Work 3.0: How The Employment Model Needs to Change

Editor’s Note: This guest post was written by Gary Swart, the CEO of oDesk, the fast-growing online workplace where eContractors are currently earning more than $300 million a year.

With the economy still struggling to recover, key indicators of economic performance are largely focused on traditional employment — we are fixated on how many people have managed to find on-site, single-employer jobs. But is this an outdated perspective?

Columbia Business School professor Rita McGrath would say so. In a recent blog post for Harvard Business Review, McGrath questions the pervasive assumption that “regular” employment is always the most stable and desirable. She writes, “Many of the assumptions about society that we take for granted are based on the notion that relatively stable employment relationships are the norm. When will our thinking catch up with the new reality?”

Anyone looking for a job or tasked with hiring must wonder what this means for them.

The reality is that the traditional employment model has dramatically shifted and evolved. The “regular” job market may never make the comeback that so many job seekers hope to see, and this makes people anxious. The uncertainty associated with adopting a new model is often uncomfortable, but, in this case, it doesn’t have to be — never before has global talent been accessible in such a quick, lean, and scalable way.

Boundless Opportunities

The new employment model is here: Work 3.0. In it, work is on demand, virtual and remote — and it is just getting started.

Take for example. This marketplace for local services is a small shop with just a handful of full-time employees. Based in San Francisco, Thumbtack competes against all of Silicon Valley for talent; from Google, Facebook and Zynga to the next hot venture-backed startup, they’re all gunning for the same top-tier talent. Instead of spending all of Thumbtack’s recent funding on the high salaries and plentiful perks that top local talent demands, they opted to keep their in-house staff light, expanding instead by adding 120 online team members scattered around the world. The business has since experienced 150X growth, while keeping its costs remarkably low.

The tremendous growth of online work has changed the way businesses hire talent and structure their workforces, allowing them to build teams that cross borders, time zones and skill sets. But it also yields opportunity for people around the world to tap into global demand that far outpaces the needs of local or even national markets.

In the Work 3.0 model, people are no longer limited to the jobs available within commuting distance. Graphic designers in rural Tennessee have the same access to jobs as graphic designers in New York or London. This elimination of geographic boundaries can refresh perspectives and development in new and interesting ways. It also means that individuals have the freedom to choose which projects interest them most, as well as when, where, and how often to work.

In addition, this shift actually leads to a happier and more productive global workforce. A recent survey from Harris Interactive found that U.S. workers would make serious sacrifices to be able to telecommute — 34% would give up social media, 25% would give up their smartphones, 17% would give up a raise and a remarkable 5% would even give up their spouses.

The Future of Work 3.0

Online work continues to grow by 70 percent year over year, and the technology that supports it continues to improve. In 2012, it is predicted that more than 6 million online jobs will be posted, representing more than $1 billion of work performed via the Web.

And while past improvements in broadband access and collaborative technology got us to where we are today, further enhancements to the mechanics behind online work — improved Internet access and speed, advanced algorithms that help match businesses and workers, and enhanced global payment systems, to name a few — will help further speed the adoption of online work and make even the late adopters comfortable with leveraging the Work 3.0 model.

At a certain point, after adoption has hit a critical mass, I believe technology will have improved so much that online work becomes a seamless, integrated part of everyday life — a life where hiring someone online for a task is as natural and intuitive as “Googling” information you wish to know.

Traditional jobs may never return to pre-recession levels. But it has become apparent that in the next few years, we will make up for those jobs — and exponentially more — through online work.

Work 3.0 has only just begun.