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    August 17, 2023

    Decentralizing the Future of Work: An Insightful Interview with Cory Hymel, VP of Product & Research at Gigster, on Harnessing Web3 for Workplace Transformation

    As the VP of Product & Research at Gigster, Cory Hymel runs all things Web3 and academic partnerships to help further research into distributed teams and the future of work. Faced with the challenges of globalization and managing teams across the globe, Gigster was founded about 10 years on the belief that the future of work lies in a distributed model heavily supported by the human cloud.



    Cory Hymel, VP of Product & Research at Gigster


    Gigster operates as a data and research company, applying its tooling processes and research to companies wanting custom software development. Over the years, Hymel's team has devoted its efforts to the research and development of many tools, datasets, machine learning, and AI algorithms.

    I recently sat down to chat with Cory about future of work trends as part of my research to produce Season 1 of The Lever with Drew Fortin. This show highlights how the rise of artificial intelligence (AI), robotics, and Web3 will shift the paradigm of humans at work for the better. I wrote this article based on my notes and transcripts from the interview. You can also watch a video of my interview with Cory Hymel, VP of Product & Research at Gigster, below.

    The Status Quo Has Changed

    During our conversation, Hymel shared his perspective on the employee-employer relationship, remarking its peculiar position. It may not be broken, but it's certainly clear that the status quo has significantly evolved. Reports of 'quiet quitting' and mass resignations often reported in the news and spurred by the pandemic are indicative of this shift - challenging traditional work practices and management principles.

    Hymel believes the unpreparedness of companies to run distributed teams and build strong cultures remotely has led to a fragmentation of the employee-employer relationship. Hymel sees great potential for disruption and growth as businesses adapt and solve these emerging challenges.

    Hymel believes that the rise of blockchain and Web3 communities are counterexamples this challenge. Often made up of thousands of anonymous users, these communities can organize quickly around a central topic, with passion and vigor. These communities serve as an example that strong culture can indeed exist in a decentralized world.

    “With blockchain and web three, you saw massive communities organized quickly, sometimes within a matter of days, with tens of thousands of users. They're able to organize around a central topic that they were all extremely enthusiastic about. They found ways to work together all while a majority of them remain anonymous.” - Cory Hymel, VP of Product & Research at Gigster

    The real issue is that many people do not know how to build a culture within massively distributed teams. Hymel suggests that the entire meaning of 'culture' should be reevaluated. The days of company swag and onsite perks as indicators of a strong culture are fading. Companies need to redefine what culture means in the context of the modern, distributed workforce. This redefinition is a crucial first step towards building meaningful connections with employees and fostering buy-in to the larger mission.

    What Will The Future of Work Look Like in 10 Years?

    Hymel posits two distinct yet interrelated areas that will shape the future of work: the evolution of business structures and the fluidity of the workforce. Drawing insights from the intriguing world of Web3, Hymel foresees a significant shift toward what he calls a 'DAO-hybrid model.' In this model, businesses maintain a core group of employees who handle day-to-day decisions but also harness the power of an elastic and dynamic workforce. This fluid workforce consists of individuals who seamlessly move in and out of roles, contributing when and where they see fit.

    "I predict that a large number of companies will adopt and form under a DOA-hybrid model. Meaning that your business has a core group of hierarchical employees that are able to make day-to-day decisions, but many companies will have large portions of their business that are made up by these kind of elastic and fluid workforces where people are able to move in and out seamlessly and contribute when and where they want." - Cory Hymel, VP of Product & Research at Gigster

    What does this mean for businesses? According to Hymel, it offers stability during economic fluctuations and avoids the high cost of maintaining an extensive permanent staff. More importantly, it allows companies to attract passionate contributors rather than just paycheck earners. This aligns with emerging expectations from the job market, particularly among knowledge workers who value flexibility and autonomy.

    On a broader scale, Hymel firmly believes that the future of work will be an extremely fluid community. The idea of being tethered to one company for long periods will no longer be the norm, especially among tech-savvy knowledge workers. This shift is not just inevitable—it's necessary. With a widening talent gap looming, businesses need to rethink their strategies to attract and retain talent.

    What Skills Will Be Valued in The Future of Work?

    Hymel recalled the initial wave of AI adoption fears of imminent destruction. He believes this fear was based on misunderstanding AI's true purpose. Hymel emphasized that AI is designed to take over lower-level, repetitive tasks that humans, being the pinnacle of known life, shouldn't be relegated to. The goal isn't to replace humans but to free us up for more complex tasks that require abstract thinking that AI can't fulfill.

