How the Sharing Economy Manages Talent

As the sharing economy continues to grow, the need to address the sharing economy’s unique talent management concerns is also growing. To be clear, most sharing economy companies, such as Airbnb, Uber, Lyft and Task Rabbit, have their own traditional employees. These are the people who work onsite at their headquarters as engineers, communications experts, and accountants.  However, these companies also rely on giggers–a customer-facing talent pool that they have effectively never recruited, onboarded, or trained. To ensure they can effectively manage their brand, they rely heavily on customer feedback to determine which giggers to keep and which ones to ban. This article examines whether the sharing economy’s reliance on customer feedback is an effective way to manage talent.

Outsourcing Talent Management to Customers

In a sense, when sharing economy companies rely on customers to manage their hosts, drivers, and taskers, they are essentially outsourcing part of their talent management work to the people who use their services. But does this approach work?

Via is one of the newer players in the sharing economy’s transportation market. Like Lyft or Uber, would-be drivers sign up to drive and must supply their own vehicle. The process is fast (drivers can be on the road in a day) and unlike other services, Via drivers make an hourly rate, which may go up as demand surges. For example, while a driver typically makes about $27 as they drive around a city picking up and dropping off passengers for Via’s carpool service, when demand is high, they can make up to $35 or $40 per hour. To ensure some consistency in service, Via, like Uber and Lyft, has rules (e.g., drivers and passengers alike are discouraged from speaking to ensure a pleasant ride). But does it work?

Maggie Keller was contemplating adding the Via app to her teenager daughter’s phone for emergencies (e.g., to ensure she had an easy way to get home later at night). Her daughter doesn’t feel comfortable taking cabs alone, so Keller decided to try Via where passengers pool. Before letting her daughter test the app, however, she decided to spend the weekend using the app herself.

“My first three rides were fantastic! It’s a set rate, and getting around New York in 20 minutes for $5 is an amazing deal. But then, I had nightmare driver.” Keller’s fourth driver wasn’t a bad driver, but he also was not committed to following Via’s rules: “He talked a lot but it’s really what he talked about that was a problem–it was extremely inappropriate. I felt sort of violated by the time I got out of his car and certainly was not going to put the app on my sixteen-year-old’s phone!” In the end, Keller contacted Via to complain not about being sexually harassed but simply about the driver bragging about the fact that his uses the app to proposition younger female passengers. Within hours, Via had returned her email, credited her ride, given her a ride credit for future rides, and indicated that the driver had been kicked off the app for his behavior.

Customer-Driven Versus Internal Talent Management

As discussed in several recent posts on Talent Management 360, at least some sharing economy companies have been slow to address their own internal sexual harassment issues. Indeed, as recently reported, despite numerous official complaints, Via’s competitor Uber failed to respond to employee complaints about sexually harassment at Uber’s head office and even penalized some of the women employees who came forward to launch complaints.  Comparing Via’s swift response to a customer complaint about inappropriate behavior to Uber’s very slow and inadequate response to full-time employee complaints about sexual harassment, may lead one to wonder whether talent management is being more effectively managed externally or internally in the sharing economy?

What works about customer ratings on apps from Via to Uber to Airbnb is that they have an immediate impact on any driver or host who is not living up to the brand’s promised experience. While Airbnb does not usually kick hosts off their platform for low ratings, their system does expose anyone who is engaged in false advertising or poor service. Most car apps, however, have an immediate response. To be clear, there is no way that the sharing economy’s approach to giggers could ever work internally, since it would potentially open up a revolving door. In a sense, sharing economy companies can afford to constantly boot giggers off their apps since they have spent no money recruiting, onboarding and training these giggers. The same does not hold true for full-time employees. What’s clear, however, is that the response time to serious allegations (e.g., sexual harassment allegations) is much faster and arguably more aggressive and progressive on sharing economy apps than in traditional workplaces. The take away may be that HR leaders need to start thinking about how to incorporate at least some dimensions of this responsiveness into traditional work environments.

May 26, 2017   Updated :May 26, 2017      

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