The days of full-time employment and long-term job stability are coming to an end. Nasdaq estimates that 43 percent of the U.S. workforce will be freelancers by 2020, part of a growing gig economy of project-based jobs. This raises a lot of concerns about the future of work, especially when there is also the threat of A.I. and robots replacing workers.
While these trends continue, another technology-driven disruption seems poised to redefine the very meaning of work, career and employment. Blockchain systems — the decentralized technology that underpins bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies by enabling the secure peer-to-peer transfer of value — offer the possibility for each of us to become free agents who collaborate on projects, get paid for what we contribute and have the quality of our work assessed by peers and clients.
We will hire and be hired according to our reputations and trusted networks. In fact, with technology replacing managers and harnessing our collective intelligence, there may not even be any bosses. Well, there will be one boss, you, the boss of your own career.
The key to this new "future of work" system? Trusted reputation scores built upon the experiences of colleagues, collaborators and clients and accumulated over a lifetime of project contribution, all secured by a blockchain to guarantee accuracy, immutability and personal control over your own data.
It sounds crazy, but what blockchain systems do better than any technology in history is allow for trust between individuals to scale to global levels. Blockchains remove the need for third party intermediaries (anyone ranging from Visa, to colleges, to the DMV) whose role is to attest to the accuracy of any statement that, with verification, facilitates trust. It's the difference between someone saying, "I was a key player on Project X" and having a sworn affidavit from a client and a boss that says, 'John was a key player on Project X."
With blockchain, statements presented to you by potential team members will be verifiable by inspecting an open-source and decentralized (not controlled by any one authority) reputation network. Think LinkedIn, but where you can be sure that the recommender was the boss or client or that the individual actually does have that mutual friend in common with you. All of this information could allow you to make better informed hiring decisions. You could be sure that the person with the 5-star rating as a graphic designer actually has real clients who paid her and didn't just get her friends to say she was great.
Blockchain enables and encourages trust. You can't cheat the system because every attestation is connected to your actual identity and making false statements about someone or something becomes a part of your personal record, damaging your credibility, reputation, and trustworthiness. You are incentivized to behave in a trustworthy manner which is better for everyone. The technology may sound intimidating or complex, but the underlying idea is nothing new. Work has always been about trust - trusting your co-workers, leadership, building trust with customers. That trust has always been based on relationships. Now there is a digital trust infrastructure being built on blockchain systems. This is good news if you are a solid contributor who builds meaningful relationships and adds value consistently. It's bad news for your co-workers who stare at the computer all day waiting to leave and watching you do the work.
The future of work gets really interesting when you think about decentralization and trust inside of organizations. Instead of having a CEO and a board that make all of the big, difficult decisions (which yields them excessive power and salary), these decisions will be made collectively by an organization's members. It is as if everyone has the right to vote on an entire set of managerial decisions on a daily basis.
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On the surface it sounds impractical and unwieldy, especially if you are accustomed to a hierarchical, command-and-control environment found in a Fortune 1000 company. However, a new class of software, called DAOs or Decentralized Autonomous Organizations, are emerging to enable decentralized decision-making at a global scale.
One new blockchain-based project, DAOstack, is building a "Wordpress for DAOs." Their vision is to enable anyone to roll out a DAO with governance components at low cost and high speed. There are a number of other start-ups in the space, and interest among the crypto-enthusiasts has exploded in the past few months. We should start seeing more and more DAOs hit the market toward the end of 2018, paving the way for a more trust-based, collaborative future of work that you actually enjoy more.
"Instead of automating away jobs, technology could augment our ability to collectively solve problems," says David Passiak, author of Empower: How to Co-Create the Future. "With the help of DAOs, humans can become more creative and intelligent than we ever imagined."
Running on blockchain systems, the members of an organization can set rules for behavior, collective decision-making, funding, governance, hiring and firing. Those rules can be enforced without the need for a procurement officer, HR, accounts payable or marketing. "Code is law" is a frequently cited motto among blockchain believers, but for organizations a slightly better approach may be "Code is policy."
By automating management of organizations and, by extension, teams and projects within those organizations, DAOs offer extreme flexibility to project leaders. They will have the ability to assemble the necessary workforce skills coordinated around value delivery from contributors with known reputation and/or skills. The rules of engagement and compensation will be clear and followed. You will know, from the outset, how much your contribution is worth to the overall success of the team's efforts and, how much you could earn if your teammates and colleagues think you are a rock star. The same will be true of them.
"Blockchain technology makes it easier to pay people for the value of their work as it happens," says Chelsea Rustrum, author of It's a Shareable Life and founder of Blockchain for Good in San Francisco. Blockchains enable "smart contracts," which are agreements that are automatically executed based on given criteria without the need for human intervention. This means, for example, that when a customer pays an invoice, all of the participants in the project are paid immediately without the need for separate invoices or checks. Even better, Rustrum says "blockchains provide an opportunity to share long-term value and ownership with a wider net of people who are responsible for the success of any given endeavor."
All of those data points, collected and secured in the blockchain for future use, will be connected to your profile and used to your advantage (hopefully) for the subsequent project. Over time, as people acquire new skills and demonstrate proficiency in contributing meaningfully to a project, each of us will have the opportunity to get utilized in projects where we contribute the most value and, in turn, get the highest possible compensation. Imagine that, you'll get to do what you are really good at doing ... and get paid for it. It may not even feel like work at some point.
What's more, with known reputation scores and collective action, it is unlikely that a "favorite of the boss" will get the accolades in front of a client when everyone else knows that he did nothing of value. Lastly, people in need of assistance will have the opportunity to select from a known pool of talent to meet their needs for a given task, not just whoever is on the company payroll at the time.
Best of all, a hiring policy such as "We only take 5-star performers" or "Every project must have one person with a 0 reputation score so we can help someone get a leg up," or "We must have one minority or veteran on this project" can be enforced. Moreover, the policy can be decided collectively, not by the VP of HR. Again, trust at scale.
Finally, because of so-called "smart contracts," getting plugged into payment systems will become increasingly frictionless. No more deadweight loss due to contract signings, billing, expense reports and collections.
All of this change may sound discomforting and certainly unfamiliar. However, with 70 percent of people disengaged at work, it seems fairly clear that many people would prefer an alternative to the status quo. Supported by systems of global trust, secured by blockchains, the day may soon come where you are able to do more of what you are really good at and get paid for it, all without a boss.
— Jeremy Epstein, CEO of Never Stop Marketing