How do we want the future of work to look like, now labor and gig platforms are increasingly start to influence how and where we work across all kinds of professions? This was the central question discussed by international academics, policy makers, labor unions, incumbents, platform workers and labor platforms such as Temper, Roamler, Deliveroo and Care.com at the #ReshapingWork Conference, held 25-26 October in Amsterdam.
As one of the sponsoring partners, KPMG was present during the two very interesting days of the conference. We support initiatives such as Reshaping Work as we believe the key challenge brought about by new technologies and business models is: “how do we let them enable people-driven progress?”.
To contribute to this debate, here are our 5 key take-aways from #ReshapingWork:
- Organizations are forced to use platforms to source scarce knowledge workers
Recent research from the Oxford Internet Institute uncovered that companies increasingly use gig platforms (where you can hire someone for a temporary, one-time task) for highly specialized or on-demand knowledge work . These companies appear to regard gig platforms as alternatives for other flex work solutions, not to replace their existing workforce. Compared to existing staffing solutions, using gig platforms provides them with more speed in sourcing work and better access to scarce talent that increasingly prefers to work freelance.
- For most workers, labor and gig platforms are best used as complements to their existing jobs
Prof. Juliet Schor from Boston College discussed how platform workers are dependent on platforms. She discerned three types of platform workers; those fully dependent, half dependent and those who do the work occasionally. Research showed that the difference between being fully dependent and working occasionally is stunning in terms of overall experience of the platform; level of wages and the experienced level of freedom. For now, being highly dependent on a labor/gig platform as replacement for a more stable job does not seem to pay off.
- Labor and gig platforms are changing the role of formal education qualifications on the labor market
The changing role of education was one of the prominent topics discussed. New research showed that education levels are losing significance to online ratings and skill certificates in signaling quality of workers on labor platforms. This does not only raise the question as to how education will be organized in the future, but it also sparked a discussion who should be responsible for the learning and development of gig workers: the platform, the government or other persons?
- Labor and gig platform companies are starting to cooperate with policy makers, regulators, unions
In the battle for labor capacity, participating on-demand platforms actually seemed eager to provide drivers more job security, but without gaining the label of employer. Basic insurances are covered but arranging pensions for their workers was considered a stretch. Clearly, this is a call to policy makers to untangle the new definition of an independent worker with insurances, social benefits and securities.
As the Dutch government is actively seeking to develop solutions in this area, the Dutch ministry of social affairs and employment hosted a roundtable on this topic. They are working to develop solutions that serve the different parties best and are in the process of trying to improve regulations. However, much work is still to be done in this area. It is worth noting that through their participation in such events, platforms as Uber and Deliveroo are increasingly looking to cooperate with policy makers, regulators and unions, rather than just seeking confrontation.
- Incumbent companies need to respond to the platform economy
Also hosted two roundtable sessions to discuss what role incumbent organizations can take in the platform economy. One the one hand, platforms cut out existing intermediary companies such staffing agencies on the labor market (Temper), car dealers in mobility (BMW DriveNow) and education providers in education (Coursera). On the other hand, new platforms aggregate services from existing companies to build new intermediary services on top of them and capture the customer experience. This happens in finance to banks (Mint), in logistics to service providers (Alibaba's Cainao) and in education (Coursera).
During the discussion it became clear that incumbent companies need to respond to these developments and multiple strategies where discussed. Starting your own platform was considered the least preferable strategy for most companies, unless it could be in a highly specialized niche. Focusing on work that required collective learning was considered another option.
In short: Platform-mediated work will likely play significant part in the future of work for many jobs, change the dynamics of the labor market even require adjustments to our laws and regulations. In our upcoming KPMG publication `Unlocking the value of the Platform Economy', we discuss the broader impacts of the platform economy and the opportunities to make it work for all stakeholders. This paper is input for the Dutch Transformation Forum (DTF) on 22 November and will be published short after.
Marthe Stegehuis, Laurens van der Kroon, Maarten van Anken and Jochem Pasman work at KPMG Digital to help clients make technology work for them.
 Corporaal, G.F. and Lehdonvirta, V. (2018). Motivations for platform sourcing: Why do firms adopt online labor markets for knowledge work? Paper presented at Reshaping Work conference, Amsterdam, October 25-26, 2018.