Innovations in digital technology have empowered the rise of the platform business model. Crowdsourcing platforms offer endless opportunities for matching jobs with workers, allowing platform clients — firms of all sizes and in diverse industries — to access the skills, talents, and resources of a truly global crowd of workers to perform work completed exclusively online. Work options on these “crowdwork” platforms range from low-skill, low wage microtasks to online freelancing and more remunerative challenge-based competitions requiring advanced design, technical, or scientific skills to solve complex problems quickly.
While there is growing interest in this networked business model — and especially its open innovation potential — there are also real challenges in managing a virtual labor force and worries about what it may mean for the future of work and for wages, labor rights, and access to social protections for platform workers.
On November 18, 2016, SMLR held a half-day conference which explored the different models of crowdsourcing — all involving a client, an intermediary platform, and a pool of virtual labor suppliers — and the global opportunities and risks presented for both firms and workers.
Keynote Address: The Intersection of Technological Advancements, Digital Platforms and Crowd Labor
Thomas Kochan, the George Maverick Bunker Professor of Management, Professor of Work and Employment Research, and Co-Director of the MIT Sloan Institute for Work and Employment Research.MIT Sloan School of Management
Panel I: Crowdwork Platforms: From microtask to online freelancing to challenge based competitions for open innovation – the different models and governance mechanisms; why businesses would use crowdwork platforms; the challenges of managing crowdwork; the opportunities and risks.
Moderator: Ingrid Erickson, Assistant Professor, Library and Information Science, Rutgers School of Communication and Information, PhD in Management Science and Engineering, Center for Work, Technology and Organization, Stanford University. Her research focuses on information technology and organizational behavior; locative technologies and social media; innovation and collaborative work practices.
- Moshe Barach, visiting Assistant Professor of Strategy, Economics, and Public Policy at Georgetown’s McDonough School of Business. His current research focuses broadly on the intersection between technology and labor market strategy. While completing his PhD at UC Berkeley’s Haas School of Business, he worked as an economist at oDesk.com (now Upwork), the world’s largest online freelancing platform.
- Karim Lakhani, Professor of Business Administration at the Harvard Business School, the Principal Investigator of the Crowd Innovation Lab and NASA Tournament Lab at the Harvard Institute for Quantitative Social Science and the faculty co-founder of the Harvard Business School Digital Initiative. He specializes in technology management and innovation and his research examines crowd-based innovation models and the digital transformation of companies and industries.
- Wilma Liebman, former Member and Chairman, National Labor Relations Board (1997-2011), and now visiting scholar, Rutgers School of Management and Labor Relations. She recently completed a comparative labor law study of crowdwork for The Hugo Sinzheimer Institute, a German labor law institute.
Panel II: Crowdworkers: The realities of crowdsourcing in a global labor market; the opportunities and risks; what does this business model mean for the future of work and for wages, labor rights and access to social protections; collective action and the limits of collective action.
Moderator: Susan Schurman, Former Dean (2011-2015) and Distinguished Professor, Department of Labor Studies and Employment Relations. Her research and teaching focus on labor union effectiveness including strategy, structure and governance, as well as constructive labor management relations. She is also an expert on the effects of occupational stress on physical and mental health.
- Steven Greenhouse, former New York Times reporter for 31 years, covering labor and the workplace for his last 19 years; author of The Big Squeeze: Tough Times for the American Workers (2008) and “On Demand and Demanding their Rights: Gig workers in the Uber economy are organizing” in the American Prospect magazine; now freelancing for numerous publications and working on a book on the past present and future of workers and worker advocacy in the U.S.
- Charles Heckscher, Professor, Labor Studies and Employment Relations, Rutgers School of Management and Labor Relations and Director, Center for Workplace Transformation. His research focuses on organization change and its consequences for employees and unions and on the possibilities for more collaborative and democratic forms of work. His 2015 book Trust in a Complex World: Enriching Community, explores issues of fragmentation and cohesion in contemporary society and the Internet’s ability to disrupt and enrich connections.
- Trebor Scholz, Associate Professor of Media and Culture, The New School. Since 2009, he convened the digital labor conference series at The New School. Scholz is the author of Uberworked and Underpaid: How Workers are Disrupting the Digital Economy (Polity 2016), and the co-editor of Ours to Hack and to Own; The Rise of Platform Cooperativism, a New Vision for the Future of Work and a Fairer Internet. (OR Books 2016).