There has been a significant amount written on the emergence of the gig economy. Mark Graham and Jamie Woodcock, researchers and professors at the Oxford Internet Institute at the University of Oxford, have written extensively on the emergence and impact of the gig economy on businesses, workers, governments, and society in general. Their book, The Gig Economy: A Critical Introduction, provides clear insights on past, present, and future trends driving this new economic model. Another of their papers, “Towards A Fairer Platform Economy: Introducing the Fairwork Foundation” describes the nine preconditions which facilitate and drive the growth of emerging gig-work. Another prominent author, Nick Srnicek, a lecturer in Digital Economy in the Department of Digital Humanities, King’s College London, talks about gig-work being mediated via advanced technology through digital platforms (Srnicek, N. 2017. Platform Capitalism. Cambridge: Polity). He argues that the platforms that mediate gig-work use “tools to bring together the supply of, and demand for, labor”. The insights provided by these academics, as well as those provided by many other researchers, business leaders, and intellectuals, help define the trends, opportunities and impact the gig-economy has, and will have, on business and society. The primary focus of the following is to explore the history, preconditions, and platform capabilities that enable infrastructure projects to be supported by a gig-workforce.
Merriam-Webster defines the gig-economy as: economic activity that involves the use of temporary or freelance workers (e.g., independent contractors) to perform jobs typically in the service sector. Nicole Kobie, Wired UK, 11 July 2017, indicated that it was previously called the “sharing economy” — mostly in reference to platforms such as Airbnb, Uber, and Amazon Flex — and the “collaborative economy”. Oxford Languages defines it as: a labor market characterized by the prevalence of short-term contracts or freelance work as opposed to permanent jobs. But one should recognize that before the advent of computer technology and the creation of “gig-platforms”, gig-work and gig-workers have existed for many centuries. Examples include seasonal farm laborers, domestic workers, artisans, handy-men, welders, construction workers, plumbers, and any contracted labor with an individual where there is no guarantee of continued work.
The question is can a gig-workforce be leveraged to support work activities that are outside the traditional services sectors, e.g. work requiring more diverse activities and skills? Also, can a platform be developed to identify, assign, and track a gig-workforce to complete complex work activities leveraging existing utilities and tools? For example: can a platform or system manage a portfolio of independent contractors such that a wide variety of infrastructure projects can be supported via automated contracting and tracking of the work needed for each project’s completion? The complexity of the platform is driven by the variety of project types (inspection, compliance, surveys, installation, maintenance, analysis, manufacturing, etc.), the variety of workflows and processes needed, the variety of clients, and the variety of skills required to support the target projects.
We argue that the preconditions exist to support the development and deployment of a platform to support efficient project management of infrastructure projects using a gig-workforce. The main preconditions (a subset of the nine defined by Graham and Woodcock) include:
- “Platform infrastructure” – 4/5G, cloud computing, GPS, AI, sensors, â€¦ Present day communications, consumer, and computer technologies now exist that will allow platforms to be designed to support the automation, assignment, deployment and verification of complex workflows.
- “Digital legibility of work” – A high level of digital legibility involves tasks that can be mapped onto processes and workflows with well-defined steps.
- “Mass connectivity and cheap technology” – The availability of affordable smartphones with regular Internet connectivity is important for both workers, clients, and consumers of the platform.
- “Desire for flexibility for/from workers” – A combination of social aspects and political economy.
- “State and federal regulation” – a regulatory environment that provides limits uponâ€”or indeed facilitatesâ€”the growth of this kind of work.
We also believe there is a growing desire by individuals to be independent of a permanent employer and have the flexibility to provide a better work/life balance. A gig-type working environment, with the proper tools and platform, is emerging to allow a more skilled workforce to effectively participate in the emerging gig-economy. Given the emergence and application of new technologies, companies are increasingly looking at how to leverage a gig-workforce to complete increasingly complex and diverse task.
— Srnicek, N. 2017. Platform Capitalism. Cambridge: Polity.
— Graham, M. and Woodcock, J. 2018. â€œTowards A Fairer Platform Economy: Introducing the Fairwork Foundation.â€ Alternate Routes 29: 242â€“253.
— Woodcock, J. and Graham, M. 2019. The Gig Economy: A Critical Introduction. Cambridge: Polity.
— Woodcock, Jamie. “The Impact of the Gig Economy.” In Work in the Age of Data. Madrid: BBVA, 2019. https://www.bbvaopenmind.com/en/articles/the-impact-of-the-gig-economy/