The Way We Work

Recently I had the opportunity to present at DLD (Digital-Life-Design), Europe’s leading innovation conference. Held in Munich, this year’s conference theme was “Patterns that Connect.”

Of course, the ultimate “connector” today is the Internet. It’s disrupting traditional work and life models as we know them, from the way we connect with other people and the way we structure our organizations to the way we publicly present (and even define) ourselves and our lives.

It’s also changing the way we access the services and products we want and need, by eliminating the friction of intermediaries. This new model, which we call “direct access,” is revolutionizing both the consumer and enterprise world. Whether it’s on the business side, such as server space (Amazon Web Services) and software (, or on the consumer side, like rides (Uber) and accommodations (Airbnb), the on-demand model has quickly become very in-demand as well.

For oDesk, this shift towards “direct access” means that businesses can find and hire independent professionals with the skills they need, on demand, via the Internet. But we’re not alone—at DLD, discussions of the ‘direct access’ model abounded, disrupting industries such as:

  • Manufacturing: 3D printing has reinvented the entire manufacturing supply chain, allowing consumers to directly produce their own products (from ceramic cups to, in the very near future, food)
  • Journalism: Forward-thinking news outlets are recognizing the need to build platforms that enable communities to provide news to each other, with publications adding value on top instead of controlling information delivery
  • Music and literature: Platforms like Rap Genius aim to “annotate the world,” disrupting the traditional model of learning via expert interpretation by enabling the community to annotate rap lyrics, and eventually to add commentary on books

In just one day’s sessions, you can see the wide range of ways in which innovative people are using the direct access model to solve the world’s most pressing issues:

It’s clear that direct access represents not just a new business model, but a new way of thinking about things like ownership, organizational structure, and even how we collaborate with others. It also has particular importance for the next generation of entrepreneurs and professionals, many of which are struggling to find their place in the job market.

Someone recently asked me about my advice for this generation, considering the competitive employment landscape they are facing. I told them that opportunity still abounds for those who are creative and entrepreneurial—especially those who embrace the direct access model, who use their innate fluency with digital platforms to their advantage. We have only scratched the surface of what this model can do; it’s up to them to take it to the next level.

So my advice to the entrepreneurs and game-changers of tomorrow is this: open your minds to new ways of working, learning and thinking. Use direct access to create your own career path—and even to create your own business that uses this model to further disrupt the status quo. Just as direct access empowers businesses to be more efficient and agile, it empowers professionals and innovators to blaze new trails.

I look forward to seeing the amazing things you will create.

Gary Swart

Chief Executive Officer

Gary Swart is the CEO of oDesk, the world’s largest online workplace. Gary is a thought leader in entrepreneurship; how best to hire and manage teams; and the future of work, including online work. He is passionate about helping small businesses thrive, fueled by his extensive experience working with startups and small businesses that use oDesk, as well as by mentoring entrepreneurs and business school… read more