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Positives outweighing negatives: The experiences of Indian crowdsourced workers



This article reports on an empirical study of Indian freelancers working via Elance-oDesk (now renamed Upwork). In a qualitative approach, data were gathered from 24 freelancers across India through in-depth telephone interviews and analysed thematically. The core finding that 'the positives outweigh the negatives' highlighted the fact that the challenges were eclipsed by what these freelancers gained, in terms of employment opportunities, income, skill utilisation and enhancement, career progression, emphasis on merit, international exposure, flexibility and platform-based protection of worker interests. Participants' favourable experiences are explained by the nature of the Indian labour market. The study extends insights into crowdsourcing for paid work which has so far been largely researched in the West and has focused disproportionally on the Amazon Mechanical Turk platform.
44 Work organisation, labour & globalisation Volume 10, Number 1, Spring 2016
Positives outweighing negatives:
the experiences of Indian crowdsourced workers
Premilla D’Cruz and Ernesto Noronha
Premilla D’Cruz is a Professor in Organisational Behaviour at
the Indian Institute of Management, in Ahmedabad, India.
Ernesto Noronha is a Professor in Organisational Behaviour
at the Indian Institute of Management, in Ahmedabad, India.
This article reports on an empirical study of Indian freelancers working via
Elance-oDesk (now renamed Upwork). In a qualitative approach, data were
gathered from 24 freelancers across India through in-depth telephone interviews
and analysed thematically. The core nding that ‘the positives outweigh the
negatives’ highlighted the fact that the challenges were eclipsed by what
these freelancers gained, in terms of employment opportunities, income,
skill utilisation and enhancement, career progression, emphasis on merit,
international exposure, exibility and platform-based protection of worker
interests. Participants’ favourable experiences are explained by the nature of
the Indian labour market. The study extends insights into crowdsourcing for
paid work which has so far been largely researched in the West and has focused
disproportionally on the Amazon Mechanical Turk platform.
‘Crowdsourcing’, a neologism coined by Jeff Howe in 2006 from ‘crowd’ and
‘outsourcing’ (Leimeister & Durward, 2015), encompasses paid work, unpaid work
and funding (Green et al., 2014), transacted via Internet-linked connections between
strangers across the globe (Aloisi, 2015). Crowdsourced paid work can be seen as a
sociotechnical system (Kittur et al., 2013) representing a digital workplace that
challenges traditional business models (Aloisi, 2015). It is, in essence, an online-
mediated exchange operated by platform owners and their employees (site
administrators) via the worldwide web through which organisations or individuals
(termed clients, buyers or requesters) access other individuals (labelled freelancers,
sellers or workers) for remunerative tasks of varying temporality and complexity with
commensurate qualifications and returns (Green et al., 2014). Platforms function as
intermediaries with no liabilities, deliberately and carefully protecting themselves
from any legal, financial or other commitments towards clients and freelancers
Work organisation, labour & globalisation Volume 10, Number 1, Spring 2016 45
(Caraway, 2010), retaining as their fee a percentage of the payment between clients
and freelancers (Aloisi, 2015). Platform staff are different from freelancers, enjoying
employee status which gives them access to some protection and benefits (Kneese,
Rosenblat & boyd, 2014). Most research on crowdsourced paid work is situated in the
developed world, focused primarily on Amazon Mechanical Turk (AMT) and draws
attention to the risks posed to workers. Presenting an empirical study of Indian
freelancers’ subjective experiences of working on Elance-oDesk (now Upwork1), this
article extends our understanding through its geographical location and platform base
and its findings which emphasise participants’ own perceptions of the gains and
challenges of this form of work.
Crowdsourcing for paid work
Crowdsourcing platforms offering paid work range from low-end micro-task sites
(e.g. AMT) to skilled and professional online workplaces (e.g. Elance-oDesk) and
specialised, sophisticated, high-value digital spaces (e.g. Innocentive) (Kittur et al.,
2013). Tasks span software, product development, design, writing, editorial services,
translation, web development and more (Kittur et al., 2013; Green et al., 2014; Risak &
Warter, 2015). They also involve differing skill levels, task complexity and autonomy
and varying degrees of materiality and virtuality. They may be aligned with output-
based or success-based payment systems (Kittur et al., 2013; Bergvall-Kåreborn &
Howcroft, 2014; Risak & Warter, 2015).
Eliminating the transaction costs of conventional subcontracting, crowdsourcing
facilitates profit maximisation, offering the advantages of flexibility, scalability and
access to a broad range of skills and experiences at significantly lower prices, coupled
with freedom from employment regulations, thereby appealing to firms wishing to
access labour that expands and contracts on demand, without any major logistical
hurdles (Caraway, 2010; Kittur et al., 2013; Bergvall-Kåreborn & Howcroft, 2014; Aloisi,
2015; Leimeister & Durward, 2015). This can be combined with conserving internal
resources for critical jobs (Leimeister & Durward, 2015; Risak & Warter, 2015). Yet
crowdsourcing is a complex arrangement, calling for specialised tools, technology and
know-how to organise the myriad tasks and manage the workforce (Kneese, Rosenblat
& boyd, 2014; Leimeister & Durward, 2015) via an invisible infrastructure located
largely in cyberspace (Caraway, 2010; Aloisi, 2015). Though digital traces, rather than
1 Elance and oDesk, originally two independent crowdsourced work platforms, merged to form Elance-
oDesk in December 2013 (Empson, 2013). The purpose driving this was to combine resources and benefit
from significant investments in technology leading to higher quality results and accelerated growth and scale,
though the two platforms operated as separate services with no fall-out on clients and freelancers (Swart, 2013).
Following the 2013 merger, Elance-oDesk realised that their impact would be even greater if they built a single
site. Accordingly, in May 2015, the company was re-launched as Upwork, with the oDesk platform as the
foundation, retaining the best of both legacies and adding new innovations. Upwork has 9 million registered
freelancers and 4 million registered clients, with 3 billion jobs posted annually and US$1 billion worth of work
done annually (Upwork, 2015). Data collection for the study was undertaken between January and March 2015,
with participants of the inquiry referring to the platform as either Elance, oDesk or Elance-oDesk, depending
on their specific association, and not alluding to the creation of Upwork. Participants spoke of a few operational
divergences between Elance and oDesk ongoing at the time, but as these are not relevant to the present analysis,
we do not make any distinction and refer to both platforms as a singular entity in this article.
46 Work organisation, labour & globalisation Volume 10, Number 1, Spring 2016
direct supervision (Kneese, Rosenblat & boyd, 2014), keep management control ‘at a
distance’, it remains all powerful (Caraway, 2010). Relationships are fleeting and largely
anonymous, with no obligation to provide support or facilities to the workforce
(Bergvall-Kåreborn & Howcroft, 2014).
Crowdsourcing provides a route to employment and employability for individuals
who are already employed, self-employed or unemployed, through full-time and
part-time engagement, offering opportunities to build work experience, ‘brush up
existing skills, uncover latent skills and develop specialist skills (albeit at the workers
expense) which may lead to further learning and training and other employment, and
are transferable to other roles, sectors and settings (Green et al., 2014; Aloisi, 2015;
Risak & Warter, 2015). Competing for work opportunities (Holtgrewe, 2014; Leimeister
& Durward, 2015) in a context where disposability is high (Kneese, Rosenblat & boyd,
2014), workers involuntarily become entrepreneurial under pressure to protect their
interests, though they may also settle for the least remuneration (Holtgrewe, 2014;
Kneese, Rosenblat & boyd, 2014; Leimeister & Durward, 2015). While work
organisation and incentive structures vary across platforms, depending on the task and
skill required, all workers rely on their reputations as a metric for acquiring future work
and continuing on the site (Kneese, Rosenblat & boyd, 2014; Aloisi, 2015; Risak &
Warter, 2015). Reputation, a function of work quality, work efficiency, work ethic,
integrity, communication skills, time management and so forth, is built up initially
through self-portrayals and later by client ratings and reviews, notwithstanding the
accompanying subjectivity (Caraway, 2010; Green et al., 2014; Kneese, Rosenblat &
boyd, 2014).
