miércoles, 4 de marzo de 2015

Digitalisation and labour relationships (II)

Smartphone adoption has not stop growing in an spectacular manner since the appearance of the first iPhone. The penetration worldwide is close to 30% and in Spain has surpassed 50%. As times goes by, it is more difficult to find someone using a basic phone. We are attending a one of the quickest shift in technology of the history. One of the main drivers of this change are apps. It is quite difficult to resist to the appeal to have a solution to any need in the pocket with zero cost in most cases. Whether you need to book a ticket for the theatre, know the weather forecast or checking your e-mail, you can be sure that there is an app for that. As there is an app for everything. Now the apps are beginning to change our whole relationship with the world of labour.

The more visible change is in our relation with labour as customer of services. As The Economist said a couple of months ago, whatever service we need there is an app for that. The smartphone is on the way to revolutionised our access to any kind of small jobs. The possibility to hire a car driver through apps like Uber or Lyft is just the starting point. To name a few, there are apps for hiring someone to clean our apartment (Handy), asking for someone to look after our children (care) or looking for a professional for do the shopping for us (instacart). 

In the afterwards of the big depression, stable job does not look to return easily. Being hired through this apps has become the modus vivendi of a part of the population (certainly, not big yet) and the way to survive of the more techie individuals who are on the dole. Among the sectors of the so called "shared economy", online staffing is one of the two sectors where experts expect a bigger CAGR in the period 2013-2025. Therefore, we can expect a growing base of freelancers depending for their jobs on a loose and weak relationship with an Internet platform. Certainly, the temporary employment agencies are in the frontline of disruption, but will not be the only victims of this wave of digitisation.

The almost certain dramatic reduction of employees at the expense of freelancers could be the last nail on the coffin of the trade unions. The union trade density has decreased in OECD area in the last 15 years from 20,8% to 16,9%. The continuous decrease of the public sector since the conservative revolution of the 80's and the shift of the industrial production to developing countries in the globalised markets have eroded its main sources of members. It is difficult to imagine that the trade unions will regain strength in labour world with a dominance of freelancers, nevertheless there is a chance for them if they convert their organisations in platforms for the connection of a disperse workforce. Obviously, apps and smartphones would be the compulsory entry point for the "trade-union-as-a-platform". To be sincere, personally I do not have too much expectations on an evolution of the traditional trade unions to the platform model, but as a worker I hope that digital disruptions will bring us a new trade union model. The appearance of the "California app-based drivers association" reflects there is a demand of an app for workers rights.

Maybe you could think that very few of the things described on the above paragraphs affect you. Neither you are freelance nor a member of a trade union. But you are wrong, apps are called to disrupt also the internal life of big corporations and the public sector. The hierarchical model of organisation has inefficiency shortcomings and it discourages innovation. Digital platforms could be the enabler of new models  with a more efficient allocation of human resources through the spontaneous association of co-workers based on self-management and peer review of outcomes. An app in our smartphone would be the tool that provide the agility and transparency that the new model of organisation need.

Smartphone and apps have already changed the way we asked for work labour for the services we need. Either we are freelancers ourselves or not, this is only the starting point of a broader change in our labor relationships brought by apps, and therefore our whole life due to the importance role of work in it. Unfortunately, we do not have yet an app for soothsaying the social and personal consequences of this changes.

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