As the freelancer lifestyle permeates the rest of the workforce, on-demand jobs are on the rise. Author and serial entrepreneur, Jeff Wald, walks us through some data-driven predictions and the history of labor, to arrive at where we’re headed: on-demand jobs, or task-based labor. But, it’s not as instant or big as you might think. He also dives into what this means for HR, how does recruiting need to change to accommodate this new work culture?
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Max: Hello and welcome back to The Recruitment Hackers Podcast, I am your host Max and today I am delighted to welcome Jeff Wald. Jeff Wald is the author of two books including The end of jobs, The rise of on demand workers and agile corporations hot topics, kicking off into 2021, Jeff, welcome to the show.
Jeff: Max, thank you so much for having me.
Max: It's a pleasure. And we're at opposite sides of the planet Jeff is logging in from Florida, I'm in Hong Kong. But I think the world is smaller than it has ever been. With so many of the so many of those jobs being kind of remote, being advertised as it doesn't matter where you're, where you're hiring you know it's anywhere in the world as long as you've got the skills. So, it must have been a busy year for you, promoting the cause of the remote worker and the on demand worker. I'm even more excited about the international dimension of that, as opposed to, let's say, the creation of a new job category. I just like the fact that now the talent pool is universal and global.
Jeff: I agree, I will say this man. Let's not gloss over this small little fact that you're sitting in Hong Kong, I'm sitting in Florida. This is mind blowing to me if your mind's not freakin blown by this anyone that's listening to the fact that the two of us are sitting on literally opposite sides of the planet. That is amazing. You know pre pandemic I'd said a bunch of times in the book down the hall, on another floor, down the block, or halfway around the world. You don't need to be in the same place to be on the same team. And that has become all the more true during the pandemic or I should say all the more true, it's always been true. Over the last few years it has been all the more aware than people become of that. And this is exemplified here I mean we had a wonderful conversation, prior to you know hitting record here, as if we were colleagues on a project, just working and it to me there was no difference the conversation we had then are having now than you, me sitting in your office.
Max: Yes, yes, Well all the mess in my office is outside of camera view. It looks a lot better. Actually, I control this environment better.
Jeff: I'd probably be wearing pants. Those are all things that are slightly different than if I were in your office. But still, it's all amazing to me.
Max: That's great. So far listeners out there. Jeff is pant-less.
Jeff: Allegedly, allegedly!
Max: Well. So Jeff, maybe you start by telling us a little bit about yourself, before you became an author on the topic of employment. It's probably not what you grew up, dreaming to become a kind of happened with life. Can you walk us through the main steps in your career.
Jeff: Sure, I started my career in finance with JP Morgan, moved to venture capital, which was just an amazing, amazing experience working with entrepreneurs, and getting to see men and women that were just trying to change the world. So exhilarating that I left and started my first company, that failed miserably and basically bankrupted me. But that's the thing with entrepreneurship, pick yourself up dust yourself off and keep going. Second company we built up, and eventually got sold to Salesforce and that was a good outcome not a great outcome. And then this last company Work Market, founded 10 years ago. Work Market is enterprise software that enables companies to organize manage and pay their freelance population, raised about 70 million from Union Square ventures SoftBank and a few others sold the company to ADP almost three years ago. So it's been a great, great journey and the sale to ADP specifically gave me the space, Max to finally sit down and finish this book because I've been working on it for like four years prior to the purchase of ADP.
Max: Okay. Well, congrats on that entrepreneurial journey. I haven't read that. After you sell your business, there was a moment. It's a moment where most entrepreneurs kind of struggle with depression. Suddenly a drop, drop in activity and energy. But apparently, you made the most of that sort of drop.
Jeff: That's super super interesting. I guess I understand it conceptually. It's one of the silliest reasons to be depressed, not that I wish to ever make fun of depression. I will tell you having your business fail and going bankrupt. I'd say bankrupt as bankruptcy is a technical term. Have your business fail and virtually going bankrupt. That is something that did in general did a lot of depression in me. And, you know, having not leaving my apartment for some time. As I was super bummed out by that, but I had no experience like that with the sale of joy upon joy and gratitude and fortune.
Max: Yeah. Good, I am really happy to hear that because you know who knows maybe one day I'll have to sell some of my shares. And I'd like it to be a happy moments as well.
Jeff: God will. God will.
