes, building your Ikea furniture, or doing some handy work around your house, but I don’t think this could ever in a million years replace the event staffing world!  This type of “Staffing 2.0” system is never going to be ideal for the experiential marketing industry because real human-to-human interface is needed to find the right Brand Ambassadors. Imagine a world where we have no say in who is representing the brands in the field, where the “first to respond” gets the gig every time. No thank you!


Then there is the risk…


In recent years, Uber and other ride-share companies have been involved in a legal battle over whether their drivers are employees or independent contractors. We know in the event staffing world, the importance of moving from a 1099 model to a W2 employee model is more significant than ever! The risk associated with hiring a 1099 independent contractor is enormous. Not only are you putting your agency at risk, but your client is at risk as well. At Hype, safety and security is always a top priority.


In closing, I am not surprised that technology keeps evolving to find ways to make our lives easier- allowing us to find the perfect mate, helping us to patch the hole in our roof, but I am not concerned that the robots of the world are going to do a better job than Hype when it comes to finding the best staff for your next event or marketing campaign. 


Disagree? I would love to hear from you!