By André Roque
From ZipCar to Uber, from Airbnb to Couchsurfing – we’ve all seen the rise of the peer-to-peer economy, and many of us have made use of it to earn or save extra money.
But as we move towards a skill-and-asset-swapping culture, there are challenges ahead. So can the sharing economy survive? Or will it sink?
If we look at some of the biggest names in the asset-swapping game, Uber and Airbnb, we can see that they have already been struggling with regulatory hurdles. These hurdles come from governments that are still trying to understand the implications of this new landscape, and are busy creating legislation aimed at protecting their assets as well as the public’s.
For those who have enjoyed the benefits of Airbnb and Uber etc., asset sharing may feel like second nature – 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.
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 benefitted 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.
There are companies already working to address this issue of fairness. 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, it’s likely that governments will need to step in to protect workers.
As always, while some people are negatively affected, others can benefit from the increased demand for supporting services. It’s fair to say that more Uber drivers will mean a rise in demand for car cleaning services in the same area. 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.
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 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. As a result, new companies are springing up to address some of these issues, for example, Homeit provides remote access for hosts and guest – so they need never meet, and no one is left hanging around outside waiting for their host or guest to appear.
Very 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 worker 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.
For those of us intending to utilise the sharing economy while it’s still building up to the crest of its wave, the trials of property management, government legislation and host-wrangling could turn into a massive headache. And so, it’s the supporting platforms that are the most useful for streamlining that experience. 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.