May 18, 2021

Five key questions (and two clues) to understand the future of work | Innovation

Five key questions (and two clues) to understand the future of work | Innovation


We are immersed in a set of social, demographic, economic and technological trends that profoundly impact and reconfigure labor relations and the future of work.

That predictable work world, in which each question had its correct answer, was already. It vanished. In the current exercise of anticipating new work scenarios, the important thing is not to focus on having the correct answers, but to focus on the new questions that we must address.

The good thing is that there are no experts. We are all newbies in these new scenarios. Being novices should make us humble and know how to enjoy exploration. With a fresh look, leaving behind certainties and mental frames that can limit our ability to see what we have in front of our eyes.

I would like, humbly, to share some of the interesting learnings and questions I have encountered during my own exploration of the future of work during 2018.

What do we understand by work?

  • To focus on the theme, I prefer the reflection of Esko Kilpi: "The central idea behind the work will not change. The work is always solving the problems of others. " Accepting this definition, we do not have to worry about the future of work! The problems of others are infinite! We can naturally include non-productive work, care work and the contributions of people to their social environment, among other works that are often not considered and without which our society would collapse.

This of the gig economy what includes?

  • In English the term is used gig economy. I liked the translation into Spanish that proposes the International Labor Organization (ILO) In recent documents where they speak of "sporadic or intermittent work". Under this umbrella we can study the rights and needs of independent workers and intermittent jobs as a whole, with digital platforms or without digital platforms. In Latin America, several governments have already seen that they can use the debate on gig economy to formalize other sectors that share characteristics even if they do not use platforms.
  • With a vision of gig economy similar to the ILO, the agency Staffing Industry Analysts (SIA) publishes that the gig economy It has a value of 3,709,000 million US dollars. They reach this figure when adding the human cloud (work through online or offline work platforms), placement agencies (mostly analog), independent workers employed in short-term jobs (restaurants, shops, etc.), freelancers with contracts for projects or results, etc.
  • The human cloud (Uber, Lyft, Didi, UpWork, Freelancer, etc.) contributes "only" 82,000 million to the total of the gig economy understood in this way.
  • So, the macro tendency for the moment is not yet the work platformization (the use of platforms is still low), but the work becomes "intermittent" for a growing and diverse number of people. The challenge is complex, since the current labor system was designed under the main premise of permanent jobs.

The future of work ?: Are we sure that is the important question?

Employee vs. independent worker, a debate to overcome

  • Most of the debate about platforms focuses on the dichotomy used vs. independent worker. This categorization and the accompanying social benefits have been inherited from another era, and it has restricted us to propose other solutions. "There are rights such as health protection, the prohibition of discrimination, the protection of data or the right to organize and defend oneself collectively, just to give some examples, which must be above the legal status", writes Luz Rodríguez. Focusing the debate on the protection of working people in general and we will advance more and better. More and more academics and governments are pointing in this direction. In Spain I think we can expect something new in this regard at the beginning of 2019.
  • Overcome (or ignored) the dichotomy I really like the approach of the Think Tank RSA in the report 7 portraits of modern work in the UK. The axes focus on the person and not on the laws! Work experience in the vertical axis and economic security in the horizontal axis. Here we have more interesting groups of workers.
  • To understand the diversity of independent work situations I recommend the book Gigged: The End of the Job and the Future of Work, of the best I've read this year. For its part, the book Uberland: How Algorithms Are Rewriting the Rules of Work tells us about the experience of having an algorithm as a boss.

WorkerTech, technology as an ally for independent workers

And a couple of interesting provocations …

As data workers We will have certain rights guaranteed, it will be a task that will dignify our digital activities, nobody will doubt our contribution to the data system to receive some kind of income unconditionally, we will have data cooperatives, we will have unions or groups of data workers, etc. It sounds interesting or even essential, right?

In summary, to continue exploring the "future of work" in 2019:

Let's continue making new and courageous questions. If the questions are good enough nobody will have the answers, but we will all have a feeling of shared responsibility to look for them. Who is targeted?

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