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Is Uber's View of Workers Old-fashioned?

uber logoThe following guest post is courtesy of our board member, David Creelman.

Lately, Uber is getting beaten up in the courts, as judges rule that Uber drivers are more like employees than independent contractors (see example of recent UK ruling here).

For those who don't like Uber's management strategy, this is a good thing. For those who love Uber's service, rulings that hurt the company are a bad thing. What I wonder about is whether the source of the problem is that Uber is just too old-fashioned. Maybe Uber is locked in an out-of-date view of the workforce.

The pure free agent model that Uber claims to embrace is that truly independent “people with cars” drive around “people without cars”, with the matching made possible by an app. However, in practice, Uber drivers are far from independent. Uber, in fact, tries to control them in a variety of ways–that's why it's in trouble with the law.

The question is: does Uber really need to control drivers this much? Or is this attempt to control just the knee-jerk impulse of managers, who for all their tech savvy, still have a view of workers rooted in the industrial age. Managers feel they should be controlling workers; they feel they have the right to control workers; they feel uncomfortable if workers are not controlled.

The lesson for organizations in general, is that perhaps we need to embrace the idea of free agent workers as truly free. Why not lean towards giving workers as much freedom as possible in how they work with us, only imposing limits where it is absolutely necessary? A good real world example of this is Semco Partners, a Brazilian company best known for its radical form of industrial democracy and corporate re-engineering (see “The Seven-Day Weekend” by CEO of Semco, Ricardo Semler for an in-depth look at this unique company). In Semco's case the workers are employees, but I bet they feel a lot less controlled than Uber's “free agents”.

Companies that free themselves of the need for control and learn how to give workers as much freedom as possible without hurting productivity or quality, may be the best prepared for a future where the workforce will be a mix of employees and free agents.

What do you think?  Do you agree that less control of workers is better?





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