Bergvall-Kåreborn & Howcroft (2014) underscore the ‘borderless’ nature of
crowdsourcing, indicating that crowd employment platforms are largely hidden from
view, operating outside the scope of legislation (Felstiner, 2011; Aloisi, 2015; Leimeister
& Durward, 2015), often going ‘off-state’ and not subject to potential democratic
oversight (Urry, 2014). Risak & Warter (2015) emphasise that sorting out legal
complications entails addressing which law is applicable, given the multiple nations
involved, and identifying who the contractual parties are and what the nature of the
contract between them is. Aloisi (2015) states that crowdsourcing calls into question
the scope of labour laws which focus on ‘employees’. Reflecting Jeff Bezos’s concept of
‘humans-as-a-service’, crowdsourcing dehumanises workers and devalues work,
facilitating the growing casualisation and informalisation of the economy, with
non-standard forms of employment predominating (Caraway, 2010; Aloisi, 2015;
De Stefano, 2015). Costs and risks, including those of infrastructure, are shifted onto
workers, with employers escaping accountability to and scrutiny from governments and
unions (Holtgrewe, 2014; Kneese, Rosenblat & boyd, 2014; Aloisi, 2015). Workers’
rights are at risk, including the possibility of forced labour, discrimination and child
labour, a situation that is complicated by distinctions between different platforms
(Aloisi, 2015; De Stefano, 2015).
Organising these workers, also described as ‘freelancers’ or ‘sellers’ , can be difficult
(Risak & Warter, 2015) since, as well as being spatially dispersed, they are ‘hidden’ and
‘isolated’ from each other, from employers and platform administrators as well as from
journalists, labour activists and watchdogs (Caraway, 2010; Irani & Silberman, 2013;
Work organisation, labour & globalisation Volume 10, Number 1, Spring 2016 47
Kneese, Rosenblat & boyd, 2014). Indeed, crowdsourcing is sometimes perceived as a
means of avoiding labour laws, unions and collective bargaining, with freelancers being
used as strike-breakers (Risak & Warter, 2015). Nonetheless, there have been some
attempts at providing sellers with a voice. Caraway (2010) speaks of freelancer-driven
sites where forums related to several platforms are maintained. Turkopticon, developed
by Irani and Silberman, is a web-based initiative through which AMT workers call their
employers to account and engage in mutual aid. Turkopticon disrupts the invisibility
and silence of AMT’s workforce and alters the balance of power between workers and
employers, assisted by witnessing journalists and researchers who use it as a starting
point to push labour questions out (Irani & Silberman, 2013).
A perusal of the available literature on crowdsourcing in the developed world
indicates a cautious stance towards the phenomenon. Are such concerns warranted in a
developing world context? We explore this using India as our test bed. Globally, India is
ranked second after the USA among freelancer nations (Elance, 2013). In terms of the
rate of growth of freelancing, it is seventh among the top ten earning countries, with the
USA and the Philippines placed first and second, respectively (Upwork, 2014). An
international study highlights that Indian freelancers top the list in matters of the
volume of work completed, though US freelancers gain the most by way of earnings as
their charges are considerably higher. Nonetheless, Indian freelancers earn US$500
million annually (Kumar Mukul quoted by Menon, 2015). Nationally, Indian online
marketplaces such as,,,
and have a base of between 40,000 and 120,000 aspiring
crowdworkers (Menon, 2015). The aim of our study was to understand freelancers
motivation to join and work on these platforms. In addition, the research aimed to
move away from the skewed research focus on AMT by developing extended insights
based on another site: Elance-oDesk.
A qualitative strategy was selected due to the study’s focus on subjective experiences.
Qualitative methods are well-suited to depicting social phenomena from the point of
view of those being researched (Bryman & Burgess, 1999), bringing an interpretive and
naturalistic approach to the problem (Creswell, 1998) and allowing for holism,
complexity (Creswell, 1998), causality and chronology (Miles & Huberman, 1994)
to be captured.
Being virtual and invisible, with no office in India, the possibility of an
organisational access to freelancers on Elance-oDesk was ruled out. We posted the
research call on various social networking sites as well as searching the Internet for
blogs, personal testimonies and so on, of freelancers working on crowdsourced sites.
As a result of these efforts, responses were elicited from about 70 Elance-oDesk
freelancers from across India. During the initial interactions via phone or
email, we described the study in detail, addressing queries and doubts. Interview
appointments were fixed with 47 participants who expressed their willingness to be
involved. Not all of those who agreed to interviews completed the process and the
inquiry concluded with 24 participants.
48 Work organisation, labour & globalisation Volume 10, Number 1, Spring 2016
Participants were located all over India, necessitating data collection via telephone
interviews. The unstructured conversational process was disciplined by focusing on the
key questions underlying the research through an interview guide. Yet this did not
preclude exploring emergent issues which could generate important insights
(King, 2006). Interviews, held at the convenience of the participant, generally lasted
between 60 and 90 minutes and were conducted by the first author in English. The
interviews were audio-recorded and later transcribed verbatim by the research staff.
Twenty-four freelancers (15 men and 9 women) whose ages ranged from 21 to
44 years participated in the study, from 13 Indian cities. Apart from two students, the
participants were graduates (9) or postgraduates (13). Tasks undertaken included data
entry, research assistance, content writing, marketing and public relations, business
analytics and numerous information technology applications. While 15 were full-timers,
saying that this was their only employment and source of income, nine were part-timers
(two of whom received more than half of their average monthly income from the
platform and two were students). Full-timers’ average monthly earnings ranged from Rs.
10,000.00 to Rs. 400,000.00. Fifteen participants worked independently, interfacing with
clients only, with the rest combining solo and teamwork2 in varying proportions. Two
participants doubled up as clients on the platform.
Thematic analysis (Marshall & Rossman, 1999) informed the study findings.
‘Immersion’ (Crabtree & Miller, 1992) let us to discern categories and patterns in the
data. The categories and patterns that dovetailed together in meaningful yet distinct
ways were developed into sub-themes. In the next step, sub-themes which held together
were formed into themes. Themes that were linked in a coherent but discrete manner
were joined into major themes. Finally, the relationship between the major themes
allowed the core theme to be captured.
The core theme that emerged, encapsulating participants’ experiences, was that of
‘positives outweighing negatives’. The freelancers on Elance-oDesk we interviewed
emphasised multiple gains, including employment opportunities, income, skill
utilisation and enhancement, career progression, emphasis on merit, international
exposure, flexibility and protection of workers’ interests provided by the platform in
relation to minimum wages, assured payments for work undertaken, authenticity
checks, behavioural pointers and mechanisms for redress. Participants reported high
degrees of satisfaction linked to these benefits to the extent that the challenges
associated with their work, though acknowledged, were regarded as offset. The two
major themes subsumed under this core theme, namely appreciating the positives and
recognising the negatives, are presented below.
Appreciating the positives
While all participants described the various benefits they derived from crowdsourced
work, the scope of their engagement with Elance-oDesk and the level of satisfaction
2 Participants stated that teams are usually assembled by clients.
Work organisation, labour & globalisation Volume 10, Number 1, Spring 2016 49
which they experienced were contingent on their interface with the local labour
market and/or personal circumstances. Full-timers chose the platform either because
it was the best option given the poor employment avenues in their cities or because
family commitments involved frequent relocations and childcare, precluding
regular employment outside the home. Among the former were participants whose
full-time engagement was equivalent to working full-time on a regular job. The
participants elaborated that the opportunities enjoyed on the site by way of tasks and
remuneration were far better than those in the local market. That the work on the
platform provided them with sufficient returns for a comfortable life was
Before this, I worked for an export company here in ____ (Tier 3 Indian city) . . . exporter of
silk sarees. The environment over there was so frustrating, and the end of the
month, the manager lady used to pay us like she is giving us some loan. So that
made me mad about those jobs. And then I decided I will do (this). If I have to do
change in ____ (this city), I will do freelance because that is going to pay more,
and at least I will have peace of mind. I don’t have to reach my job at 9 o’clock
and wait for the boss to leave the office then I return home at 6 or 7 pm . . . I could
not move because of my parents.
Among the latter were participants whose full-time engagement on the platform was
either equivalent to working full-time on a regular job or the only form of paid work
they had taken up at the time. Women with family commitments entailing frequent
relocations and childcare found the site an attractive means of continuity with the
world of work. Staying in touch with the job market and maintaining their skills in
order to keep up their employability were described as important factors. Married
women who had not yet started families but whose spouses held transferable positions
considered the platform a viable substitute for regular employment and worked full-
time. While women with childcare responsibilities engaged with the platform as their
sole source of livelihood and career development and put in at least 25 to 30 hours of
work per week, alongside their domestic roles.
