From ZipCar to Uber, from Airbnb to Couchsurfing – we’ve come to a mass realisation that by sharing our assets we can both make and save money.
But while we’re taking steps away from the capitalist economy and moving back towards a skill-and-asset-swapping culture, we’re also finding that this kind of peer to peer economy comes with its own, often surprising challenges. Can our new sharing economy survive? Or will it sink?
Two of the biggest names in the asset-swapping game, Uber and Airbnb, have had ongoing regulation struggles. These hurdles come from governments that are trying to get their heads around the new landscape and creating legislation aimed at protecting their assets as well as the public’s.
The sharing economy might feel like second nature to a lot of Airbnb users, but the wider landscape is still fragile and yet to be explored. As is evident by the Financial Times’ Sharing Economy Summit,* where the most informed brains came together to point out the possible pitfalls and concerns for those navigating this new marketplace.
Is it fair?
A lot of sharing economy-reliant companies are (in theory) just connecting those with a skill (I can drive and need some extra money) with those who require that skill (I have a little money and need to get somewhere by car). But how can a company that’s just connecting people with services they require be sure their labour is in a secure and properly benefited working environment? Zero-hours contracts aside, there are concerns that a female cleaner, for instance, can be denied employment status, and therefore maternity pay and other benefits, despite working for a single company.
hassle.com for example, has strict rules around providing the London living wage to their staff. In fact, the platform’s CEO Alex Depledge says that their ultimate aim is to destroy the black markets that have been exploiting the housekeeping labour force for so long. As self-employment via online platforms becomes more common, perhaps governments will have to step in to protect workers.
On the other hand, many companies are benefitting from the increased demand for supporting services. It’s fair to say that an increase in Uber drivers will mean an increased demand for car cleaning services in the same area. And a higher number of Airbnb properties will lead to a greater need for ‘on demand’ cleaning services. Homeit, a remote access provider used mostly by short term property rental hosts, is an example of one company that has spotted this correlation. It has just started to integrate cleaning services into the app, so that as you accept a reservation, you can then arrange for your property to be cleaned in time for the guests.
Is it trustworthy?
Uber has suffered massive knocks to its reputation and subsequently promised more rigorous screening processes for hiring drivers, and in these periods of mistrust it’s the traditional services that people will go back to – in this case, black cabs.
The whole idea of a sharing economy relies on utopian values, and on the delicate balance of no-one abusing the opportunities it provides; we need to trust the cleaner we’re letting into our house. In the past, this trust was based on personal recommendation. Now it comes in the form of a trusted platform. In theory, if a guest in your property damages something, you rate them badly and they can even be banned from services like Airbnb. This helps hosts to rely on the platform.
There’s also the interaction with strangers. Travellers (and hosts) may not feel comfortable waiting around to speak with a stranger. This is of particular concern to minorities and LGBTQI customers. It is services like Homeit, working in tandem with existing platforms, that remove the need to meet the host or guest by providing remote access.
Is it risky?
Recently, hundreds of people came together at Los Angeles City Hall for a hearing on how a tourist destination like LA should regulate its short-term rental industry. Members of the local hotel workers’ union, as well as HomeAway, VRBO and Airbnb supporters, filled the room. The discussion was about the need for rules that place a 180-day cap on the time a room can be let during a single year. Other restrictions stated that hosts must live at the property they are renting. Discussions like these are happening all over the world, arguing that Airbnb rentals affect longer-term rental properties and increase the cost of living rent.
In Barcelona, the government is cracking down on illegal hosts who aren’t paying tax on their rental income. In 2015 Airbnb generated an economic impact of €740 million in that city alone.
In the short-term the sharing economy is only set to get bigger as tech entrepreneurs come up with new and innovative ways to help us share our assets and make or save money – but in order for sharing to be the new norm, legislation and technology will need to change and develop to make the process simpler, fairer for workers, and safer for both hosts and users.
About the author: André Roque is co-founder of Homeit, a remote access platform, that allows you to grant guests, tenants and tradespeople -cleaners, laundry, etc. access to your property remotely. It integrates with short-term rental platforms and also recommends tested service providers in your area. It is easy, fast, reliable and, most importantly, safe. Designed for the new sharing economy – Homeit is perfect for travellers and hosts using platforms like Airbnb.