Max: So, your new book, The end of jobs, The rise of on demand workers, I'm excited about this topic, because it is all of our, our mission in the corporate world and the enterprise world, to, to create a performance driven culture, and an output driven culture where people are measured on, you know what they produce, as opposed to you know how why they smile. And I think that the transition towards task base job assignment, as opposed to job descriptions, is one for the best because it actually gives more freedom to be able to just get the job done in as much in as little time as possible, which is giving people more freedom to run their lives the way they want. I mean it could be looked at. It could be looked in that way it could be looked at on the opposite side of the spectrum as like a cold market driven approach to employment. Instead of where many employers to position themselves as we are family. But I think the 'we our family' message is a bit outdated personally. How do you feel about that transition? Do you think that we're moving towards a world which is, is that what's covered in your book?
Jeff: So there are a number of things that are ever covered in the book about the future of work. The first and the most important is to look at the history of work. I wrote the book because I get very frustrated with people that make predictions about the future of really anything quite frankly without evidence, specifically in the world of work. We have the history of work and how companies workers have come together to produce goods and services throughout different societal changes different technological changes. So let's study those. And the second body of evidence is data. What does the data, tell us how to data trends and patterns, play out. Currently, and obviously through history as well. The third is how companies actually engage workers. You know a lot of people think the labor resource planning meeting goes like this, CEO walks in and says, 'All right, what are we gonna do ot her workers. Let's hire the cheapest ones, meeting adjourned'. That is actually not how those meetings go, there's a lot of variables that go into that equation. And so understanding how companies actually engage workers, understanding the data and the data trends and understanding history, and how society has coped with some of these struggles before. That to me is a very thoughtful way to think about, or start to make predictions about the future of work and that's what we endeavor to do with the book.
Max: So the book has a historical component that goes back to the the history of work. I was excited when I read about the time of Abraham Lincoln when they were talking about what's it called wage slaves, or where it was considered that every man should be his own employee, there was a vision that was articulated at the time that you know you were to be on a regular wage is somehow less envious, that everybody should be self employed as kind of coming back a little bit right from one or two years ago.
Jeff: It certainly is coming back to the whole idea behind freelancing is the idea that you get to have flexibility and choose your own path that is a very very powerful thing it's something very encoded in our DNA to want to have control of our own destiny, of course, and all the things that the freelancer faces are starting to permeate the full time workforce. So, like called the book The end of jobs the rise of on demand workers. That is not to say I think everyone's going to be a freelancer, that is to say that all the things that the freelancer deals with task based labor, personal responsibility, algorithms, allocating work data driven HR all of those things Max are permeating the full time workforce and all workers are dealing with kind of things.
Max: Okay, so, everybody who's looking at Uber drivers thinking, I'm glad I don't have an algorithm, looking over me. Time is coming up. Yeah,
Jeff: it is coming. No question. It is coming.
Max: Okay. From a talent acquisition perspective which is really my focus. How does this affect recruitment How does the rise of the on demand worker affect recruitment? Do you think that. Are you noticing that they're being hired in a different manner than the permanent staff?
Jeff: Well I think there are a few ways that all of these changes impact recruiting. The first is the recruiting is that tip of the spear right your listeners are the first people out there that are dealing with the changes and how companies are structuring their workforces. We need more of X we need less of Y. We need more people in this geography, fewer in that geography. And so recruiting is seeing in real time, the shifts in labor resource management, and that is super super interesting in and of itself. And we can spend some time talking about the types of recruiting they're gonna be more important as we get into skills based labor, and more remote work, and more on demand work and how robots and AI are going to impact the workforce with large. That's one conversation set that is a very interesting conversation to be had. The other part is how does that specific function change, given all of these things is more recruiting going to be done in an on demand capacity? is more recruiting going to be done via robots or AI systems going to be doing more recruiting? And that's another very big impact that quite frankly we don't know how that's going to play out yet. You know there are just way too many variables and it's way too early in the game, but we certainly have seen some trends around on demand recruiting. And we've certainly seen some trends around some of the tasks inherent recruiting starting to be done by machines.
Max: With the start of the new year. Are you talking to companies who are setting targets around. I'd like to move, you know, 10, or 20% of my workforce to on demand, does that come down from the board to the operational level?
Jeff: Short answer is, look from the board down the answer to that is usually No, that is. You'd hope, but boards, I don't think, sitting on a few public boards myself boards don't get involved that tactically even though I would argue it is strategic and they should be having that type of conversation. Those conversations are very nuanced very complex, and so I've never seen somebody come down and see any point out. When I was running Work Market because if you wanted to increase your usage of freelancers there weren't any really other places to go, if you wanted to manage a large freelance workforce and Work Market. S
So, I would usually get that call. And I will tell you we very very very rarely got the labor force transformation call. The call of a we're getting into the change how we're doing things we need to bring in, and we're frankly, what I would get those calls, I kind of was like this is going to be a two year conversation, this sucks, but it usually, the call will come from real big companies so you take it and start having obviously if we could work with fortune 50 company we're going to do it. What the call, we would get Max, the calls that we would get all the time is we currently manage a freelance workforce. It is a very large part of our labor force strategy and it has been for years or decades, in some cases, but it's a mess. We don't know who's where who sent what legal Raymond who is working on what is good and what we need a piece of software to help us efficiently and compliantly manage this workforce, that call, I would get all the time. But the idea that, whether it's on demand work or robots and AI, that there's going to be some huge shifts that data doesn't support it. History doesn't support it, and how companies actually engage workers does not support an argument that oh my gosh all those jobs are gonna go next year, 10% of those jobs are gonna go.