Understanding how the site functions and operating within its ambit were
necessary to ensure payments. When contracts were undertaken on the platform,
participants had to learn to respect the stated stipulations: initiating work only after
clients had deposited funds into the platform’s escrow account,3 enabling site-linked
tracking for hourly projects and opting for the advocated option of milestone-based
payments coinciding with phases of task completion for the long-term fixed projects.
If these precautions were adopted, returns were guaranteed. Moving off the platform
after initial discussions without a contract, initiating work in the pre-contract stage
prior to clients funding the escrow account and opting for end-stage returns in
long-term fixed projects left freelancers vulnerable. Not only could clients disappear
without paying them but redress via the site would be limited to situations falling
within the purview of the stated conditions. Participants valued the surety of their
3 An escrow account is one managed by a third party, where deposits are safeguarded until payments
become due.
50 Work organisation, labour & globalisation Volume 10, Number 1, Spring 2016
returns, highlighting the contrast with the uncertainty in the local labour market where
one may not be paid at all, be paid late or less than had been agreed. In fact, planning
for ‘increments’ was also reported. One participant recounted how he chose projects
and managed his work in such a way that his monthly income increased annually by
Rs. 10,000.00.
We start our project, we ask client to escrow the amount, and then I will start the work.
[I have seen others say] My client has said I will pay this much money but he is
not paying. In those cases, I found that the contractor has never discussed all the
terms from the very start. If you set it properly, it is very good. Earlier, I was
working for local manufacturers but they were not paying me much . . .
Rs. 10,000.00-12,000.00 per month. But now, I have just tripled that amount.
So I am happy.
Full-timers saw Elance-oDesk as a marketplace where merit was the sole deciding
factor. Evidencing ones abilities through task performance was portrayed as the basis
for success. This leads to ‘repeat clients’ who return with more work, enabling
participants to gain further contracts by responding to invitations for jobs rather than
having to bid for projects.
While all full-timers appreciated being able to operate from home and avoid
difficult commutes as well as escaping from the micro-politics, supervisory controls
and interpersonal issues that accompanied organisational life, those taking on
independent contracts also enjoyed the flexibility of setting their own daily schedule
and pace. Being their own boss was emphasised as an advantage, particularly for
those who preferred working solo, though the importance of self-discipline was
Nonetheless, women’s inclination towards long-term engagement with the
platform varied. As their personal situations settled, some women indicated that they
wanted to continue working on the site at the same or higher rates of involvement
but others returned to full-time employment in the offline world with little or no
platform-based work. Among the latter group, one woman said she felt she would be
even more successful in the real world as her work on the platform had contributed
to considerable skill development. Another woman favoured the face-to-face
interactions of a physical organisation and decided that having two sources of income
simultaneously would be unethical given the real-time job contract she had signed. Two
women were launching entrepreneurial ventures of their own off the platform, though
they planned to take up tasks on and source projects from the site. Having experienced
tremendous professional growth through their work on the platform, these women felt
inspired to start their own organisations and capitalise on their potential, though an
off-platform route was perceived as a more viable initial path.
Among the part-timers were four participants who considered Elance-oDesk to be
an erratic source of work where getting jobs depended on the availability of suitable
projects and the outcomes of the competitive bidding process. These participants, who
held regular full-time appointments off the platform, were pleased with the additional
income received through crowdsourcing, though they did not consider it to be an
option for full-time employment given its uncertain nature. That is, while their own
Work organisation, labour & globalisation Volume 10, Number 1, Spring 2016 51
regular jobs provided stable returns and a secure tenure, the platform was seen as
supplementing their position.
See, it is very unsure. You may not get the job, the money will be too less. So how to
make it full-time? It is too much risky.
These differences between full-timers and part-timers appeared to emerge from
individual variations in how they approached and dealt with the site. Full-timers, owing
to personal and/or situational factors, seemed more entrepreneurial in navigating the
platform and more resilient in coping with its challenges. Thus, a more hardy or
optimistic individual and/or a person whose circumstances left him or her with no
choice but to rely on the platform were more successful. Part-timers’ pessimistic views
seemed to stem from limited effectiveness on the site arising because of personality as
well as circumstances. As well as making them less likely to persevere, being
comfortable due to a stable job seemed to contribute to participants’ restricted efforts
to enhance their positive experiences on the platform.
There was some divergence among the remaining part-timers. One admitted that
the site held the potential to provide returns beyond those he was currently receiving
from his full-time position in the local labour market and he was planning a transition
to full-time engagement here. Two participants in the part-time group saw the platform
as a stop-gap arrangement till they settled into their desired careers. Students regarded
their involvement on the platform as a means to build skills which would boost their
profiles in the regular job market.
That both clients and freelancers could evaluate each other was seen as an
advantage of Elance-oDesk. While highlighting the importance of reputation,
participants spoke of its ‘levelling’ quality. The profile is an essential feature of the
platform. Both clients and freelancers on the site must be able to exhibit a positive
image to be selected by the other party because this is the only means by which they
can know each other. Self-presentation is initiated when joining the platform and
represents that party’s public face at that point in time. Freelancers draw on their
resumes and work experience as well as self-descriptions and the results of platform-
mandated skill tests. Clients provide insights about themselves and their organisations,
sharing their scope, achievements and potential. Depending on the length of their
engagement with the site, clients detail their interface with freelancers in terms of
projects and rewards offered. Participation on the platform contributes to this image
through ratings and feedback. Freelancers can rewrite their self-portraits based not
only on their work but also on client ratings and feedback and platform parameters, all
of which contribute to their reputations. Clients’ comments refer to task performance,
work ethic and interpersonal interactions. Platform parameters include quantitative
indicators of work undertaken in terms of number of jobs, number of hours and
success rate, and in-house certifications (in addition to keeping track of client
comments and overall behaviour). As well as self-descriptions, clients’ profiles include
freelancers’ comments. That is, freelancers provide feedback about their experiences
with clients, discussing the nature of the work and the quality of the interaction. Once
a job is completed, clients rate and comment on freelancers, who, in turn, then provide
feedback on the client. Sometime later, these responses become publicly available, with
52 Work organisation, labour & globalisation Volume 10, Number 1, Spring 2016
implications for further success since clients and freelancers consult the displayed
profiles to make their choices.
Yes, people (freelancers) really take care because once the project is done, the client
will rate them and give some verbal review. So it will actually help them to gain
next project . . . get them better paid. So, on the profile, they will only mention
whatever positive has happened. And in case some dispute has happened,
client as well as contractor try to hide it. So usually people don’t like to put
up negative reviews because they are afraid that they will also get negative
reviews in return.
Participants outlined two implications of the feedback process. First, since mutuality
defines appraisals, neither party wishes to malign the other, recognising that reciprocity
could harm their profiles. Given that reputation is critical to effectiveness on the
platform, both parties are sufficiently controlled not just during their interactions but
also while wrapping up the contract. This is an important reason why misbehaviour
on the site is contained, being also disciplined by the platform’s careful monitoring.
Second, novices are disadvantaged because they neither have a platform-linked profile
to bank on nor can they enjoy the privilege of being ‘fussy’ or ‘picky’ about their choices
when they have yet to build their image. With this drawback being more pronounced
for freelancers than for clients who have jobs and money on their side, the formers’
vulnerability is often exploited. In the attempt to develop their profiles and so progress
on the site, freelancers fall prey to clients who take them off the platform or entice them
with ‘sample’ work, only to disappear without making payments once the task is
completed. With no site-based documentation or with only a pre-contract position,
freelancers are ineligible to seek platform intervention.
The opportunity to work independently was appreciated by 15 participants. Those
working in teams did so more due to the nature of their projects, which made group
tasks unavoidable, rather than from a voluntary stand. A few participants who had
earlier been members of teams shared that they had ceased doing so, choosing solo
tasks exclusively, due to coordination issues associated with different time zones.
Operating on ones own precluded having colleagues, except for the linkage with
clients. That interactions on the platform were restricted coloured the situation further.
Yet being isolated was perceived as unwelcome by only two full-timers, with other
freelancers saying that they were happy to work alone. Participants maintained that the
purpose of being on the platform was to work, which rendered the matter of socialising
irrelevant. In their view, the need to mingle with others was well addressed off the
platform through relationships with family and friends (and colleagues in the case of
part-timers and students).
