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Raw Data Podcast, Episode Two: Work in the Crowd

This week's episode of Raw Data looks at crowd workers: how are online platforms changing the way we work, and the paths our careers take? From a security standpoint, the contractor problem is a necessary evil. Contractors’ credentials were partially responsible for the high-profile breaches of Target’s and Home Depot’s systems, and contractors are generally held to lower standards than employees. (NASA’s employee selection process lasts five weeks; a NASA contractor can be hired after passing a criminal background check and filling out a questionnaire.) Edward Snowden is the poster boy of the contractor problem: given enough access to cause a major headache for the organization, but not enough to feel loyal to his employer, or compelled to raise concerns through its internal channels.

Despite the problem, organizations continue to hire large numbers of contractors to fill short-term needs; hospitals in particular have been hiring droves of IT contractors as, paradoxically, the higher security standards of healthcare reform measures require massive overhauls of hospital networks and computer systems that employees can’t keep up with. While it’s not for everyone, as we heard from Danny Margulies, some truly enjoy being contractors. Contractors are able to work from home, or travel to the job site only occasionally, and they are usually paid more than a comparable employee, because they are needed more urgently and aren’t given training or benefits.   

It's easier than ever to be a freelancer...should you worry?

The rise of online collaboration tools is also making it easier to work as a freelancer. Collaboration tools for communication, like Slack, the work instant-messaging tool valued at $2.8 billion, keep everyone in the loop. Platforms like Upwork make it easier to find jobs and advertise your skills. Matchmaking apps are also entering the workplace, as tools like Switch and nspHire use Tinder-like models to discreetly pair job seekers with employers only when both indicate interest in the other’s posting or resume.

If this causes you concern about your own job security—your employer could be posting your job description on Switch to see whether better candidates might be available, or a worker across the globe could be advertising similar skills on Upwork without needing health insurance, and 30-40% of US workers are already freelancers—it’s helpful to remember that, as Melissa Valentine found, good teams produce good work: familiarity and previous experience count for a lot, and there’s a reason why, even in an almost-all-freelance model like the entertainment industry, the same people work together often (Johnny Depp and Tim Burton; Ben Stiller and Owen Wilson). There’s also the security question raised at the beginning. Exclusivity isn’t in the nature of contract work; even rivals Uber and Lyft can’t prohibit you from driving for both. Similarly, the better your work fits with the goals of one company, the more that company will want to see you again—without having to worry that you’ll already be booked.

In a good working relationship, both parties have reasons to stay committed, no matter what's available on the internet

Perhaps this new model of work does have a good analogy in relationships. Online dating has changed the playing field, offering more options, the ability to search for very particular characteristics, plenty of opportunities to switch paths, and ways to see what’s available without officially putting yourself out there. The average length of a job that ends in the worker leaving is 4.4 years; the average length of a marriage that ends in divorce is only 8 years. Perhaps these are two trends that will meet in the middle. Yet there are undeniable advantages to settling down and staying put when you’ve found a really good match.

Read More:

Ramesh Johari’s work
Melissa Valentine’s work
Michael Bernstein’s work
Danny Margulies, copywriter for hire

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