Labor force statistics and labor resource planning happens very slowly and very methodically and that's that's just the reality. So it's that reality that people should be mindful of when thinking about the future of work.
Max: And there's a huge regulatory component where a change in the law, and how easy it is to hire and fire will immediately impact the percentage of the staff, which is on demand right because it drives a lot of the demand.
Jeff: It is a incredibly powerful maybe the most powerful, powerful variable and what I call the labor equation, very complex equations series have a system of equations, I should say that guide how companies actually engage workers, and the regulatory environment, especially when it comes to freelance workers, I would argue is the biggest variable in that equation. And the problem with that variable is that that variable itself is all over the map. It's very different how you engage worker in California than what you do in Louisiana. Workers comp board in Wisconsin has an entirely different point of view than the Labor Department in Portugal. So you got to be super super mindful of how complex it is and that's why most companies go, oh my god it's too complicated just keep everybody employed. Obviously that's a bit glib of an interpretation, but it's not that far from accuracy.
Max: Yeah. Yeah, I believe it for sure. For me, I experienced it the other way I was like oh my god it's so complicated I have all these full time employees and be better I'd just have contractors, but either way. Either way, the decision towards a simpler way of doing things. I mean, I imagined that it's a little bit easier to decentralize, the compliancy, meaning. Instead of putting the onus on the employer to be in charge of everybody's, you know, being compliance is to say to the on demand worker, it's your responsibility. And by the way, here's a little bit of money to help you file your taxes or, you know, manager, your stuff.
Jeff: That is a really good point there. A increasing number of companies out there that are helping the freelancer set up a corporate structure, which really makes it a vendor relationship, and that stuff certainly helps shield the company, but in no way can the company. And I would not pretend to understand laws in China, or anywhere else. But in the United States, you can't pass that liability down to the worker. So when the State Department of Labor comes, you can't say well I, you know, they all signed these legal agreements indemnify me the department labor's we go okay I don't care. There, we view them as your employees, where is our back payroll tax? Where's Social Security payments? Where's unemployment insurance? let's go gimmy gimmy gimmy. They couldn't care less. But there are ways to your point, that companies can certainly mitigate their risk.
Max: Great. Well, what else can corporations think about your talking to you know it was in your title the Agile Corporation. What are some of the trends Do you foresee in 2021 for companies who want to become more agile, Besides that, besides work market. What other what other tools or methodologies do you recommend?
Jeff: Well I don't anticipate a huge increase in the size of the on demand workforce. But the on demand workforce as a number shrank. So there were over 240 million workers in the on demand workforce now there are high 30 million workers in the workforce, but the labor force as a whole film. And so we're still trying to parse together, did the percent of the on demand workforce shrink grow or stay the same? My guess is that it probably that stayed about the same. So I don't anticipate in 21, a huge movement back. I think it will stay about the same. percent of the labor force, because companies are just focused elsewhere, right now, right they're trying to make sure their teams are safe they're trying to make sure that their supply chains are safe and trying to make sure that their employees are being productive and they're not thinking about labor force transformation and 21. 22 might be a very different scenario. And as we discussed earlier regulation I think it's going to be the biggest variable in that equation. But when we talk about agile Max there there are a host of different ways in which a company can be agile. The best way is managing an army of freelancers. They are completely agile. The next you know you can move into temps and the vendors to other types of relationships. The biggest change that we saw in the labor market unquestionably in terms of how work gets done, I think the biggest change was unemployment and obviously horrific impacts on labor because of the pandemic. But the biggest change in how work actually gets done was clearly remote. It was moving to remote work and does that make a company more agile? of course it does. Allow your workers to be able to work where they want how they want is a very important step in kind of breaking that bone of the one office one manager 9-5 job. And that's the job by the way that is referenced in the title the end of jobs. Robots are taking all of our jobs, far from it, they are not, that is a very clear conclusion from the book. But this idea that you have one office, one manager, you work 9-5 that job is dying and it gets replaced by people being nomadic people having flexible work arrangements, people working in different contexts so that certainly on demand. Temps of freelancers and all that jazz. Those are the kinds of changes that were sped up by the pandemic as companies had to become more agile, there was no everyone's got to come to the office from 9-5, that wouldn't happen in almost anywhere in the world, in April of 2020. So, that is a huge step forward in the Agile corporations.
