The working man desires not only to receive the remuneration due to him for his work, but also to take into consideration, in the very process of production, the possibility for him to be aware that, even if he works in a collective property, he works at the same time “on his own account” (John Paul II, Laborem exercisens, 15).

Work as our fathers knew it is today in complete upheaval, and with it the very notion of business. The figures are there: 53 million freelancers in the United States, 2.8 million in France, an increase of 25% on average. It is a major social phenomenon. According to the 2017 Deloitte Global Human Capital Trends study, 51% of executives believe their organization plans to increase the use of independent and flexible employees in the next three to five years. Organizations that were once communities of employees are now becoming groups of freelancers and open structures. We are in fact witnessing an “Uberization” of work – the expression has been coined.

While there are obvious economic reasons for this development, such as unemployment, there are also sociological reasons.
The Uberization of work is also little criticized by Millennials, or Generation Y, those twenty- and thirty-somethings who are and will be the most affected by the phenomenon. They see it as a form of freedom and a path of opportunity, exchange and discovery. They could identify it with a new approach to the principle of subsidiarity. You can have a job in the morning and start a business in the evening. You seem to benefit from a certain responsible autonomy and freedom in managing your time. You can browse, innovate and enjoy it.

A feature of this new trend resembles Hollywood, bringing together an entire community for eighteen months to make a film, these show productions that I had the chance to meet and which are temporary hives made up of independents, even to these fellow independent cathedral builders (although the duration was often much longer). The time is no longer for a closed organization, but for an open ecosystem.

Faced with this, companies are sometimes taken aback. Management is being shaken up by the development of independent work: recruitment, talent management, platforms, social rights, etc. Companies are finding it more and more difficult to establish an internal culture among people (employees or freelancers) who are unfaithful. However, a company is indeed a human community with a view to building a work.

We have already mentioned the word company which refers to the action of breaking bread together and sharing; we could also consider the term corporate referring to the body, which takes us back to the Letter of Saint Paul to the Romans:

For, just as our body in its unity has more than one member and these members do not all have the same function, so we, together, form only one body in Christ, each being for its part, members of each other. But, having different gifts according to the grace given to us, if it is the gift of prophecy, let us exercise it in proportion to our faith; if it is service, by serving; teaching, by teaching; exhortation, exhorting. Let him who gives do so without calculation; he who presides, with diligence; the one who exercises mercy, radiant with joy’.

Saint Basil, father of oriental monasticism, teaches that “the specific charisma of each person becomes the common good of the whole”. This applies to the human and “corporeal” community that the company forms. Whatever the contractual form that unites the workers. This sense of work, of cooperation, of the relationships we form, of the talents we share, of the common goal, is at the heart of our dignity.

In the United States, a country where more freelancers flourish than anywhere else, technology companies have understood the importance of culture in supporting a community of often unfaithful developers. This culture, which we saw in Chapter III was missionary, is also unifying. Google, Facebook, LinkedIn, IBM and all the others have thus set up community “moments” which punctuate the life of the company and allow regular reminders of its mission and values. With as a common thread this right vision that the company is a place of transformation.

Anyone who goes to Silicon Valley can be irritated by many “values”. We do not all want to change the world in the same way and there is a lack of discernment in what true freedom and just equality are.

However, at a time when robotics is invading factories and artificial intelligence is replacing service operators, it is interesting, even necessary, to rediscover the community spirit of our companies, to zoom in on the essential aspect of human work, to understand that a company, beyond the service it is called upon to provide and the profit it generates, is also a community of united people. In the age of cheating work, digital companies are learning to let their employees grow in open organizations, sometimes letting them start their own start-ups, and then come back (these are then “boomerangs”) to talk to you of their community with gems in their eyes.

Like the current definition of a people, unicorns, these new billionaire companies, share their own culture, language, codes, governance that are each specific to them. Often, they also share this almost mystical and unifying bond of the community that is the charismatic leader. All of these elements are more difficult to implement with independent workers, although the technological world demonstrates that this is possible.

So that these new companions spreading everywhere, even in the most traditional sectors, can rediscover the meaning of the company, which is team, culture, mobility, exchange or inner nourishment, the phenomenon of coworking spaces has developed in parallel. Their number continues to grow, multiplying tenfold between 2011 and 2017; today there are more than ten thousand across the world; more than a million people would work there. These are shared office spaces which welcome independent workers (but not only) within a network and a community, and offer them the necessary places to socialize. These spaces have even been designed according to the teachings of cognitive sciences, which provide planning keys to generate an environment of well-being.

In this context, the independent worker is no longer alone. It integrates a renewed, but spiritual, form of medieval guild. In addition to the freedom that he seems to find in his status, in addition to the personal life balance that he has created, he works in a suitable environment and therefore belongs to several communities which nourish his desire for relationships and of mutual aid, and accompany him on the path to his vocation. The freelancer belongs to the different “community” companies for which he works and which must integrate him into their “body”; but it also belongs to its collaborative network and its coworking space, which could be compared to the mobile teams of companions of the Middle Ages.
There is nevertheless a major pitfall in this partial reality of independence, which forces us to move from the principle of subsidiarity to that of a preferential option for the poor.

Work in small and medium-sized businesses, artisanal work and self-employment can provide an opportunity to make working life more human, both through the possibility of establishing positive interpersonal relationships in small-scale communities and to the opportunities offered by a greater spirit of initiative and enterprise; but there are many cases, in these sectors, of unfair treatment, poorly paid and above all precarious work.

In freelance, there are many cases of precarious work. Most freelancers are not ICT developers dictating their rules to their clients, but rather low-skilled people, working on a gig basis and seeking a living wage on all these new sharing economy platforms. They do not benefit from any social protection and their risks (which the companies have transferred to them) are not covered, although original initiatives have appeared in the United States, such as freelancers’ unions which have been able to negotiate insurance for their members. . They cannot borrow for housing, due to lack of pay slips, and are therefore prevented from building a life project. Here again, initiatives are emerging, such as loan guarantees for freelancers, but this adventure of independent work and the mobility of work are very often real obstacles to married life, to this founding sacrament of Christian life.

We are therefore seeing the emergence of a more complex societal upheaval that can only be filtered through the economic prism. Furthermore, if large networking platforms allow independent workers to coordinate their activity and manage their reputation, they do not necessarily gain freedom, in the Christian sense of the term; independence and freedom are not synonymous.

Indeed, by lowering transaction costs and simplifying tasks, technology has led to certain jobs becoming more precarious, or even subjecting them to other masters. The best known case, without stigmatizing it, is that of Amazon Mechanical Turk. Via this platform, Amazon has been offering tens of thousands of contributors the opportunity to carry out common tasks for low remuneration since 2005. They are called human intelligence tasks (HIT), in reference to artificial intelligence. Thus, in the morning, afternoon or evening, thousands of people come to earn a few extra dollars by translating texts, moderating content, analyzing images, writing comments… and educating people artificial intelligence. Said tasks are broken down into micro actions to be easily carried out, which often transforms them into repetitive work.

We thus see two facets of the same phenomenon that Christians could be called to discern. On the one hand, a liberating principle of subsidiarity; on the other, a preferential option for the poor far from being achieved.

But while Christians are asking themselves this social question of the “poor” at work, the digital age is advancing by leaps and bounds and forcing us to integrate a new element: artificial intelligence. The human person liberates himself as a freelancer, impoverishes himself in piece work, but ultimately, will he still work tomorrow?

This text is an extract from the book “GOD, THE COMPANY, GOOGLE AND ME” written by Thomas JAUFFRET.

We invite you to read the following article “Artificial intelligence towards human charismas

Independent work

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