    “What a lot of people fail to realize is the whole goal - AI is really good at doing low-level kind ofrepeatable tasks that humans really don't deserve to be doing. And when I say don't deserve to be doing, it's things we find so easy. You should be working on things more complex. You are a human being. You are the pinnacle of what our known space is. There's no reason why you should be doing data entry, go do something cooler.” - Cory Hymel, VP of Product & Research at Gigster

    As we gazed into the future, Hymel identified emerging roles that are becoming increasingly important. For instance, a 'prompt engineer'—someone able to query machine learning or AI models for optimal responses—is a particularly new and promising field. Additionally, he anticipates a surge in the need for data tagging, as AI requires human-curated information for learning.

    When it comes to acknowledging the limitations of current AI models, Hymel doesn't shy away. AIs are task-specific and lack the ability to connect the dots as humans can. This is where 'general AI' comes into play, a type of AI that surpasses human capabilities in all aspects. While we're far from this reality, it's the concept that sparks warnings from prominent figures about AI's potential dangers.

    Hymel brought up Deloitte's view that we are currently in the 'age of with,' where humans and technology work together. This is a fundamental shift in how we interact with technology, moving from opposition to collaboration. The hope, Hymel concludes, is that we never reach a point where humans work for technology, maintaining our roles as innovators and leaders. In this light, the future of work is not a dystopian AI-dominated landscape but rather a symbiotic relationship between humans and machines.

    "Deloitte actually calls our current state the' age of with,' meaning that this is a fundamental time of how humans work 'with' technology rather 'than.' And, hopefully, we never get to a point where we work 'for' technology." - Cory Hymel, VP of Product & Research at Gigster

    What is Web3? A Simple Definition

    Hymel, a seasoned Web3 expert, offered up a thoughtful simple-person definition of Web3 by explaining the evolution of the web, breaking it down into Web 1.0, Web 2.0, and Web 3.0.

    Web 1.0, also known as the static web, originated from DARPA and was characterized by static content. This meant that users could view content without interacting with or contributing to it. The internet was more about consumption rather than interaction during this time.

    Web 2.0 represented a shift towards a social sharing web. In this phase, platforms like Facebook, Google, and X (formerly Twitter) emerged, facilitating user creation and interaction. These platforms don't create any content themselves; instead, they provide the infrastructure for users to create and consume content. While this era represents a significant leap forward, Hymel highlighted its limitations, particularly around content ownership and authenticity issues.

    This brings us Web 3.0, or Web3. The defining characteristic of Web3, according to Hymel, is the ability to prove ownership of a digital asset. This might seem like a simple change, but he asserts that it has profound implications. This capacity for digital proof of ownership, powered by blockchain technology, enables systemic growth and opens the door for a host of innovative applications.

    Just as physical assets like land, work, money, and credit can be owned and proven in the real world, so too can digital assets in the world of Web3. This has led to the advent of cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin and Ether, unique assets like NFTs, and even the concept of digital land in metaverses. Hymel also emphasized that it's not just about decentralization but also about establishing clear ownership.

    Blockchain Holds the Promise of Portable Employee Performance Measurement and Career Mobility

    In Hymel's view, the emergence of Web3 represents a significant shift in our digital lives, one that has the potential to reshape our online experiences and interactions. His enthusiasm for the potential of Web3 and blockchain to revolutionize the way we track achievements over time was palpable. He has lent his expertise to numerous projects exploring how to establish workplace credentialing on blockchain, a concept that could transform our approach to career progression.

    As Hymel explains, the key advantage of this approach is the ability to carry your professional history with you as you transition between companies. Given the increasingly fluid nature of the future of work—with individuals frequently moving between roles—this becomes an essential tool. It provides a consistent measure to evaluate individuals across different workplaces.

    "Whenever you move in between companies, you can take that history with you. And if we think about how we perceive the future of work as being more fluid and people actually moving in and out of jobs more frequently, you almost have to have that. You need this anchoring mechanism to measure people at a common level." - Cory Hymel, VP of Product & Research at Gigster.

    In our current system, a college degree often serves as a baseline credential, indicating a certain level of competence or ability. But Hymel suggests that workplace credentialing could offer a more nuanced, accurate, and relevant measure of an individual's capabilities.

    Although managing work credentials on the blockchain seems promising, there are challenges to address. Creating a system that effectively prevents fraud while providing a fair and useful measure of competence is no small task. Hymel is currently collaborating with Stanford on a fascinating study exploring how ranking systems influence behavior.

