There are online, on-demand marketplaces for everything conceivable, from carsharing to vacation home exchanges. Now, even one's spare time is becoming a marketable commodity, with marketplaces emerging that match peoples' spare hours with companies' requirements for short bursts of labor.
Described by some as "crowdlabor," online task-oriented marketplaces range from contract work sites such as 3desk.com or elance.com to more granular, hour-by-hour services rendered through sites such as TaskRabbit.com. A recent perusal of the site highlighted popular short-term services such as gift return and exchange, event help, office help, and pet sitting. TaskRabbit's motto is to "connect busy people who need a little extra time with entrepreneurial people who need a little extra money."
A good term for it might be "micro-temping."
Wingham Rowan, project director of Slivers-of-Time Working, a U.K.-based piecemeal work marketplace, says such exchanges represent more than simply some extra pocket change -- they are a tool for organizations, as well as a source of new opportunities for individuals. They are, in his words, a classic example of "atomized capitalism," which could "unlock around 100 million pounds" worth a day of new economic activity in a country the size of the U.K."
At a recent TED session, Rowan explained how advanced trading technology can connect individuals who need to work -- on their own terms and at times of their choosing -- with employers who need their labor:
"This is about a hidden corner of the labor market. It's the world of people who need to work ultra-flexibly, if they're to work at all. So think, for instance, of someone who has a recurring but unpredictable medical condition, or somebody who's caring for a dependent adult, or a parent with complex child care needs. Their availability for work can be such that it's, 'A few hours today. Maybe I can work tomorrow, but I don't know if and when yet.'"
As an example, a cafe that has an unexpectedly busy lunchtime rush would need "two extra workers for 90 minutes to start in an hour's time," who would have to be reliable and have appropriate skills. "No recruitment agency wants to handle that sort of business, so you are going to muddle by, understaffed."
Many types of businesses could benefit from this on-demand help, from hoteliers, retailers, and any and all other service providers. For example, a market research firm can quickly pull in 25 local people to do street interviewing, to test a new research program. In turn, there are many workers who "might be willing to work odd hours in a call center, in a reception area, in a mail room."
(Thumbnail photo: U.S. Census Bureau, Department of Commerce.)