Successful full-timers who engaged in team-based projects reported coordination
or supervisory roles. They held that their profiles inspired confidence in clients who
put them in charge of projects. Such opportunities were described as enhancing their
skills with long-term effects on their resumes and careers. One participant, while
expressing satisfaction with the elevated status, pointed out that the extra effort thus
engendered often takes away from actual task completion, necessitating greater inputs
towards the latter end.
Work organisation, labour & globalisation Volume 10, Number 1, Spring 2016 53
Exposure to foreign clients and freelancers added to participants’ gains.
They could interact with people across the globe, learning about their work and
culture. The work ethic of the West in terms of punctuality, precision and quality
was praised.
All participants revealed satisfaction with Elance-oDesk on a variety of counts.
First, the platform conducted authenticity checks of everyone signing up. Freelancers’
accounts were activated only after verification formalities had been completed, drawing
on the submission of a government identity document such as a passport copy, income
tax number and bank account. Participants found this practice reassuring since it
meant that, though they were dealing with strangers, all parties’ identities had been
confirmed, thus lowering their risk of being misled. In addition, clearing skill tests
linked to the platform and to the selected domain were mandatory at the time of
joining to establish a baseline ability.
Second, the site specified the least permissible remuneration for both hourly
and fixed projects. While Elance had stipulated minimum returns prior to oDesk,
the rates were US$3.00/hour and US$20.00/fixed for Elance and US$3.00/hour and
US$30.00/fixed for oDesk.
Third, the platform monitored freelancer and client behaviour to ensure
compliance with rules pertaining to gaining/posting jobs, interacting with freelancers
and clients during the course of work as well as maintaining appropriate
communication content and decorum on discussion forums. Maligning others, using
abusive language, repeated poor performance, lying, fraud and so forth constituted
misbehaviours. Tracking mechanisms on the site could identify unwanted acts, inviting
sanctions ranging from warnings, suspension and eviction from the site. The platform
later also barred clients from requesting sample work which had been associated with
cheating newcomers. Reflecting cultural discounting (Ross, 2000), freelancers usually
undertook these assignments believing that they would result in further paid
opportunities and be instrumental in developing their profiles, but generally found that
clients disappeared once the completed task was handed in.
Fourth, there were redress options available on the platform for addressing the
grievances of freelancers and clients, including task-related, payment-related and
interpersonal issues. The outcomes of these redress processes determine subsequent
actions to be undertaken or overseen by the site administrators. Our participants
underscored the importance of following set procedures and maintaining proper
documentation as the key to successful grievance resolution. In particular, they
emphasised the significance of maintaining interactions on the platform in order to
avail themselves of redress avenues. All communication on the site is recorded and
constitutes the only evidence that platform administrators will consider when
grievances are raised. Entering into projects off the platform thus proves very risky
for freelancers. Clients may post jobs on the platform and then, in order to save the
site fee, suggest moving off the platform to complete the agreement and initiate the
work. Freelancers, seeing the advantage of avoiding having to consider the site fee
when quoting a price, consent to clients’ plans. Complications arising under such
circumstances are out of the purview of the site administrators. Projects agreed upon
and executed within the site may involve discussions off the site, for example,
54 Work organisation, labour & globalisation Volume 10, Number 1, Spring 2016
through Google Hangouts or Skype, if these channels are considered conducive to
facilitating the communication required by the task. In order to protect themselves,
freelancers engaging in such discussions summarise the contents and upload them
onto the project work stream on the site to provide a documentary record that will be
available in case of complaints.
Fifth, the platform helpdesk was portrayed as prompt and pleasant, responding to
queries and feedback efficiently and cordially. Issues such as the site not working
properly or being too slow could be brought to their notice.
Recognising the negatives
Getting projects on Elance-oDesk was described as challenging, though full-timers
(particularly those who engaged full time with the platform) were more adept at it
than part-timers, due to their higher interface with and hence greater familiarity with
the site. The process of acquiring a contract involved checking job posts and
preparing bids which showcased one’s skills, experience, performance and
appropriateness for the task. To this end, building a profile, maintaining a positive
image, marketing oneself both in general and for a particular job, as well as being
entrepreneurial were important facilitators. While all freelancers undertook these
activities diligently, full-timers were more tuned into scanning job posts frequently,
and hence preparing bids in a timely manner. Spending more time on the platform
facilitated this process. Not only did this improve their chances of getting work but
also honed their prowess at successful bidding through more exposure to appropriate
strategies. Further, the completion of work to the client’s satisfaction resulted in
enhanced profiles, as a result of the accruing ratings and feedback and added
experience. Full-timers were at an advantage since they relied totally on the platform
for work and so were able to build up their reputations more effectively. Obviously,
better images strengthened their bids. Even so, full-timers indicated that checking
and bidding required constant alertness and strategising that was unavoidable if their
income and career had to be sustained.
Generally, based on a stock of their current work, full-timers would plan when to
begin scanning job posts and preparing bids so that they could maintain continuity in
their work and income. These phases were described as requiring time and effort over
and above that called for by ongoing tasks. Since bids were generally circulated during
the Indian night (as they mostly originated in the West) and required quick responses,
participants had to extend themselves by staying up at night to check posts and put
together appropriate responses to them. Applying for a job involved carefully reading
the post, comprehending its requirements and crafting a proposal that highlighted the
participant’s suitability on the basis of skills and experience, drawing on his or her
resume and platform profile including site parameters, client comments and so on, as
well as addressing the issues raised in the call. In other words, freelancers had to sell
themselves while simultaneously adapting to the client, keeping time in mind.
Part-timers were impeded in this by their relative lack of time which impinged on their
ability to check posts and put up bids. Their resulting limited success on this front then
affected their experience, returns and reputation on the platform and their assessment
of its effectiveness. Freelancers’ views of bidding can be summarised as ‘a frustrating
Work organisation, labour & globalisation Volume 10, Number 1, Spring 2016 55
process but a necessary evil’. They further assert that ‘there is a space for everyone but if
one fails to provide the correct representation then one could be overlooked’.
Bidding is very time-consuming and challenging because . . . the requirement from
customer would – minimum it is two sentences and maximum it is two, three,
more pages. So we need to read the requirement . . . respond such that we make
the customer reassured that we’ve really read the document and we are really
capable. Major problem is that projects are posted between 12 am and 3 am.
And earlier you bid – it is first in, first out – you bid first, your bid is first in the
customer’s dashboard.
Two factors complicated the challenges of bidding. First, the platform maintained a
ceiling limit on the number of bids possible within a defined time period. Freelancers
could only increase the range of their bids by paying for a premium account (though
success rates could also be increased through skill improvements evidenced via
platform-based certifications) and/or by ‘unbidding’ (i.e. releasing existing bids in
favour of more desirable new ones). Second, the race to get work led freelancers to
lower the pay rates in their proposals, on the premise that clients’ cost savings agenda
would tilt towards less expensive bids where there were multiple bidders with
comparable competences. This situation gave rise to considerable dissatisfaction and
disillusionment. Freelancers were unhappy with the anticipated downgraded returns
and perceived ‘input-output inequity’, though many of them decided to freeze a
particular rate for themselves. That the site also specified minimum rates was seen as
helpful – to stall a complete downslide to the absolute bottom. Interestingly, the
platform permits all those bidding on a project to see the others in the competition
(with solicited returns being viewable to those with premium accounts) and to know
the final awardee.
