5 New Rules For Managing A Digital Workforce
Ditch The Resume, Skip The Training.
Workers of the world unite, you have nothing to lose but your Internet connections.
There’s been a great deal of angst lately about jobs – and entire job categories — being lost to the digital wave. But technology takes away with one hand but gives with the other. The rise of cloud computing – with its incredible bevy of online services and information – is giving rise to a new way of working. A couple of years back, New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman called this the “Do-It-Yourself” Economy – in which employees, managers and entrepreneurs are able to quickly tap into online resources they need to get their jobs done.
We’re seeing the DIY economy come to fruition in many ways, and lately, the Institute for the Future (IFTF) sought to document, in a report, what it means to work and do business in this new world. The institute’s researchers interviewed 31 individuals engaged in the DIY economy, or as they prefer to call it, the “Platform Economy.” This next generation of workers is “revolutionizing the labor economy by tapping into algorithmic matching platforms, turning their skillsets and spare capacities into new kinds of income streams,” the report’s team if authors, led by IFTF’s Miriam Lueck Avery, observe.
They call this “a new operating system for work,” optimistically adding that it not only offers profitable opportunities for enterprises, but “dignified and sustainable livelihoods” for workers as well. However, they add, the risks in this merging scenario mean “something is gained, but something is also lost in this transformation of the labor economy, and the balance between gains and losses will make all the difference for millions of workers over the coming decades.” Still, the ability to embrace technology services is already providing enhanced opportunities for a generation of working professionals.
Avery and her team created several personas that form the base of the Platform Economy:
- Part-time pragmatists: “Harnessing assets and hedging their bets.”
- Savvy consultants: “Gaming the platforms to grow a practice.”
- Freelancers: “Selling skills on a platform.”
- Full-time gig workers: “Earning a livelihood in an on-demand world.”
- Re-entry workers: “Thriving on the road to recovery.”
- Entrepreneurs: “Maximizing platforms for small business.”
- Hustlers: “Monetizing daily life.”
I’m going to add another set of players to this mix which is very important: corporate team members. These individuals, working under the umbrella of their employers, aren’t doing the typical 9-to-5 shtick by any means — they form, evolve and dissolve ad-hoc teams as business problems or opportunities present themselves. They take ownership of new opportunities, and take advantage of all the online services the Platform Economy has to offer to help them reach their goals.
For employers and companies that contract with this emerging digital workforce, there are several new rules of the road that come with the Platform Economy, as outlined by the IFTF authors:
“Reputation scores” replace resumes. Organizations “have traditionally relied on resumes and interviews when hiring a worker,” Avery and her co-authors state. “Education, GPA, past work experience, and skills have helped determine a candidate’s potential and fit for a job.” Not in the platform economy. “When it comes to platform work today, resumes and interviews are not always in play, nor are they necessary,” they point out. “Employers and clients rely on different metrics and information when selecting someone for a task or gig: a worker’s a reputation score. Especially when they are just starting out on a platform and little trust has been established, workers must demonstrate their worthiness through past work history and reviews from other clients.”
Learning becomes an individual, not a corporate responsibility. The report’s authors say ongoing, lifelong learning is the norm in the platform economy, but becomes an individual, not a corporate responsibility. “In the traditional work world, learning demands are constantly and often incorporated into an employer’s human-resources processes and practices. But in the platform economy, the onus for learning (and effectively self-training) falls almost exclusively on the worker. While some platforms do offer resources for learning and advancement, many workers create their own strategies to discover and learn best practices and advance on or off the platform.” The platform economy offers a way to achieve this, through offerings such as massive open online courses, which post courses from professors at leading universities.
Work is achieved around the clock in productivity bursts. This is a key element of the platform economy which extends deep into the enterprise itself. The report’s authors define this as “the schedules and patterns that define when we are working and when we are not.” For traditional jobs, they observe, “the rhythm of full-time work is steady: five days a week, eight hours a day, often from 9 AM to 5 PM. In contrast, the platform economy offers random or seasonal rhythms, much more like freelance or on-call work. Platform workers are developing their own methods of adapting to, or even controlling, the dynamic rhythms of their work, strategically moving in and out of workflows to harness the benefits of the fluctuations in demand.”
While not discussed in the report, enterprises are just as concerned about these rhythms for their internal operations as well. For example, most are now adopting some form of “DevOps,” in which the creative bursts of developers are harnessed and aligned with the unforgiving, fast-paced schedules required to compete in a global economy.
More assets are coming from far outside corporate walls: Traditionally, “workers’ assets have been their skillsets, their time, and their labor. Physical space, product inventory, equipment, and the like were generally the assets that belonged to organizations.” However, “platform work is allowing individuals to redefine many possessions and aspects of their lives as money-making assets. Physical spaces like bedrooms or closets, possessions like vehicles, and even circumstances like location are sources of value that are now exchangeable on platforms for money or other forms of compensation.”
Value comes from within, not from a time clock. Typically, value is based on “how we measure worth and are compensated for our labor and time,” the ITFT team writes. “In the traditional economy, “compensation is comparatively predictable. Salaried workers generally know how much income they can expect in a given pay period. And set policies and processes often exist for negotiating promotions and pay increases at predictable intervals. The platform economy, for the most part, does not have this infrastructure. Workers nonetheless find ways to anticipate and track their compensation and to optimize their platform work to redirect more value to themselves.”
I am an author, independent researcher and speaker exploring innovation, information technology trends and markets. I am also a co-author of the SOA Manifesto, which outlines the values and guiding principles of service orientation in business and IT.