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An increasing number of people globally obtain their primary or supplementary income from platform-enabled work. For example, the number of rides completed with Uber increased from five billion to ten billion between June 2017 and June 2018. This increase was made possible by advances in information technology (IT) that have reduced transaction costs, thereby increasing the relative competitiveness of the market-based approach to organizing work compared to traditional organizational hierarchies.

From the workers’ perspective, digital platforms provide a means of employment and a source of income for many people who would otherwise be unable to participate in the job market. Simultaneously, the working conditions and sustainability of work that digital platforms enable have become a controversial issue.

All in all, the rise of digital platforms has enabled new forms of work. However, the nature of these new forms, particularly the role of the digital platform in shaping work relations, is not well understood. In our study published in International Journal of Information Management, we explore how the presence of the digital platform manifests itself in workers’ perceptions of their work in the context of ride-hailing. We draw on the literature on work relations and theorize how the dimensions of work relations manifest themselves in work done for a digital platform. We have analyzed 39 interviews conducted with Uber and Lyft drivers, and we identify six key mechanisms of platform-enabled work. Namely these six are self-employment, time management, income, information control, pricing, and rating.

The results illustrate that from workers’ perspective, flexibility in work relationships is a key positive element of platform-enabled work. The stark power disparity between workers and the platform is, in turn, a major source of discontent among workers. As a result, we put forward two key dimensions of work relations in the context of platform-enabled work: digital temporality and algorithmic administrativity. The study furthers understanding of the implications from the platform economy and sharing economy on work relations.

Find the full paper here.

Bibliometric information: Mäntymäki, M., Baiyere, A. & Islam, A.K.M. Najmul (2019) “Digital platforms and the changing nature of physical work: Insights from ride-hailing”. International Journal of Information Management, Volume 49, December 2019, Pages 452-460

Matti Mäntymäki