An important concern for our participants was picking between fixed and hourly
projects on Elance-oDesk, a choice that seemed to be determined largely by personal
factors. Hourly work ensured that payments were made once the time agreed upon in
the contract had been clocked and this was favoured by some freelancers. Here, once
the hours are completed, clients cannot hold back the authorised amount citing
dissatisfaction with the job. In case clients default on payments, the matter can be
escalated to the site administrators. But taking up hourly projects requires freelancers
to enable the platform software that tracks their work (forgetting to do so means
forfeiting remuneration for tasks that have been completed). Fixed projects could entail
inequity in that the freelancer may end up doing more work, in terms of time and
effort, compared with the compensation offered. Nevertheless, a number of participants
preferred this option, citing several reasons: feeling disconcerted due to the tracking
involved in hourly projects, having a single lagged deadline for fixed work which allows
tasks to be spaced out over time, in contrast to the numerous tightly scheduled
deadlines of hourly jobs, and being able to turn in better quality work on fixed projects
due to the availability and flexibility of time. The risks of not being paid for fixed
projects are offset by setting up contract conditions properly at the outset and
documenting them, along with all subsequent interactions, on the platform. Freelancers
can negotiate agreements that ensure their compensation on task completion, with the
56 Work organisation, labour & globalisation Volume 10, Number 1, Spring 2016
condition that work begins only after the money is credited to the platform escrow
account and released upon task submission. In case of long-term projects, payment-
linked milestones corresponding to each phase of the task can be created and work can
be initiated only after the money for that milestone is credited into the platform escrow
account, to be released on its completion. In this way, the freelancer receives periodic
remuneration for his or her efforts and does not feel totally short-changed if the client
quits a project midway. Eight participants indicated no specific leaning, choosing either
hourly or fixed contracts, depending on the nature of work being offered.
Fraud is a common problem. Being cheated by clients who disappeared after project
completion without making payments was reported by 13 participants. Such instances
of fraud were more frequently specified by freelancers early in their crowdsourcing
experience, especially when, in their naivety, they had agreed to move the work off the
site and hence had no documentation to flag a violation. Notwithstanding their sense of
disappointment and unfairness, freelancers considered this to be an important initial
learning and stopped taking jobs off the platform.
I had a few bad experiences – you are entirely new to the whole freelancing thing then
you do sort of get cheated at first. The good thing is that you have this escrow sort
of guarantee that they provide you with and the client is expected to transfer the
amount or at least part of the amount before the job and release it when the
project is completed. So my first job was a huge failure. I had no idea about this
whole escrow thing. I started the work and did not get paid.
Once experienced, some freelancers are willing to work off the site with repeat clients
they trust. Having established to their satisfaction that complications will not mar the
work relationship, the task or the payment, these participants move off the site,
eliminating the platform fee for themselves and their clients. Having ground rules about
returns such as a particular percentage of the agreed amount being credited to the
freelancer’s account prior to commencing the work, time-bound payments linked to
phases of task completion and so on facilitates this option. Cheating of more
experienced freelancers was reported, though less often and was usually within the
platform. Such cases were true of fixed projects and not hourly projects where the
platform’s financial processes and tracking software ensure that payments occur. In
these instances, since documentation was available within the platform, disputes could
be raised and site administrators extended every support to sort out the matter, directly
and repeatedly communicating with the errant client insisting that the amount be paid.
While their efforts bore fruit sometimes, generally after concerted attempts, a 100%
success rate did not emerge. The negative experience left participants demotivated,
even if it ended favourably.
Communication gaps with clients and other freelancers arise due to the mediated
nature of interaction and divergences in cultures, languages and time zones, with
adverse effects on task performance. Convincing clients via email, chat, Skype, phone
or video conferencing can be difficult. Coordinating communication across disparate
time zones during teamwork can be onerous, and this, along with consideration of
interpersonal issues, led many participants to choose independent jobs exclusively or
opt for group projects as infrequently as possible.
Work organisation, labour & globalisation Volume 10, Number 1, Spring 2016 57
Another major downside of working on the site was exposure to racism. Our
participants reported discrimination from both clients and fellow freelancers. On the
platform, such biases were usually covert and veiled, with obvious instances inviting
reprimands from site administrators. Off the platform, offensive comments were direct
and even abusive but participants could not seek redress because of the lack of proof.
Clients’ racist behaviour referred to doubts over participants’ competence, sometimes
expressed with a view to reducing the latters payments. Freelancers’ negative acts
seemed to stem from competition linked to both skill and remuneration. Apart from
seeing Indians as capable and hence threatening, freelancers considered the lower rates
offered by competitors in the developing world as undercutting them and spoiling their
chances of earning. Several dynamics complicate this situation. First, clients are
motivated to seek freelancers on the platform to take advantage simultaneoulsy both of
talent and cost savings. While clients usually appoint the cheapest freelancer among
those with the appropriate skill level, there are instances where clients specify that they
are seeking bids from developed countries because of the associated expertise. Second,
the hourly rate quoted and selected makes a difference to freelancers’ earnings since
those with lower bids, generally from developing countries, are more likely to be
chosen. Whereas freelancers from developed countries see themselves as being
undercut and disadvantaged, freelancers from developing countries, despite recognising
their labour cost arbitrage, are happy with their earnings since these translate into
larger amounts and afford decent standards of living due to the conversion rates. Third,
freelancers’ financial preferences cohere with their personal circumstances and social
(including national) context.
Interpersonal issues, apart from racist overtones, were described by 13 freelancers,
emerging mainly from clients since interactions with fellow freelancers were restricted.
Whereas misunderstandings due to communication, language and cultural gaps were
common to both clients and freelancers, other reasons varied across the two groups. In
relation to clients, freelancers spoke of dispositional dissimilarities, clients’ misgivings
about freelancers’ competence or integrity and clients’ concerns about freelancers’
output’, giving a number of examples of clients making unexpected new demands or
altering the brief. In relation to other freelancers, apart from competitiveness,
unpleasantness arose in the context of teamwork, where it was linked to role ambiguity
within the group, sycophancy towards the client and divergent working styles.
Notwithstanding the negative aspects, the primacy of positive experiences on
Elance-oDesk stood out, with participants emphasising that their gains eclipsed and
offset the challenges. Accordingly, participants’ mixed responses to collectivisation are
not surprising. Some were against the idea of unions, holding that the market basis of
the site, which privileged merit, obliterated the need for an association and that
collectivisation brings in unnecessary dynamics such as nepotism, alignments and so
forth. These responses reflect dismissive stereotypes about trade unions as well as
individualistic values.
I am against the idea of a union. I kind of like it (the platform) right now because it is
completely based on merit. Nobody like a freelancer union officer or someone you
can bribe or ‘oil’ and then get a better job or something like that.
58 Work organisation, labour & globalisation Volume 10, Number 1, Spring 2016
Those open to the idea of unionisation in general put forward possible obstacles. First,
they discussed procedural blocks. On the one hand, there are many practical
impediments to any quest for uniformity given that freelancers are from different
countries, each with its own laws and policies. On the other hand, since participation
on the platform does not imply an employer-employee relationship, platforms and
clients are not obliged to provide for freelancers and hence the issue of unions to fight
for rights does not arise. Second, they described the ways that site characteristics
affected the situation. It was argued that the competition which marked participation
on the platform foreclosed the surfacing of associations since trust and support
between freelancers were limited. Other obstacles were related to the freelancers’
personal situations. With about 70% of freelancers on the platform being in regular
employment (and hence not supposed to earn elsewhere), unionising this group seems
impossible. The remaining 30% who are full-timers may not feel the need to
collectivise, being happy with the platform. Overall, few participants thought that
interactions among freelancers were curtailed by the site administration because
such connections could bring together and trigger collective action. Notwithstanding
these barriers, those open to the idea spoke of the utility of unions in allowing
freelancers the opportunity to share and jointly represent common concerns
as well as ensuring that minimum payments on the platform were in line with each
country’s circumstances.
Indian freelancers’ positive experiences on Elance-oDesk are best viewed in the light of
the features of the local labour market. Though India is counted among the emerging
economies of the world, employment conditions in the subcontinent remain poor
(India Labour and Employment Report [ILER], 2014). India’s labour market lies
primarily within the informal sector (Rustagi, 2015),4 which accounts for 92% (i.e. over
430 million people) of the country’s workforce (ILER, 2014). Informal employment is
predicted to expand as ongoing and future job growth remain primarily of a precarious
nature (Kapoor, 2014; Rustagi, 2015). With the informal sector beyond the ambit of
most labour legislation (Kapoor, 2014), often existing at the interface between legality
and illegality (Chen, 2007), regulations pertaining to decent working conditions and
social security do not apply here (Kapoor, 2014; Rustagi, 2015). Even in the organised
sector, most laws do not apply to establishments employing fewer than ten workers,
thereby excluding the majority of Indian firms. Furthermore, establishments have
worked out a number of ways of getting around relevant regulations, to the detriment of
labour. Recent changes to labour legislation neither facilitate job creation and security
nor address employee interests and well being, worsening the dismal scenario (Kapoor,
2014). The poor availability of jobs, the nature of the employment contract and the
problems associated with working conditions (Rustagi, 2015), even more pronounced
among particular social categories and in smaller cities and towns and rural areas
4 The authors have adopted the term ‘informal sector’ because of its conventional usage in India to refer to a
long-standing part of the national economy. Despite the parallels, the term ‘precarious work’ was not selected
due to its more recent appearance and Western representation.
