17/09/2013

By Matt Cooper, Vice President of International and Enterprise, oDesk


Four weeks ago, Facebook partnered with six other companies to launch Internet.org, a bold initiative that aims to extend Internet access to all, worldwide. If successful, the initiative will radically change the lives of the people it touches.

The announcement has reverberated around the world, sparking wide-ranging reactions. And, so it should.

A fully connected world has many potentially positive implications beyond better communication. One ripple effect that has been left largely unexplored is the initiative’s impact on jobs and the future of work.

The Internet has already opened up access for businesses and professionals to work together, allowing them to meet and collaborate via online workplaces like oDesk. However, with only one-third of the world connected, bringing the rest online could prompt a rapid change in the way we work with substantial gains for the global economy.

What type of economic effect am I talking about? If Internet.org successfully connects the world’s 5 billion currently unconnected people, oDesk estimates it could lead to approximately $27.6 billion of additional work via the Internet over a 10-year period.

The size of this figure illustrates the inefficiencies in the current job market. In the UK, two issues frequently surface in the press — high unemployment rates and talent shortages. By removing geographical limitations, both problems stand to drastically improve.

If more people are able to access jobs via the Internet, a greater number of professionals will take control of their career, do what they love, and earn what they’re worth in a global economy. At the same time, businesses will be able to alleviate talent shortages by hiring online and choosing the best possible workers from around the world, increasing productivity levels and effectively competing in the global economy.

In a fully connected world, companies struggling to find the skills they need can hire them online, no matter where they exist in the world. Going online allows businesses to staff flexibly, which is a better fit for the more results-driven organisations of the future.

Entrepreneurs and small business owners are particularly aware of this issue as their business model and stage of growth may not justify full-time hires. Or, they may find themselves unable to compete against big companies to hire the talent they need locally.

British entrepreneurs are already seeing the benefit of online work’s flexibility across a range of industries. For instance, Alex Hamilton, Founder of radiant.law, hires online freelancers and appreciates the agility it brings to his business. He finds he can get a project up and running quickly, saying, “I can think of an idea in the shower, and by the end of the day I can have someone working on it.”

Teddle, an online marketplace for cleaners and a Springboard, now Techstars, accelerator graduate finds something similar. Co-founder Alex Depledge, says, “When you’re small, you don’t need someone all the time. That’s why online work makes sense for startups.”

However, while British businesses are already reaping the benefits of online work, this is just the beginning. More than $1 billion in work was completed on oDesk alone via its online workplace, illustrating a massive shift in the way people work and collaborate on a global scale. A significant milestone for the industry, it is still dwarfed by the potential for the market. I for one look forward to a better-connected world where both businesses and professionals are able to tap into online work to accelerate their success.