This week: Polywork, poor influencer behavior, job guarantee for sales experts
How is technology reshaping the way we work? How does it affect the labor market and incomes? What are the downsides of digital work? I’ve been thinking about those questions for years. I’ve been reading about the newest trends and changes and decided to share the most interesting stories and ideas.
I felt that tech & business and tech & investment topics received a lot of attention, while tech & work has been underrepresented. Yet, there are by far more people who are engaging with technology as workers than as investors or founders. Therefore I’m starting this weekly newsletter called “Jobs Meet Tech.”
I hope you’ll enjoy the first issue and hit the subscribe button!
Is Polywork going to be the millennial and Gen-Z-friendly version of LinkedIn?
Do Millennials need a new social network that combines personal quirks with professional ambitions? The creators of Polywork seem to believe so. Polywork looks a lot like Twitter, but it adds professional information to the user interface. Clean categories help visitors see which skills and accomplishments a user wants to display. However, the feed strongly resembles the Twitter look.
Currently, Polywork only operates with an invite-only policy and a waiting list. However, you can look into the first exclusive users. Colm Doyle, Slack’s Head of Developer Advocacy, seems to be one of the most active members. At least that was my impression. He has been sharing articles from his website alongside short tweets. Other registered members like Instagram’s CTO Mike Krieger or Github’s CEO Nat Friedman seem to be lacking the time or interest to post content on Polywork actively.
However, the new social network, which Peter Johnson has founded, seems to interest investors. Last week, Techcrunch reported about a successful $3.5 million seed round.
Polywork looks and feels like it’s made for a specific target group bored by LinkedIn: For millennials and Gen Z, work and life have blended into each other - regardless of the talk about work-life balance. Work is becoming more casual, while personal profiles on Instagram, TikTok, Twitter, and Facebook are increasingly flooded with professional information and accomplishments.
Additionally, the Covid-19 pandemic and the rise of the platform economy have contributed to more remote work. As many people have noticed, remote work dissolves the last boundaries between private and professional life.
Perhaps these experiences will drive young people towards new social networks which cater to their understanding of work. However, many have attempted to establish new social networks, and only a few have succeeded. Additionally, despite the quirky image many people have of millennials and Gen Z, in reality, a large share of the young generations will opt for a classic and traditional work path - without the fluff and a need to overshare professional accomplishments.
Poor influencer behavior indicates a larger issue
Long before the Covid-19 pandemic fuelled remote work and the gig economy, travel influencers and content creators lived the dream of countless youngsters. All they need is a smartphone, a camera, and a laptop to entertain millions of followers on Instagram and YouTube.
However, this lifestyle regularly leads to scandals: To satisfy the demands of their followers, influencers are pushing the boundaries of their work. As The Guardian reported, Balinese citizens and politicians are facing a growing number of violations by influencers. These include risky stunts, ruthless partying, and violations of the health rules.
Nearly 350 cases of violations of health rules have been reported since the beginning of the years, and 60 individuals have been deported. Politicians of the Indonesian island are concerned that foreigners might hamper the battle against Covid-19.
The Guardian quotes Balinese politician Niluh Djelantik:
“Yes, the foreigner brings income for us. But their action will risk the local who works to serve them as well. Can they have a little empathy?”
The complaints aren’t surprising. Platform work enables many people to live a life on their terms. They identify as digital nomads and move to a paradise-like place like Bali. They make money selling their services on Fiverr, writing on Medium, or gaining ad revenues on Instagram or YouTube.
From a work perspective, this lifestyle is highly interesting. Generally, work has various functions: Obviously, it is a means to make a living. Beyond that, work can be a vehicle of self-actualization. Founders and business coaches have been talking about these aspects in depth.
However, work has social functions, too: It provides power (money & knowledge) and cultivates the characters of everybody engaged in a marketplace.
Let me elaborate: Workers engage with customers, colleagues, and leaders. Managers engage with investors, partners, and the staff. Consumers engage with customer service - and sometimes the managers. Classically, work has forced people to invest in a lot of exchange and communication. While some people might loathe this part of their jobs, it helped build accountability (e.g., from worker to manager; from worker to the customer; from manager to investor) and form a more refined social etiquette.
People learn to adjust their behavior when their customers criticize them directly in the face or while they have to pitch an idea to a potential partner. Work pushes people to refine their social skills and common sense all the time.
What happens when you remove - or at least reduce - this social element? Your social skills are likely to become weaker.
During the first wave of the pandemic, I remember leaving the house after one week of full isolation. I felt odd, and people irritated me. Already after a short while, I noticed that my capability to interact with others had suffered.
The same applies to the professional world. If you only read comments, DMs, or e-mails, you are less likely to understand another person’s complexity and range of emotions and opinions. And consequently, you’ll be less likely to adjust your behavior.
Being a digital nomad won’t make people socially awkward, but the opportunities for direct feedback by reading somebody’s body language, tone, or facial expression are becoming less. The consequences shouldn’t be surprising.
Opinion: Should there be gender-segregated coding classes?
German AI researcher Jan Peters is concerned about the future of AI experts in Germany. In an interview with the business newspaper Handelsblatt, Peters explains that until the 1970s, the majority of coders was female and that it was women who wrote the NASA code for the first moon landing - “That was much more demanding than today's top performances,” the robotics and machine learning specialist adds.
Peters, who teaches at the Technical University of Darmstadt, believes that stereotypes and a male-dominated environment keep talented women away from computer science:
“The Hollywood image of computer scientists - masculine, thick glasses, unsavory - and the poor social behavior of boys in computer science classes today prevent many young women to have a computer science career. Computer science classes should be established separately for boys and girls to defuse the social dynamic.”