Work organisation, labour & globalisation Volume 10, Number 1, Spring 2016 59
(ILER, 2014), precipitate underemployment and unemployment (ILER, 2014) and
violation of worker rights (Kapoor, 2014). Results from the 2011 Census highlight the
especially high unemployment numbers for young people aged between 15 and 29
years. Not only are 40 million youth seeking work, with the unemployment rate
standing at above 15% and 30% for young men and women, respectively (Kasturi,
2015), but there is a growing concern that many of this group are well educated and
looking for jobs commensurate with their abilities (ILER, 2014). Apart from being
unable to use and further their skills, Indian employees describe exploitation via work
intensification, deprivation of their statutory or agreed wages and rights and threats to
their health and safety as well as the possibility of sudden and unexplained job loss
(ILER, 2014). Managerial practices reflecting a feudal mindset (Budhwar, 2000) further
demotivate the workforce (D’Cruz & Noronha, 2012). Good quality employment is
‘rare, with access to it ‘extremely unequal’ (ILER, 2014:25). Yet most workers in India
cannot afford to be unemployed (ILER, 2014). In this context, crowdsourced
employment, despite falling within the informal sector rubric (De Stefano, 2015), with
its entrepreneurial slant where self-promotion and self-protection predominate, is an
attractive alternative. It provides meaningful work which effectively utilises and even
develops ones skills and facilitates career progression as well as pays sufficiently to
afford a decent quality of life, accompanied by satisfactory working conditions. Merit
and international exposure are added benefits. Since crowdsourcing creates new
opportunities for income and social mobility in a context where local economies may be
stagnant and local governmental structures discourage investment (Kittur et al., 2013),
its gains are perceived as outweighing its challenges. Having to arrange and pay for
infrastructure, ensure periodic skill acquisition and upgrades and manage long-term
financial investments and goals as safety nets are considered to be minor issues. That
Elance-oDesk has numerous platform-based mechanisms to ensure workers’ interests
(e.g. minimum wages, redress options, etc.) adds to the complimentary impression.
Culturally, participants’ experiences on Elance-oDesk contrast with traditional Indian
social dynamics. Whereas Indian society is feudalistic, privileging personalised, identity-
based relationships where hierarchy and sycophancy operate and favouritism and
network-linked exchanges predominate (Sinha, 2015), crowdsourcing is seen as both
emphasising merit, where competence and performance are accorded primacy, and greatly
levelling client-freelancer differences through the system of mutual feedback. Participants
appreciated the underpinnings of objectivity and equality, even though the crowdsourced
environment involved job uncertainty and called for constant self-monitoring, self-
presentation and self-marketing and exposed them to clients whose position was
inherently more powerful, due to their hold over contracts and remuneration, not to
mention race and class, as they were usually from the developed world. Besides, the
platform allows for the pursuit of materialism which has been found to characterise Indian
society, despite the widespread stereotype of spiritualism (Sinha, 2015). Preoccupation
with materialism is even more pronounced in post-liberalisation India, with the emergence
of a growing middle class which seeks further upward mobility (Fernandes, 2004).
Through the lens of Western scholars, freelancers engaged in crowdsourcing are
precarious workers providing immaterial labour (Brophy & de Peuter, 2007) in an online
global job market (Caraway, 2010). Being entrepreneurial is commonly associated with
60 Work organisation, labour & globalisation Volume 10, Number 1, Spring 2016
these conditions (Brophy & de Peuter, 2007; Cohen, 2015). On the one hand,
entrepreneurialism has acquired romantic connotations of initiative, energy, boldness,
independence, self-reliance and risk-taking (Keat, 1991), being seen as a remedy for
broader societal problems. On the other hand, entrepreneurialism underscores self-
sufficiency and personal responsibility for success, being linked to the rise of neoliberalism
and aligned with the retreating welfare state, unfettered markets and lean corporations
(Cohen, 2015). Entrepreneurialism’s embodiment of an autonomous, self-regulating and
responsibilised subject (Gill, 2011) is gaining normality (McRobbie, 2002), despite its
accompanying uncertainty, variable income and limited statutory entitlements (Vosko,
2009), with its supporters emphasising the relevance of self-promotion and self-marketing
skills as the key to advantage (Cohen, 2015). Indian crowdsourced workers, like the
participants in our study, who appreciate these arrangements contribute to their greater
generalisation, thereby democratising and perpetuating exploitation (Brophy & de Peuter,
2007), with the gains blinding them to, or at least tempering their disenchantment with,
the challenges. Experiencing this predicament favourably, essentially because of contextual
influences, the embrace of precarity displayed by Indian crowdsourced workers resonates
with Vanni & Tarì’s (2005) view of an active agent managing life from the interior. Perhaps
for Indians, whose interface with the informal sector has been more familiar due to its
perennial presence in the country (ILER, 2014), juxtaposed also with both the
intersectionality of social categories and an orientation of fatalism (Sinha, 2015), the
entrepreneurialism and merit entailed by crowdsourcing, feeding into reputation, are
perceived as the critical levers of success, fuelling an internal locus of control and a sense of
mastery in freelancers. This, in turn, furthers individualism, which is not only part of the
Indian psyche (coexisting with the much-stereotyped collectivism) linked to the
materialism inherent indigenously, but also heightened due to accentuated Western
influences percolating through globalisation (Sinha, 2015). Being thus enthused, the lack
of interest in collectivisation of some Indian crowdsourced workers is not surprising but
remains consistent with the general apathy towards unions evident in the subcontinent.
Driven by status-conscious considerations, Indians articulate negative attitudes towards
collectivisation which they typically associate with blue-collar factory jobs (Noronha &
D’Cruz, 2009). Predictably, then, the concerns voiced abroad about the rhetoric of
celebratory discourses on emergent employment issues (Brophy & de Peuter, 2007) are
debunked and denied by Indian workers, though heeded by their compatriot labour
activists (Noronha & D’Cruz, 2009).
While participants’ narratives alluded to some challenges similar to those described
in the Western literature (costs borne by workers, non-standard employment, legal
matters and impediments to collectivisation), in addition to their experiences of racism
and cheating, the platform-based protection mechanisms offered by Elance-oDesk
promote freelancer interests, countering, to some degree, the disenfranchisement
commonly associated with crowdsourcing. Nonetheless, as another manifestation of
offshoring, crowdsourcing sustains neo-colonialism (Holtgrewe, 2014), evidencing the
hegemony of the global north. Race and class dynamics are compounded by cross-
cultural differences. Aversive racism from clients and fellow freelancers, calling into
question workers’ competence, bid amounts and remuneration rates, accompanied by
divergences linked to ethos, language and time, bring a negative tenor to work-related
Work organisation, labour & globalisation Volume 10, Number 1, Spring 2016 61
interactions and make it more difficult to complete tasks that are already complicated
by their virtual and often asynchronous forms.
Despite the positive perspective provided by Indian crowdsourced workers,
related to their context and to the platform being studied, the negative experiences they
report, reflecting and extending those in the extant literature, cannot be glossed over.
Our findings give added weight to the recommendations available in the literature.
De Stefano (2015) summarises these well when he calls for the decommodification of
crowdsourced work, emphasising the human and labour character of work necessarily
informed by its legal dimensions (Aloisi, 2015). This links the discourse to the critical
importance of regulation of non-standard employment, incorporating greater
transparency in platform functioning and promoting higher involvement of self-
organisation and unions to ensure worker voice alongside platform self-regulation
(De Stefano, 2015). Such endeavours can cohere well with calls for and attempts at
mobilising precarious immaterial labour which demonstrate innovative strategies such
as co-research, online networks and flexicurity (Brophy & de Peuter, 2007). Taking
these forward through an internationally coordinated approach (Risak & Warter, 2015)
seems appropriate given the global reach of crowdsourcing.
