The way jobs work in Japan has always been different, with "Lifetime Employment" and Freeter probably the most widely known work and career styles that continue to be quite uniquely Japanese. But I just read an article from Joi Ito's blog (which is a great read for a variety of reasons) talking about a new company who are really bringing another very innovative work style to Japan. The company is called, "Otetsudai Networks" ("otestudai" is the noun form of the verb "testudau 手伝う" - which means to help or assist someone with a task) and they take advantage of the proliferation of cellphones with GPS technology and also the preference of many young Japanese to work in ways that give them a lot of freedom.
Joi explains it best:
With Otetsudai Networks, if you are willing to work, you sign up for the service with your skills and focus, take a GPS reading on your phone and then just hang out. If you are looking for someone for say... 3 hours to man a cash register or help wash dishes, you just send the request to Otetsudai Networks and within minutes, you have a list of people available. The list shows what each person is qualified for, how others have rated their work and exactly how far away they are. Typically you will receive a list of half a dozen or more people within a few minutes.
The businesses are rated too on a per-manager basis so when you're hanging out with your friends and you get a request to go help at the corner convenience shop, you know how your peers have rated that particular guy who's asking you to come and help. You can also counter the request and say you'd go if they paid you 2000 yen / hour instead of 1500.
As more and more people start using this system, it's liable to start filling a very important gap in the workforce. It's also a perfect example of a location based, peer-to-peer reputation based, mobile behavior oriented product for an aging society.
This is a REALLY interesting idea. For employers (or anyone for that matter) who want 2 or 3 hours of work done for them it creates a great opportunity to get help quickly. For people who have flexible time situations it brings opportunities to them where they are right now. I can imagine this kind of scenario. You have an area you want cleaned and it's too big a job for one person but you only have a couple of spare hours. You look for 3 available people in your area and you could have help within minutes that serves their needs and yours.
The fact that this is all run through cell phones also means you have a way of tracing all those involved to help eliminate any possible fraud. There will be issues with quality of work for some people, but the risk is low since you can start with short periods of time and since the system becomes reputation based over time. The other barriers I can think of are possibly legal in regards to some workplaces having legal requirements for safety training for employees. None of the issues are insurmountable though. I for one will be really interested to see how this grows.