Digital work requires us to rethink working conditions

More and more high-skilled professionals participate in contests on online platforms to offer their services. Increased flexibility, the development of their portfolio and access to new clients were often mentioned as reasons to engage in these non-standard forms of work, according to a recently published study from Eurofound. Although platform work offers more accessible entries to the labour market, challenges with income insecurity, platform dependency and lacking managerial support structures persists.  Member states and social partners should ensure that these workers have access to social protection, education and training, and representation.

The Eurofound study “Employment and working conditions of selected types of platform work” identifies different categories of platform workers, assesses their working conditions and investigates their relations to trade unions. The degree of economic dependence and individual autonomy over determining the working conditions vary largely on these platforms. A commonly raised challenge is the absence of training possibilities and support from supervisors, highlighting the need for competent and socially skilled managers.

A considerable number of platform workers are mid- to high-level professionals working as freelancers (an estimated 35% of platform workers). Those participating in online contests (as offered by 99designs) mentioned that these contests allow them the freedom to explore ideas or get inspiration, help them to develop their portfolio, maintain their skills and gain access to potential clients. Due to the international nature of the work of these professionals, few currently see benefits from trade union representation. This fact points to the need to develop transnational structures to inform, engage with and represent these professionals.

The digitalisation of working conditions brings significant benefits, particularly for high-skilled professionals. However, increasing mental health challenges at work, geographical dispersion and job insecurities highlight the importance of quality leadership, social dialogue and social security. In times of algorithmic decision-making and separated workspaces, competent managers, as bridge builders, human decision-makers and facilitators, become increasingly important.

Also read our report on Management in the Digital Era