Platform work: Autonomy and control

06 September 2018

Platform work is a form of employment that uses an online platform to enable organisations or individuals to access other organisations or individuals to solve problems or to provide services in exchange for payment.

Autonomy and control in platform work

In the context of platform work, autonomy involves the freedom of workers to choose which tasks they do, their working time, and how to organise and perform their work. More autonomy is typically associated with more satisfaction with working conditions, although workers with complete autonomy over their working time are more likely to face issues with work–life balance.

Autonomy as important motivation for platform workers

Generally, platform workers indicate that more autonomy and flexibility in their work is a significant motivation for their platform activities. However, platforms can exercise control over the tasks performed, and the time and manner of work, as can the clients. Overall, the degree of autonomy platform workers enjoy varies significantly across the different types of platform work, as does the control exercised by platforms and clients. Previous research has found some limitations imposed by the availability of work and platforms’ terms and conditions (including ratings and algorithmic task assignment).

Autonomy versus control: Varying approaches across types of platform work

Eurofound identified 10 different types of platform work prevalent in Europe as of 2017. Three of these types have been analysed in more detail as regards their working conditions.

  • On-location platform-determined routine work covers low-skilled work that is delivered in person and assigned to the worker by the platform. This type of platform work is fairly widespread as regards both workers and platforms.
  • On-location worker-initiated moderately skilled work covers low- to medium-skilled work where tasks are selected and delivered on-location by the worker. The ability to choose their own assignments provides these workers with flexibility, which is considered a major benefit of platform work.
  • Online contestant specialist work is high-skilled online work where the client selects the worker by means of a contest. Workers performing this type of platform work must prove their skills by carrying out part or all of a task before knowing whether they will be selected as winners and paid. This type of platform work is especially prevalent for creative tasks.

Comparative overview of selected characteristics of working conditions by type of platform work

 

On-location platform-determined work

On-location worker-initiated work

Online contestant work

Example

Deliveroo

ListMinut

99 Designs

Autonomy and control

Source: Eurofound (2018)

People doing on-location platform-determined work generally have limited control over their working time and work organisation. Moreover, the platform monitors their performance. Theoretically, workers are free to reject assigned tasks, but experience shows that their access to further tasks might be limited by the platform if workers decline proposed assignments too often.

In contrast, those carrying out on-location worker-initiated work and online contestant work can determine when and how they work. Monitoring by the platform is much more limited to non-existent. However, on-location worker-initiated work might be subject to strict requirements and monitoring by the clients. Depending on the individual platform, the client’s rating of the performance of the worker can also be critical for their access to further tasks.

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