I am a big supporter of the sharing economy. I use Lyft and Uber instead of taking a taxi, I’ve booked houses and rooms on AirBNB, and I’m about to use GetAround for the first time next week. All of these services add value to my life because of their ease of use, availability, and “pay as you go” nature. Selfishly, the sharing economy takes pains out of my life, adds value that fulfills my needs, and enables me to to pay for what I use instead of having to invest in specific goods (i.e. a car)
But despite my ulterior motives, I’m a supporter because I believe the sharing economy movement is in the process of changing and transforming some really foundational aspects of our society. As a result of the sharing economy, we’re starting to rethink core elements such as employment, commerce, politics, and law. So far, pretty much every industry, ranging from hospitality to dog walking has felt an impact because of the sharing economy, and while it hasn’t gone without issues or concerns I do believe that in the long-game these incidents will actually help us get closer to solutions of better ways to do things.
Employment – As an Uber or Lyft driver you can drive when and where you want. As an AirBNB host, you can choose when to put your place up for rental to earn income. Same goes for being a courier at Postmates, Shyp, TaskRabbit, or any other on-demand service. When it works right, these platforms provide people the flexibility to work around their schedule and other things going on in their life. As an employer, these companies are providing autonomy and flexibility to their workforce, something that is valuable to many employees. Now, there’s very well documented evidence that these employers are not altruistic companies, and are in fact benefitting by not calling their workers employees (as of late, some have changed their stance and made positions for PT or FT employees) and there’s plenty of issues that need to be work through. But for some people, especially those who are looking for supplemental income, working for one of these companies provides extra income that can be earned when and where they need it.
New Business – Guesty is a company that acts as a virtual assistant for AirBNB hosts. Pillow manages property for AirBNB hosts. JFloat is a new model of insurance specifically aimed at the sharing economy. None of these companies (and the jobs they created) existed before the sharing economy was a thing. Not only did the sharing economy create new companies (and thus new revenue and new jobs) but they have also forced consumers as well as companies to rethink the way they do their business both at a strategic (what kind of company are we) and operational (pricing, customer service, delivery, business model) level. Obviously, for some, this is dificult and complex, and in many cases, these established companies who were doing well would rather keep things the way they were, but as we know from economics and our own personal lives competition tends to raise the bar for all those involved. In the end, the consumer wins.
Sustainability – Surely, Ford, BMW, and any other car maker would benefit from having as many cars on the road as possible. But that’s not necessarily sustainable or healthy for our infrastructure as well as our environment. The sharing economy encourages people to lease, rent, or pay as you go, instead of asking you to purchase another widget. As someone who believes that cutting down on our consumption can help us preserve the planet, I’m all for renting certain things (i.e. car) as opposed to buying one.
Politics – Due to the complex nature of these businesses, politicians have been dragged (or have dragged themselves, depending on how you look at it) into the foray of the sharing economy. Uber and Lyft have been banned, unbanned, and attempted to be banned an ungodly amount of times. San Francisco worked with AirBNB to get them to pay taxes in the city, and UberPop (aka UberX) recently shut down in France because their taxi drivers went on strike/got violent with Uber drivers while the government sat back and watched. None of these things are pretty, the politiciking and grandstanding is awful, but outside of the incident in France, these sharing economy companies are forcing politicians to take action and truly consider if the way we do business and the laws we have to do business are still serving the best interests of the people. In an ideal world, the politicians would step up and figure out the best course of action to go forward. Because politics are politics, that doesn’t always happen, but because of the rise and popularity of these services it’s forcing the dialogue to happen.
It’s still early days for the sharing economy. The popularity of these companies and apps will continue to grow over time which will provide both opportunities and challenges for consumers, companies, politicians and the like. There’s no denying that the sharing economy has had an impact on us as of today, the bigger question will be how big of an impact it will have in the future.