    While this area of research can be complex and brain-twisting, as Hymel admits, it also presents an exciting opportunity for further exploration. As we move towards a more fluid future of work, innovative approaches to tracking and measuring achievement, and determining fit, will become increasingly important.

    A DAO and How It Will Shape the Future of Work

    A Decentralized Autonomous Organization (DAO), an innovation born out of Web3 and blockchain technology, is the newfound ability to prove provenance or ownership and the creation of digital currencies such as Ether or Bitcoin. This capability has prompted the reimagining of organizational structures, enabling rapid, anonymous, and effective coordination.

    Hymel likens a DAO to an LLC composed of numerous members. Decision-making in a DAO is democratic, with the community voting on all key decisions. Work is allocated and rewarded based on peer-reviewed assessments of effort, ensuring fair compensation. As radical as this may sound, Hymel asserts that it works.

    A DAO is a community-driven, equitable system where work is fairly rewarded and malicious actors can be effectively managed. However, Hymel notes that a pure DAO model may not be entirely suitable for traditional business settings. Instead, he proposes a hybrid DAO model - one that blends the mechanisms of an LLC with the innovative elements of a DAO.

    Is it Possible to Run a Company 100% on Freelance or Fractional Workers?

    In Hymel's professional opinion, running a company entirely on fractional or gig work is not entirely feasible. This insight comes from his extensive experience in enabling fractional work and supporting gig workers. He emphasizes the vital necessity of continuity within any organization, idea, business, or initiative.

    Hiring fractional workers means embracing volatility and fluidity. These workers are not intended to be permanent fixtures in your organization. Instead, they provide specialized skills for specific projects or periods. Therefore, the challenge is to structure your work, ideas, dreams, visions, and roadmaps in ways that these temporary team members can successfully execute. However, Hymel stresses the importance of having some level of orchestration or consistent leadership to guide and manage these efforts.

    "I don't believe it's 100% possible to run a company on strictly fractional or gig work. The main reason why, and coming from me whose job it is to enable fractional and gig workers, is that it's very important to have a base level of continuity within any idea, organization, or business." - Cory Hymel, VP of Product & Research at Gigster

    The term "fractional" might lead some to believe that the entire workforce is fractional if they hire fractional workers. But Hymel clarifies this misconception. If you, as a leader or founder, are consistently present in the organization, then you are not a fractional worker. Regardless of whether you're working 40 hours a week or less, if you remain a consistent thread within the company, you represent stability and continuity.

    Are you leveraging the potential of gig workers effectively while maintaining the necessary continuity in your organization? Are you prepared to navigate the fluidity that comes with fractional work while keeping your strategic vision intact? These are crucial considerations for leaders in the ever-evolving world of work. Success hinges on the ability to balance flexibility with stability, innovation with continuity.

    What is the Value of a Human Worker?

    We ended our interview on a very light topic - human capital and figuring out the value of a worker. Hymel raised thought-provoking insights into how we assess the value of an individual's work. This complex question delves deep into the philosophical underpinnings of our economic system and is especially relevant in today's knowledge economy.

    Traditionally, an individual's work output has been measured in terms of production value. If you produce an asset, what would the market be willing to pay for your time to create that asset? However, with the advent of AI tools, this equation is changing. These tools can significantly augment the value individuals generate in less time, disrupting the traditional time-input-output-market value equation.

    "When we talk about leveraging AI and other tools that are coming to market, that kind of clean math equation of time put in and output times market value starts to get a little skewed, meaning that these AI tools are able to vastly increase the amount of value individuals are able to create in a shorter amount of time." - Cory Hymel, VP of Product & Research at Gigster


    Hymel further expanded on the idea of value by introducing the idea of 'peer value' - the individual's overall contribution to the system as a whole. He also suggests considering an individual's economic impact at a stated value level in a more fractional employment world. This could potentially be reconciled into a paycheck, but it invites us to think beyond conventional compensation methods. Ultimately, when hiring or paying someone, you are essentially speculating that the value you receive will exceed the cost. This value may be in the form of output or time saved. The decision to purchase, therefore, is fundamentally a bet on future value.


    Want to hear more from Cory Hymel, VP of Product & Research at Gigster?



    Drew Fortin

    Drew is a people-first, values-driven leader with nearly 20 years of growth strategy and team-building experience across retail, marketing technology, local media, and HR tech. He spent 7 years at The Predictive Index, where he was Chief Growth Officer responsible for the company's strategy to build the world's first...

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