Reinventing HR Using the Airbnb Model

The sharing economy has unlocked massive value for a variety of stakeholders through the Airbnb model using property assets. Now, an Australian startup is doing something similar in the area of HR.

Benchon styles itself as the world’s first business-only sharing economy platform. It “allows businesses to earn extra revenue by loaning their employees to other businesses in need.”

The company’s pitch to business goes like this: “Don’t cut your staff to save money. Bench your staff and make money.”

The company is the brainchild of former army officer Tim Walmsley, who moved into a career in project management after being injured in the military.

Maximizing Lull Times

It was in his work managing large contracts for Australia’s defense agencies that Walmsley saw the issue at first hand.

Because of the peaks and troughs in the work pipeline, many organizations were forced to shed staff when times were lean, and then struggled to build capacity when they won contracts.

Benchon is a cloud-based platform powered by an intelligent algorithm which matches contract opportunities, and companies can access the talent base even if they don’t have any of their own employees on the platform.

“When a company is in a lull, they have staff who are sitting on the bench,” said Walmsley. “And that means they are chewing up cash flow when they are waiting for the next project.”

"That puts the business in a hard place. They risk crippling the company while they continue to pay salaries, while there is no revenue, or lose valuable employees because they can't afford to keep them on the bench."

Matchmaking Employees

Benchon’s solution is to “accurately and intelligently” match those staff who are sitting on the bench to those companies facing talent shortages.

This, Walmsley said, is a win-win for all parties. Employers get to retain talented staff, their cash flow isn’t depleted during downtime, and it is a plus for industry and the broader economy.

For employees, he said there are also advantages. Instead of becoming victim to the casualization of the workforce, they have ongoing employment and can develop their skills from working across a range of projects.

“You might think that those people might feel disengaged with their employer and think ‘they are getting rid of me,' but it has turned out to be the opposite," said Walmsley.

“Employees are finding out that this is a show of loyalty. Their company is telling them they value them so much that they don’t want to lose them.”

Ideal for Project-based Economy

Benchon was launched in April 2016 and now has around 700 Australian-based clients, from small to medium-sized enterprises through to large corporates.

Where initially these companies were from sectors such as oil and gas, construction, and telecoms, this has broadened to span all sectors as more and more industries become project-driven.

Many industries and functions, such as marketing or teaching, which were once based on ongoing employment, have become more project-based as businesses reduce risk to keep costs low.

Since Benchon launched, over AUD 100 million in contracts have been uploaded to the site.  

Recognition has also come, in the form of a Westpac Innovation Award and a listing in the Silicon Review’s ’30 Best Small Companies to watch in 2019.’

Employee Economics

For the future, Walmsley said the most significant challenge was to educate the market with the idea. So, a two-side marketplace with supply and demand can develop across industry verticals and skillsets.

Benchon, he said, changes the way people see their employees. Instead of looking at them as a financial burden to be maintained when times are lean, they can transform them into a valuable asset to nurture and maintain.

“We’ve tried to set this up as a model in which there’s a win for everyone. But there’s still some way to go,” said Walmsley.