The Promise of Platform Work

The Promise of Platform Work

There has been a rise in non-standard forms of employment globally, including increases in temporary, part-time, and temporary agency work, subcontracting, dependent self-employment and disguised employment relationships. Today, approximately 20-30% of the working age population in the United States and EU-15 engage in independent work and the numbers are higher in most emerging markets. As the Fourth Industrial Revolution unfolds, this number is expected to continue to grow. One part of this rise has been facilitated by the ubiquitous technologies that make it possible for “sellers” of skills, goods and services to connect directly and instantly with their customers. The number of these online platforms has more than tripled in the past three years and in the United States alone, the platform economy is valued at over $50 billion.

As online talent platforms grow in scale and value, they will become faster and more effective clearinghouses that can inject new momentum and transparency into job markets while drawing in new participants. Yet, the tens of millions of workers who do digital work do so in a largely unregulated and socially dis-embedded way and while this clearly benefits some workers, there is also the risk of a race to the bottom as ever more people come online.

While standard work is generally regulated by policies that protect workers and collective bargaining, and governed by social responsibility and HR practices of companies, platform work is often outside of these frameworks. Inconsistent definitions of platform work exacerbate the challenge of standardizing and scaling best practices. How can some of the leading platforms work together to design a new code of responsibility towards their workers and contributors while creating and testing new opportunities and markets? How can platform workers best connect with each other? From a policy perspective what is the right balance between regulation and innovation? How can digital outsourcing be optimally managed? How can workers on online talent platforms receive training? And how can governments and business work together towards sustainable, yet agile solutions rather than shotgun decisions?

There is little consensus on these questions and few avenues for addressing them. The project seeks to: 1) define platform work and the challenges within each type of platform model 2) gather the available evidence of collaboration and best practices from platforms and policymakers across the world, 3) drive dialogue between policymakers and business leaders (from platforms across a range of industries) in order to shape the global discussion on managing and creating standards for digital on-demand platform work, 4) gather business commitments for implementing new standards for platform work.

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