Max: Actually, to your last points on, I've noticed the same trends and of course but the 9-5 aspects, there are still a bunch of companies that still look at the nine to five hour. And, and there's a strong case to be made for for the work life balance to say, yeah, starts at nine five so you don't invade people's lives, but on the other hand, it does remove you know to do so because you, you say we want to create boundaries and we want to create overlap or people working at the same time. It does also mean you're removing a little bit of freedom from your employees, from your staff, let's say, to decide when they work.
Jeff: Of course.
Max: It's not that great right, like. I would argue like work whenever, and we try to minimize the number of conference calls if we can.
Jeff: That is a fine way to think about it, but when we're thinking about 164 million people in the US labor force actually 154 million now, 164 at the beginning of the pandemic. That is not the way all of them are gonna work. If you have a shift at H&M. That's when your shift is, there's no hey I want to work from Barcelona this weekend no no your shift is here in the store and that's when your shift is, if you're working on the line at Volkswagen your shift is nine to five, or maybe, whatever it is, there is no a I'm going to you know come in late. And I'll stay later, I don't know, that's when the shift starts like you have to be there. So it's important to think about the full context of the labor force. When we have conversations about the future of work it's easy to slip into this idea that everybody works in these remote first type jobs that are very enabled by remote work and digital work and all these other things. The reality is most people don't, that's just not the reality for most workers in any labor force.
Max: Agreed. Agreed. And I work in these industries where people do have to physically come a lot of the time, so I know that's the case, but I guess, for the knowledge worker. I still see, I still see people trying to cling on to this office. You know way of work, sure where, whereas all communication, eventually, as much communication as possible should be moved to the asynchronous. So because we can read faster than we can sit through a meeting.
Jeff: I completely agree. But to your point, some people do enjoy it. And there are tremendous benefits to it. I saw a study that 93% of remote workers still live within a commutable distance of the office. Because going remote doesn't mean you never go to the office, there are benefits to having everybody come together and have brainstorming sessions and do small talk. Those serendipitous encounters at the watercooler, they're actually incredibly good for productivity, do they need to be every day? Of course not. Can we allow people to flexible work arrangements, those that want it and those that can do it. Sure. But here's another important thing 42% of the US workforce can work remotely. That's it.
Jeff: And the US by the way is the highest percentage of any workforce on the planet that can work remotely. But another way to say that is 58% of workers, cannot do this digital lifestyle, cannot work remotely their jobs won't allow it. So we need to be mindful of that when having these types of conversations.
Max: Alright, so it was a bubble 2020 bubble and the narrative, to a certain degree that was not really supported by hard data. In fact, most people will still be coming into the office and, and the on demand worker or while it's an ongoing transition. We haven't seen a huge rise in the percentage of the workforce that goes on demand. And the robots will now take our jobs. I'm sure that there's a lot more depth to this book, than my cliff notes here. How do people find your book, I'm gonna put a link to where do you want to sell, are we selling through Amazon or is there another place?
Jeff: There are tons of other places but 98% of the books that have been sold have been bought on Amazon and, you know, certainly when the book came out in June, there was almost no other place to buy the book. That's not true actually was on barnesandnoble.com, a few other web sellers but it's funny I'm down here in Florida now and Florida's COVID restrictions are much looser than my normal home in New York, and I passed the Barnes and Noble today. As I was going school, get my office set up down here. Home Office, and I'm super excited to go tomorrow and see if my book is there, so hopefully it is in bookstores where it's supposed to be but it'd be the first time I get a chance to go into an old school Barnes noble I'm super excited.
Max: All right. Don't forget to put on your protective gear for that Barnes and Noble experience.
Jeff: No question. No question.
Max: And, well, how do people get a hold of you? What's the best way to reach you?
Jeff: Well, you can certainly follow me on twitter at @Jeffreywald, that's the only place that I go by Jeffrey for wells I go by Jeff, but I couldn't couldn't get Jeff Wald, and LinkedIn, I'm always I will always accept connections on LinkedIn and Amazon is certainly the best place to find the book.
Max: Wonderful. Well thanks Jeff for sharing your insights and coming on the show and. Well, I look forward to my FREE copy in the mail. No, I'll go and get myself a copy I've got a bunch of books,I am a little bit behind on my reading, and I'll go get myself a copy right now.
Jeff: I appreciate it thank you so much. It was so great to chat and I look forward to listening to many more episodes of this podcast.
Max: Thanks, Jeff.
Jeff: Thank you.