Peters emphasizes the role of women as he sees a dramatic shortage in AI talent in Germany. He criticized public funding for AI initiatives, which are not directed to the core of the matter: “AI is a computer science matter,” Peter stresses. Public funding, however, often flows towards projects related to ethics or business.
A Berlin-based education startup guarantees job security for sales experts
Online academies have been booming for years. They promise specialized micro-credentials to help people boost their careers. From long micro degrees on edX to short courses on Udemy, the number of courses has been growing rapidly.
The German “Hyrise Academy” is a startup that jumped on the bandwagon of digital skills providers, and it guarantees that graduates will find a job.
How does it work? Hyrise Academy offers six- to twelve-week online courses to hospitality workers who have lost their jobs during the pandemic. They learn to become sales experts for the tech industry.
Hyrise Academy founder Dominic Blank told the German edition of Business Insider: “Service workers have everything it takes to sell in technology companies. They are customer-oriented, communicative, resilient, and trained in complaint management.”
Blank has established a network of tech partners who are desperately searching for sales talents. They are willing to hire newly trained sales graduates of the Hyrise Academy.
The Hyrise founder is convinced that his idea will work - he only charges tuition if a graduate finds a sales job. According to recent estimates, tech startups demand sales talents that are 3.5 times higher than the current supply.
Sales is one of the few fields in Germany where career changes are welcome. In the majority of occupations, credentialism and experience are must-haves. Hyrise might prove that career changes can be a good option for people who have reached a professional dead-end. And digital education offers new possibilities even for people who have personal duties, and Blank explains: “Study for another three years at [the age of[ 40 and then gain access via an internship? Unthinkable with a family and financial obligations.”
How the gig economy could benefit women
Economist professor Liya Palagashvili (Mercatus Center at George Mason University) sees the platform economy as an opportunity for women to find flexible work. She states that working women have been hit harder during the pandemic than men, making up most hospitality workers and cutting down on working hours to reconcile homeschooling.
However, more and more women are engaging in the gig economy. 85 percent of all sellers on Etsy are female. On other platforms like Uber, men are the majority making up nearly 60 percent of the drivers.
Palagashvili explains the findings of her research on women in the gig economy in a Fortune piece:
“So, what explains why some independent work roles are overrepresented and others underrepresented by women? Beyond industry, in another new study, we empirically test whether the work characteristics of independent jobs help explain these differences. Indeed, we find that women self-select into independent work roles where greater autonomy defines the work, where the role allows for greater freedom to make decisions and structure activities, and where the workweeks are shorter—allowing for greater temporal flexibility.”
Palagashvili adds that flexibility is the main advantage for women in the gig economy, especially for primary caregivers. The economist stresses that the gig can be an attractive option for women to balance work with family duties. Yet, reforms are necessary: “Independent workers don’t have access to employment-based protections and benefits,” she stresses. Counterproductive policies and damaging regulation could limit women’s abilities to generate income in the gig economy.
Jobs our grandchildren might occupy
The Bank of America recently published its “Future of Work” report and predicted massive shifts in the labor market. Artificial intelligence, the internet of things, and augmented reality could create a set of new jobs.
CNBC summarized the most interesting possible jobs predicted by the Bank of America:
Space tourist guide
Leisure time planner
3D lab meat scientist
Virtual reality influencer
Genetic computational AI biologist
Agriculture rewilding strategist
Non-bias ethical algorithm programmer
Data privacy manager
My personal impression: Most of these jobs are an extrapolation of what we know now. But progress usually carries a decent amount of randomness, surprise, and serendipity. Therefore, it is hardly possible to predict future jobs.
Perhaps space tourism will never become a thing because it’s too resource intense. Maybe people will reject lab meat entirely.
Yet, one thing we know for sure: There is no future without data. Data science would probably be a good call for our grandchildren.
Who’s betting on remote work?
Remote work is here to stay - that’s what many experts believe. While many companies have closed down their offices in the US and decided to go remote first, the story is slightly different in Europe.
In Germany, many workers went back to the office as soon as they could. While during the first wave in April 2020, 27 percent of all workers worked from home; in November 2020, this number fell to 14 percent.
However, companies are betting on digital collaboration fueled by remote work. One of them is the Danish startup Butter. Jakob Knutzen, Christopher Holm-Hansen and Adam Wan developed an app to make digital workshops smoother. It might remind Butter users of Zoom with its break-out rooms, but the Danish app combines more features to make workshops as dynamic as in a face-to-face setting.
In Germany, Christian Reber wants to develop a presentation-based social network called Pitch. Pitch allows teams to work on presentations jointly. Users can share their presentations with the public and receive open feedback. The big advantage Reber sees is data-driven feedback. Presentations on Pitch measure which slides captured the most attention. A/B testing shall be possible, too.
Number of the week: 85 percent of side-gig platform workers make less than $500
The Washington Post’s personal finance columnist Michelle Singletary recommends vigilant financial discipline to those contemplating quitting their jobs and living off the gig economy.
According to a study by loan provider Earnest, 85 percent of people working in the platform economy make less than $500 per month. In total, one in four Americans is earning on digital platforms like Etsy, Airbnb, or Uber.
While Singletary recommends to set a baseline for expenses and calculate all household expenses, the key advice comes from a woman who has successfully turned her side hustle into a business: Jennifer Shealey has made $366,000 on Fiverr offering digital marketing services, and she admits: During the first three years on Fiverr, she made very little money. Patience and continuity are - unsurprisingly - the core elements of a successful platform career.
Recommendation of the week: Listen to David Autor on the future of work
If you are interested in the large-scale impact of technology on work and the labor market, you should definitely listen to David Autor at the London School of Economics. The MIT scholar has been working for decades on the topic and knows everything about wage dynamics, polarizing market trends, and the shrinking middle class: