I have to say that I’m squarely on Simon Rothman’s side. I think turning independent contractors into employees would be a big mistake. Any time I talk to an Uber or Lyft driver, what they tell me they love about the job is that they choose when and how much to work. Many are full time, but many are not. Some work for both Uber and Lyft, or even for a traditional limo company, at the same time.

What I love about the Uber/Lyft model (apart from the brilliant utility of the service) is that it shows how data can be used to empower workers and give them agency. They show workers when and where the work is, and have built market mechanisms to match supply and demand. By contrast, a lot of traditional employers are starting to use data to match supply and demand in the old command and control model. The way that looks: micro-shift work. “We used to think we needed you for an 8-hour shift. Now we realize we need you for this three hours, and that two hours. And by the way, you’re now a part time employee without benefits. And we won’t tell you till tonight when tomorrow’s shift will be.” Very ugly.

My point is that we need to celebrate what’s right about the Uber/Lyft model, and then figure out how to build on it, rather than trying to retrofit it to the old model.

This is exactly why we need to institutionalize a third way, decoupling certain kinds of employee benefits from “employment,” and allowing companies to build training, career paths, and other kinds of support for independent workers without triggering all of the tax implications of W2 status.

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Founder and CEO, O'Reilly Media. Watching the alpha geeks, sharing their stories, helping the future unfold.

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