The pandemic fundamentally altered Taskrabbit CEO Ania Smith’s idea of work, leading her to make a dramatic decision in April: shutter all of the company’s offices.
The decision to shutter four global offices came after a key revelation: Taskrabbit’s more than 200,000 global gig workers aren’t alone in their desire for flexibility. Founded in 2008 and owned by Ikea, Taskrabbit is an on-demand service that connects gig workers to jobs like assembling furniture, repairing household items or cleaning services for a fee.
Taskrabbit rolled out a remote-first strategy in April, after initially allowing employees to work from the office on a voluntary basis. But employees’ habits and desires were clear. So Taskrabbit nixed its corporate offices in lieu of monthly get-togethers and is providing corporate employees with two “wellness weeks” a year, during which workers will get paid time off. It doesn’t plan to adjust pay for workers who relocate and has expanded its hiring practices to regularly seek candidates outside of San Francisco, where the company is based.
Smith, who moved to the United States from Poland when she was 12, became Taskrabbit’s CEO in August 2020 and hopes the company helps more people make a living with freedom to work when they want and ability to set their own prices.
“That would have really made a difference in my and my parents’ [lives] 30 years ago,” she said. “I hope that we’re creating those types of opportunities for people.”
She sat down for an interview to discuss the future of work for gig workers. Edited excerpts are below.
Q: How did the pandemic change how Taskrabbit workers do their jobs?
A: As the pandemic has gone on, we have seen a huge increase in tasks at home — everything from furniture assembly to small handiwork type of tasks. People have spent a lot more time at home, and so our taskers are busier than they have been in the past.
Q: What role does gig work play in a post-pandemic economy?
A: The gig economy is likely going to continue to expand. We have seen unprecedented growth over the last two years, and we don’t see that trend changing anytime soon. More people really want autonomy. Being with friends and being with family is more important to them than work. They’re trying to fit [work around their lives] as opposed to the other way around.
Q: What changes did you make at the corporate office during the pandemic that will remain?
A: Mandating people to come into the office two or three times a week is not something that we believe is going to work for Taskrabbit. We are getting teams together once a month in key hub locations so that people can continue to connect. They can work together. But generally speaking, we’re asking people to work from home. All of this is going to continue to evolve because it’s a learning process.
Q: How did Taskrabbit arrive at its current work policies?
A: We would survey [employees] every three or four months, and their answers drastically would change. We opened our offices in the summer of 2021, and what we learned is that unless we mandate it, people are not showing up. [Monthly get-togethers] is just something we’re trying. It’s really hard to build a culture without having that opportunity to sit down [together]. We held our first team week [a four-day, voluntary in-person week for planning and meetings], and generally speaking, it was a big success. We have been chatting with our employees about how it’s continuing to change. We have to be able to adapt.
Q: Does the future of work include offices?
A: Fundamentally, yes, but not in the same way that we did in the past. The notion that everyone needs to come into the office Monday through Friday is outdated. Most workers will crave some sort of flexibility. I would go as far as to say that companies that are not providing flexibility may likely see more attrition and will have more challenges with hiring.
Q: Have you seen a change in worker interest since announcing your new policies?
A: Yes, absolutely. It definitely gives us a benefit when we’re competing with the bigger players in Silicon Valley — with the Googles and Metas and everyone else who is requiring people to come into the office at least part time.
Q: Gig workers rarely have benefits. Is gig work contributing to income inequality?
A: At Taskrabbit, the average hourly rate is $49 an hour, which is way above minimum wage. In some cities like New York City or Washington D.C., it’s closer to $60 an hour. I do think that we need to work closer with government entities, companies and associations to provide more opportunities for gig workers to have some benefits. We haven’t been able to get there yet, but I think it’s really important to do so, especially as the number of gig workers grows.
Q: Do you think gig workers should be reclassified as employees?
A: We don’t fall into some of the legislation that [has been] passed because those are primarily for transportation networks. We are a referral agency, which gives gig workers the autonomy to set their own rates. We don’t see that happening anytime in the future.
Q: What kind of benefits should gig workers have and what are you doing to help?
A: Gig workers could have accounts that are tax-free that help to pay for their health benefits. When covid happened, the first set of relief packages actually included gig workers. We need to move in that direction. We are constantly working with legislators across the states. We’re also in six countries in Europe, so we are working with those legislators as well.
Q: Is gig work increasing because of return-to-office mandates?
A: Yes, we see that continuing to happen. Workers crave the autonomy to set their own schedules, spend time with their loved ones, fulfill their passions and do other things. We see that also at the corporate level.
Q: How is Taskrabbit dealing with the labor shortage?
A: It’s definitely been a competitive [corporate] labor market. One of the ways that we’re answering that is making sure that we are doubling down on our culture, on the benefits that we provide to our employees, one of which is the flexibility to work anywhere. I don’t see competition changing anytime soon.
Q: What tech improvements is Taskrabbit working on?
A: Leveraging data and doing a lot of algorithmic work to ensure that if you want a TV mounted on a brick wall on a Friday afternoon in this neighborhood, we’re going to send to you the tasker who has done exactly that before and who can be there on time. We’re focused on optimization.