• United States

Exposing the hidden workforce

Jun 29, 20043 mins
ComputersSmall and Medium Business

* Independent professionals changing residential landscape

Even just a couple of years ago, my neighborhood was dead during the day. Take a walk and maybe pass a parent pushing a stroller, a retired neighbor walking a Lab; occasionally, a car would pass. Everyone and everything moved as if underwater.   

Now morning rush hour never really lets up. People are bustling, full of purpose, short on time, edged with stress. The office is everywhere. The office is us – for better or worse.

Some are corporate teleworkers like me, but most, at least where I live in southern Maine, are home-based business people, many with long corporate histories – consultants, marketers, engineers, programmers, writers – who’re using technology to win clients all over the world. They live in or moved to “Vacationland” because they want to, not for some job.

To Charlie Grantham and Jim Ware, this segment is the future of work (see editorial link below). To Amy Zuckerman, it’s the “hidden economy.”

When Zuckerman launched her organization Hidden Tech two years ago, her goal was two-fold. Locally, in Amherst, Mass., she wanted to bring together home-based entrepreneurs who had “clustered” in the area to create a “social network” and give each other work. But on a grander scale, Zuckerman and the Hidden Tech organization wants to connect hidden workers everywhere, get them noticed by big companies and acknowledged by government as a force of the new economy.

Today, the group has about 700 members, who post descriptions of their skills on the job site, hook up in community forums, gather for traditional business network events and educational seminars on how to manage growth, for instance. 

Though tech’s part of the name, Zuckerman says, “We’ve got everyone from hardcore software and hardware developers to animators to trainers and management consultants. What unites us is that we work from home and tech drives our business.”

Zuckerman also conducts research defining hidden workers and measuring their impact on their communities – reports from which technology councils and economic development groups elsewhere can work. “There’s no way to track this population without doing it manually,” she says. To uncover hidden workers, you need to analyze three workforce segments defined in the 2000 U.S. Census Report: self-employed workers, non-employers (companies with no employees) and home-based workers/companies.

Zuckerman’s hidden workers share these traits: They consider themselves business operators, not freelancers; they don’t plan to hire in-house staff or manage a large in-house operation; they work alone or with one or two people, hiring subcontractors for overflow. They are tech savvy and credit technology for their survival.   

To build the largest pool of companies, Hidden Tech doesn’t charge a membership fee. To generate revenue, it’s looking to sponsorships and paid advertising, and hopes to find an angel investor to help grow the brand globally. With funding, you could see a Hidden Tech group pop up in your area, tied to the global online community.

“By creating Hidden Tech, we’ve brought these people out of the woodwork,” Zuckerman says, which of course means they’re no longer hidden.

For more details, read Zuckerman’s reports here