By: Katy Steinmetz
It’s 9 a.m. on a Monday morning at the Gigster HQ in San Francisco, but it would be easy to mistake it for late on a Friday afternoon. There are almost no workers around the lofty, cubicle-less office in SoMa, a favorite neighborhood for tech startups. Even the CEO is absent, running a bit late for our interview. But this is not a company built on people showing up at the stroke of a clock so much as checking in whenever they have the time. “There’s always going to be the type of person who wants to work for a bigger company. I think those benefits are great for them,” says CEO Roger Dickey, freshly arrived and describing how his company has attracted hundreds of freelancing developers who craft software on demand. “We’re trying to build the best system for everyone else.”
The metrics are complex but increasingly unmistakable: the nature of work is shifting. Work arrangements are becoming more fluid, economists say, with a single worker less dependent on a single firm for one long career. That presents opportunities for new kinds of work arrangements like the one taking off at Gigster, but it also threatens to undermine the social safety nets that America has built up around the traditional employment relationship. While the shift will take decades to play out, a new survey, sponsored in part by TIME, digs into what is going on in the minds of the people who do the hiring and firing (or the contract-terminating) right now. And it appears that there is some cognitive dissonance.
Polling firm Penn Schoen Berland randomly sampled 800 employers in June, for the survey conducted in partnership with strategic communications firm Burson-Marsteller, the Aspen Institute Future of Work Initiative, the Markle Foundation and TIME. The survey found that the majority of employers currently use independent contractors. The majority also believe the social contract should be reformed for such workers, people who generally don’t have access to the same kind of benefits as America’s W-2 employees — yet they don’t want the government getting involved. And while they’re lured by the quick availability and low cost of freelancers — with nearly 60% who use them now saying they plan to use more — employers still believe that dependable, controllable employees provide more value.