Will your next job be crowdsourced?

Many workdays may soon consist of a series of dynamic micro-jobs and crowdsourced opportunities, versus the structured eight-hour day defined by labor departments.
Written by Joe McKendrick, Contributing Writer on

There's been quite a big deal made lately about technology-enabled crowdsourcing, in which questions or problems are thrown out to a social network -- versus wrestling with them on your own or with an in-house staff -- and inspiration and innovation comes flowing back (at least in theory).

Some employment experts predict that many the tasks associated with our jobs will eventually be crowdsourced as well. While this may sound very unnerving from a job-security standpoint, the crowdsourcing of tasks may provide greater opportunities as more workers become part of a flexible, freelance, or contingent workforce.

Drake Bennett, writing in the Boston Globe, observes that already, up to a third of our current workforce comprised of contract-based, contingency workers, based on estimates from the US Government Accountability Office. Economics drives this to some degree, but the proliferation of personal technology makes it feasible.

Much has already been written and said about the rise of the contract workforces over the past couple of decades. But Bennett points to parts of the world where this is a daily fact of life, and has opened up greater opportunities for workers and companies alike. For example, txteagle, which distributes work to mobile cell-phone users across the globe to handle image, audio and text-based tasks. txteagle is now one of Kenya's largest employers, employing a 10,000-strong workforce is a network of freelancers.

In North America, work as we know it has always been defined as a 35-40-hour structured affair, with terms dictated by federal and regional labor departments.  Many companies and workers alike have been looking to unleash the possibilities of work and productivity away from such structured arrangements:

"This shift has begun to trigger a more fundamental examination of what a job is and what we expect to get from it. Despite the vast diversity of the work people do, the traditional notion of a job has tended to be a standard bundle of responsibilities, roles, and benefits: We do our work for an employer to whom we owe our primary professional allegiance, and that employer pays us and provides us health insurance and a sense of professional identity. In the United States, many of the laws that shape health insurance, retirement, and tax policy are structured around this model."

This long-held notion of "bundled work" is opening up to a new way of doing business, Bennett continues:

"As it becomes easier for companies to plug in on the fly to the constantly shifting network of freelance labor, freelance workers have begun to think not in terms of having a job, but of having a collection of different jobs at any one time. Some companies, like txteagle, are unbundling work in more radical ways, using technology to 'crowdsource' labor, to divvy it up into micro-jobs that can be farmed out to unaffiliated masses of remote workers."

This calls for a new breed of institutions and affiliations that can address the requirements of these new workers, Bennett adds. These can include "clubs, unions, or something more like a medieval guild" that can help provide benefits and collaboration opportunities.

Greg Little of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology says crowdsourcing "could allow the creation of a whole new category of worker, one with far greater specialization than what professionals have now but who could work on a much larger number of projects, being called in to contribute a much smaller part of the whole":

“Right now I can’t hire a bunch of programmer experts in lots of different domains because I can’t afford to keep them on hand all the time,” he says. “But if I could hire them just for the five minutes I need them, individual people would have the power to create projects that require lots of expertise, and the potential for people to innovate and create things would increase.”

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com

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