The Demise of Uber Works? COVID-19 and the Future of On-Demand Staffing

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Uber Works is shuttering operations across the country following the downturn in demand caused by COVID-19. But what does this really mean for the future of on-demand staffing?

Over the past few weeks there has been news of mass layoffs and office closures at Uber Works. This is a company that not long ago was seemingly threatening to upset traditional staffing practices with its finely tuned on-demand model and the same mobile tech that turned the taxi industry on its head. And then in less than a year, it’s all but disappeared. 

There was mixed reaction from the industry about the impact Uber Works would have when it first arrived into the event staffing industry. Some feared it, some did not. Some understood the threat but believed that if their agency adopted mobile-first technology and more agile methods, their expertise would keep them ahead of the curve. But what many are left grappling with now is the question of what this signals for on-demand staffing overall. If Uber is getting out, does that mean we were wrong about where the industry was headed?

The need for on-demand staffing is still there, it just might look different

We all know that COVID has hit different staffing verticals in very different ways. Event staffing, hospitality, and certain branches of medical staffing have seen their demand eradicated almost overnight. But warehousing, food supply and other medical placements have seen demand soar. 

Uber’s decision to enter into event staffing first was a good one – it seemed ripe for disruption at the time. But the unforeseen circumstance of a global health pandemic meant it would become a less than fruitful entry point into the staffing industry. And they simply wouldn’t have had enough jobs to fill to truly test the success of their on-demand model. 

But other on-demand providers who place across different verticals have seen very different results. Wonolo has seen a 25% increase in placements into essential businesses, a 10% increase in newly unemployed workers downloading their app, and triple digit growth in some market areas. 

GigSmart, an on-demand staffing solution that has been operating in multiple verticals across all 50 states since 2018, offers another example. Since states began to lift stay at home orders, it has seen increased demand for workers in warehousing, landscaping, construction, food delivery, grocery, and general labor.

On-demand experiences are becoming a new normal for many

In addition to certain demand fluctuations, it’s important to consider how closures and restrictions during COVID have impacted your candidates’ experience and expectations surrounding mobile technology. 

As widely used as mobile apps were before COVID, there has been an estimated 20% spike in mobile app usage during the pandemic. Again, as we’ve seen in the types of jobs being placed by companies like Wonolo, it’s very industry specific. While usage for apps in travel, hospitality and real estate may be down, downloads for apps used for entertainment, socializing and performing work from home duties have spiked. But the bottom line is that people are spending more time on apps and engaging with technology of all types than ever before.

And in many instances a move toward gig platforms has been instrumental for many to find work amid the pandemic. Where Uber Works might be struggling, Uber Eats is thriving as both new consumers and new workers flock to the platform. And through these experiences, workers are getting a taste of mobile deployment and agencies need to ask themselves: will my candidates now expect the same conveniences from traditional staffing? 

In short: the opportunity for on-demand staffing is there, but it is specific and you have to plan strategically to capture it. And for agencies, this may mean that you have to be willing to pivot. And you’ll have to adopt agile technology and processes, because the needs will continue to shift in unprecedented ways and in unpredictable directions. 

On-demand is actually more important now than ever before

Getting workers back to work isn’t as easy as simply having jobs for them. Even in areas where there is demand for workers, agencies have cited a host of reasons why it’s difficult to get people back to work, from communicating amid safety concerns to offering pay that is competitive enough with unemployment amounts. There are a host of new considerations that agencies need to work into their current models in order to fill jobs as they arise over the coming weeks, months and even years.

And on-demand models offer unique opportunities to overcome these roadblocks.

Operating in real time is more important than ever before as needs are changing fast and frequently. Quickly reengaging dormant workers in your database might be key to maintaining fill rates if you’re competing with unemployment payouts. And overcommunication is going to be central to worker engagement. If workers are concerned about COVID safety precautions, how are you going to be communicating all relevant information to make them feel at ease?

It’s an unprecedented time in staffing and it’s going to be important moving forward that agencies are agile and adaptable. On-demand staffing is one of the ways that you can ensure you remain ahead of the curve and it will prove to be an important part of many agencies’ post-COVID recovery plan.

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