© Premilla D’Cruz and Ernesto Noronha, 2016
Interview guide
1. What motivated you to take up crowdsourcing and work on Elance-oDesk?
2. Please share your experiences of work on a crowdsourcing platform,
specifically Elance-oDesk, in terms of the site, tasks, clients and fellow
3. Please share your experiences of interacting with site administrators, clients
and fellow freelancers on Elance-oDesk.
4. What are the benefits of working on a crowdsourced platform, specifically
5. What are the challenges of working on a crowdsourced platform, specifically
6. How do you describe your overall experiences of being a paid crowdsourced
worker, specifically on Elance-oDesk?
7. How do you perceive your future vis-à-vis crowdsourcing, specifically on
8. What is your view on collectivisation vis-à-vis crowdsourcing?
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Vosko, L.F. (2009) Managing the Margins: Gender, Citizenship, and the International Regulation
of Precarious Employment, Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.
... Эти ресурсы, выраженные через человеческий капитал, представляют триаду из адекватных знаний о своих способностях и существующих навыков, а также методах повышения производительности в конкретной области; целеполагания и мотивации; эго-сети из профессиональных и личных контактов субъекта, облегчающих его работу [Inkson, Arthur, 2001]. Здесь возникает парадокс: платформы, строящие свои алгоритмы на конкуренции [Картузова, 2022], стимулируют фрилансеров к непрерывному самообразованию и повышению квалификации [D'Cruz, Noronha, 2016], одновременно наращивая социальный и человеческий капитал последних. Таким образом, у исполнителей должны быть развитые навыки общения с людьми и способность усваивать информацию, полученную извне. ...
... Возможно, существуют другие, например, нелинейные, связи между накопленным капиталом и характеристиками эго-сетей, которые могут быть проверены в дальнейшем. Если же говорить о плотности сети, что служит показателем неготовности воспринимать новое, то здесь наш результат, полученный на фрагментах сетей фрилансеров, соотносится с результатом, ранее полученным другими исследователями на сетях предпринимателей [D'Cruz, Noronha, 2016]. Влияние же состава сети по полу (по наличию женщин и мужчин) также оказалось для нас малозначимым -возможно, от того, что мы не концентрировались на конкрет-Мониторинг общественного мнения: экономические и социальные перемены № 6 (172) ноябрьдекабрь 2022 ...
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Под действием ускоренного развития IT-технологий и эпидемиологической обстановки последних лет трудовые практики продолжают трансформироваться. От этого выигрывает и работодатель (возможность привлекать исполнителя под конкретные задачи), и работник (возможность диверсифицировать свою занятость, не будучи привлекательным кандидатом для рынка труда по найму). Как следствие, фриланс посредством электронных платформ остается привлекательной альтернативой работе в штате. Отличаясь по характеру и времени сотрудничества, данная трудовая стратегия имеет общую черту с работой по найму — важность развития исполнителем сетевых связей. Построенные эго-сети из профессиональных и личных контактов не только облегчают поиск новых заказов, ведение операционной деятельности фрилансера и дают моральную поддержку, но и служат базисом накопленного капитала. Такой капитал позволяет уникально презентовать свой опыт заказчикам, найденным на электронных платформах, несмотря на стандартизированную форму страниц исполнителей. Цель настоящего исследования — выявить связи между накопленным капиталом фрилансера и характеристиками его эго-сети. В выборку включены фрилансеры, зарабатывающие посредством русскоязычных цифровых платформ. В анализ включены 136 анкет, собранных методом онлайн-опроса на фриланс-биржах Freelancehunt и Workspace. С помощью линейного регрессионного анализа было установлено, что более широкий накопленный человеческий капитал у фрилансера свидетельствует о наличии тесных связей между значимыми для поддержания жизнедеятельности фриланса людьми, входящими в его эго-сеть. Благодарность. Статья подготовлена в результате проведения исследования в рамках Программы фундаментальных исследований Национального исследовательского университета «Высшая школа экономики» (НИУ ВШЭ). Авторы выражают признательность менеджменту указанных платформ за помощь в предоставлении доступа к респондентам.
... Today, the combination of fierce competition among crowdworkers (D'Cruz & Noronha, 2016), and the excessive global digital labour supply has resulted in many crowdworkers turning to the use of scripts, such as PandaCrazy Max and TurkerView, for finding and filtering microtasks (Irani and Silberman, 2013). These scripts are essentially automated bots that usually run on the crowdworker's browser in the form of a browser plugin, extension or web script (Williams et al., 2019). ...
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Crowdworkers on platforms like Amazon Mechanical Turk face growing competition as a result of the global excess supply of digital labour. As a result, many crowdworkers turn to automated scripts, which help them locate better tasks faster and to boost their earnings. However, to date, it is not clear whether and to what extent the use of such scripts influence the opportunities for those crowdworkers who do not use them. This an important aspect that warrants further exploration because it can have negative implications for the health of crowdwork platforms. In this study, we use Discrete Event Simulation to identify and quantify the unintended consequences of the excessive use of automated scripts. Our findings show that, while the use of scripts allows some crowdworkers to identify and accept far more tasks than others, in the long run, this behaviour results in their competence persistence and reputational persistence and progressively to detrimental impacts for those workers who do not use scripts, and who may ultimately be forced to exit the platform. As a result, automated scripts have negative consequences, whereby their excessive use leads to a tragedy of the commons for all platform stakeholders, including the crowdworkers, the job requesters and the platform itself.
... This is particularly evident when workers who are newly active on the platform become vulnerable in front of clients since they have no work experience and no profile on the platform. Thus, as a way to build their profiles and reputation on the platform, which is only doable by performing several works efficiently, they are often attracted to client schemes, accepting several works for which they are not paid after their completion (D'Cruz and Noronha, 2016). Moreover, the abundance of available workers also contributes to a more competitive work environment, as these professionals are easily replaced, mainly by those accepting a lower salary (Muntaner, 2018;Wood et al., 2019). ...
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The rapid growth of digital economic activity had led to considerable scholarly interest in the phenomenon of platforms. Evidence shows how digital work platforms constitute one of the most relevant changes that have occurred in recent years and assume the condition of actors with an important presence in national and global work markets. However, these changes cannot be understood by focusing only on the work sphere, as the sphere of consumption is also central to this debate. In fact, the new ways of organizing, dividing and coordinating work on digital platforms are interconnected with specific modalities of consumption of the services made available by them. This article argues that a service relation approach allows an understanding of what is happening on digital work platforms, both in terms of the structural and conjunctural configurations of the interrelationships between platforms, workers and clients, as well as their social and economic consequences. This approach allows the analysis of the web of interdependencies between distinctive types of platforms, workers and clients, and to discuss how changes longitudinally within it are conditioned by the very transformations inherent to the platforms market. Thus, future research needs to explore the network of the voices of platforms, workers and clients in order to produce a robust analysis of these triangular relations as well as of the challenges regarding the differences and interconnections between algorithmic and human management.
Much has been written about the precarious nature of platform work, whether in high-income or less advanced economies. The lack of alternative employment opportunities and the high level of informal work in the latter are often assumed to be the key incentive for local workers to take on platform work. There is however little research on how exactly local conditions affect workers’ choices and most importantly on the factors making them accept the precariousness of platform labour. Based on 40 interviews with ride-hailing drivers in Tbilisi, the capital of the Republic of Georgia, this article argues that, rather than the lack of alternative opportunities, the poor quality of available jobs and the lack of social protection are the factors leading workers to accept and internalise precariousness, making the inherent features of app-based work seem normal.
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Digital platforms provide many workers with vital income and offer the promise of flexible work, and yet also contribute to experiences of precariousness and exploitation, particularly with regard to pressures to undertake unpaid work. This article explores why unpaid labour is necessary and what drives its extent and form among diverse types of digital platforms. We theorize two ideal types of ‘open’ and ‘closed’ socio-technical platform regimes of worker autonomy, building on sociological insights about socio-technical systems, management control over worker autonomy and labour market segmentation by skill. In principle, ‘open’ (‘closed’) platform regimes grant relatively high (low) worker autonomy in terms of access to the platform, paid work and control over work tasks. Analysing five case studies, illustrative of ‘open’ and ‘closed’ regimes, we investigate unpaid labour in low-skill locational (i.e. food delivery) platforms and medium/high-skill online (i.e. freelancing) platforms. In brief, digital freelancers exhibit a lower extent of unpaid labour within relatively ‘open’ regimes, owing to greater autonomy over access to, and control over, platform work in a sector requiring medium/high skills. Conversely, ‘closed’ regimes mitigate unpaid labour for food-delivery platforms by providing market shelter for workers, who are easily replaced in an overcrowded sector requiring few skills.
Online freelancing platforms, such as Upwork, hold great promise in enabling flexible work opportunities where freelancers can combine their work with other life responsibilities, hereafter work-life. However, prior research suggests that platform features and self-managing demands of freelance work can jeopardise this apparent flexibility. In this paper, we report findings from a qualitative study, combining a 14-diary and semi-structured interview with 15 Upwork freelancers. We explored online freelancers' work practices, challenges, and the impact of platform features on their everyday lives. Our qualitative data suggest that platform features and individual context shape online freelancers' work-life practices. Freelancers develop strategies to mitigate platforms' constraints and balance their individual preferences and responsibilities. Further, our findings illustrate how platform features challenge freelancers' availability expectations, work autonomy, and work detachment. This paper contributes an empirical understanding of the factors influencing online freelancers' work-life practices by drawing upon Wanda J. Orlikowski's Structuration Model of Technology. This theoretical lens renders the interplay of freelancers, platforms, and instituted norms of freelance work.
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The article explains how digitally mediated domestic care service provisions endure the invisibility and informality of domestic care work by the individualization of risk, which we operationalize by one of its dimensions, i.e. unpaid labour. We understand unpaid labour as the cost of a risk that workers bear individually, at the intersection of the social (inter-personal) and economic (monetary) interactions. The study draws from the experiences of domestic care workers providing their services through platforms. It shows how platforms enter the labour markets and welfare structures of two mature economies (i.e., Belgium and France) by their (digital) rules following ‘regulatory compliance’ and ‘disruption’ as distinctive strategies guiding the processes of platform dominance. Despite country-based differences in processes, however, platform-mediated employment outcomes remain generally unrecognised, undocumented, informal and charged with unpaid labour as the cost of the individualisation of risk domestic care workers bear when providing services through platforms.
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This article aims to explore the dynamics of employment relations (ER) in the Indian information technology (IT) industry in the context of an ongoing technological revolution. The study utilises the grounded theory approach to draw insights from 32 professionals including project/product managers, senior management representatives and employees from junior to mid-career level currently working in the IT industry. Findings indicate that the following four forces drive the ER in the Indian IT industry: (1) labour laws, (2) compensation and HR, (3) unions and organisations, and (4) health and workplace security. Labour laws need to be updated to suit the requirements of knowledge-based professions. Compensation and HR management styles vary widely due to the disparity and heterogeneity of work. There is scope for a non-politicised union in the industry. The health and security of IT professionals need attention. Findings suggest the changing concepts of workspaces in IT, dilution of HR in IT due to increased outsourcing and the rise of independent workers in future. This article makes theoretical and conceptual contributions to the ER literature. It captures the driving forces of ER in the Indian IT industry. The article also contributes to decent work, convergence–divergence paradigm and outsourcing in Human Resource Management.
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Only ten years ago, there were more internet users in countries like France or Germany than in all of Africa put together. But much has changed in a decade. The year 2018 marks the first year in human history in which a majority of the world’s population are now connected to the internet. This mass connectivity means that we have an internet that no longer connects only the world’s wealthy. Workers from Lagos to Johannesburg to Nairobi and everywhere in between can now apply for and carry out jobs coming from clients who themselves can be located anywhere in the world. Digital outsourcing firms can now also set up operations in the most unlikely of places in order to tap into hitherto disconnected labour forces. With CEOs in the Global North proclaiming that ‘location is a thing of the past’ (Upwork, 2018), and governments and civil society in Africa promising to create millions of jobs on the continent, the book asks what this ‘new world of digital work’ means to the lives of African workers. It draws from a year-long fieldwork in South Africa, Kenya, Nigeria, Ghana, and Uganda, with over 200 interviews with participants including gig workers, call and contact centre workers, self-employed freelancers, small-business owners, government officials, labour union officials, and industry experts. Focusing on both platform-based remote work and call and contact centre work, the book examines the job quality implications of digital work for the lives and livelihoods of African workers.
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New Forms of Employment in Europe sheds light on policy options for policymakers and practitioners on the position regarding new forms of employment in EU Member States and other European countries. In recent years, new forms of employment have been on the rise all over Europe. The ‘full-time job’ is now no longer an option for many people seeking employment. It has been replaced by an ever-expanding plethora of ‘atypical’ employment relationships designed by employers to streamline their operations and/or take advantage of Information and Communications Technology (ICT). Numerous labour law issues arise, demanding urgent attention. How should law and policy best address these challenges? This timely book explores this contentious topic in depth, presenting ten penetrating chapters on aspects of the topic by leading European labour law authorities followed by reports on new forms of employment in thirty-five European countries.
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In the framework of the so-called “sharing economy”, the number of on-demand companies matching labour supply and demand is on the rise. These schemes may enlarge opportunities for people willing to find a job or to top up their salaries. Despite the upsides of creating new peer marketplaces, these platforms may also be used to circumvent employment regulation, by operating informally in traditionally regulated markets.Literature showed how, by 2009, over 2 million worker accounts had been generated within these frameworks. Productivity may be fostered but, at the same time, a new version of Taylorism is disseminated (i.e. the fragmentation of labour into hyper-temporary jobs – they call them microtasks – on a virtual assembly line), strengthened by globalisation and computerisation. All these intermediaries recruit freelance or casual workers (these continue to be independent contractors even though many indicators seem to reveal a disguised employment relationship).Uncertainty and insecurity are the price for extreme flexibility. A noteworthy volume of business risk is shifted to workers, and potential costs as benefits or unemployment insurance are avoided. Minimum wages are often far from being reached.This paper will present a case study analysis of several “on-demand work” platforms, starting from the Amazon Mechanical Turk, one of the first schemes founded in 2005, which is arguably “employing humans-as-a-service”. It splits a single service in several micro “Human Intelligence Tasks” (such as tagging photographs, writing short descriptions, transcribing podcasts, processing raw data); “Turkers/Providers” (workers) are selected by “Requesters” to rapidly accomplish assignments online, are then rated according to an internal system and are finally paid (also in gaming credits) only if delivery is accepted. After having signed up and worked within some platforms, I comment upon TaskRabbit (thousands people on the service who bid to do simple manual tasks), Handy and Wonolo (personal assistance at a local level), oDesk and Freelancer (online staffing), Uber and Lyft (peer-to-peer ridesharing), Airbnb (hosting service), InnoCentive (engineering solutions), Axiom (legal research or service), BitWine (consultancy).Finally I highlight downsides and upsides of work in these platforms by studying terms of service or participation agreements to which both parties have to agree. I look into several key features such as (i) means of exchange/commodities, (ii) systems of payment, (iii) demographics, (iv) legal issues concerning status and statutory protection of workers, indicators of subordination, treatment of sickness, benefits and overtime, potential dispute resolution, and deprived “moral valence of work” and I discuss potential strategies to address these issues.
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Unionization emerged as a way of protecting labor rights when society shifted from an agricultural ecosystem to one shaped by manufacturing and industrial labor. New networked work complicates the organizing mechanisms that are inherent to unionization. How then do we protect laborers from abuse, poor work conditions, and discrimination?
This article discusses issues of measurement of informal employment. It briefly traces the evolution of the conceptual framework on the informal sector, what defines the sector and informal employment, and the new questions that have been introduced in surveys to help capture informality. A snapshot of the findings on informal employment from National Sample Survey Office reports of the 61st (2004-05), 66th (2009-10) and 68th (2011-12) rounds is presented in the article.
The census and National Sample Survey both provide employment and unemployment data. This article identifi es broadly comparable indicators of employment, underemployment and unemployment from the two data sets and fi nds that Census 2011 estimates of unemployment are far higher than those of the NSS 68th round. This article suggests this is so because the census unemployment estimates also include students and women primarily engaged in domestic duties who are seeking work.
The current regime seeks to reform labour laws with the understanding that these reforms will improve industrial growth and expand the possibilities of enterprise. However, there is already ample evidence from within India that this obsession with reforming labour law, particularly in the way the government has done it till now, will not take us any closer in creating more jobs or a healthy industrial sector. These reforms will not help fi rms adapt to ever-changing market conditions, nor will they ensure greater security of employment.