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As flexible work arrangements such as remote working or digital nomadism are normalized, the structure of work, performance expectations, and employee-employer relationships fundamentally change, presenting both benefits and risks for workers. Currently, the design and management of ICT systems for work is still geared towards 'standard' organizational settings and traditional forms of work. However, Personal Digital Infrastructures (PDIs) emerge as alternative sociotechnical infrastructures that can help workers realize the opportunities of flexible work while avoiding challenges of precarious work. Building on extensive empirical work, we present PDIs as consumerized, connective, adaptive, and temporally hybrid systems which reflect and reinforce multiple dimensions of flexibility: spatial, temporal, organizational, and technological. We provide implications on how the design and management of ICT systems for work can be made more amenable to the needs of flexible workers.
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Communications of the ACM (2021). 64 (7). 72-79
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Flexible work and personal digital infrastructures
Mohammad Hossein Jarrahi, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Gemma Newlands, BI Norwegian Business School
Brian Butler, University of Maryland at College Park
Saiph Savage, West Virginia University and Microsoft
Christoph Lutz, BI Norwegian Business School
Michael Dunn, Skidmore College
Steve Sawyer, Syracuse University
Abstract: As flexible work arrangements such as remote working or digital nomadism are normalized, the
structure of work, performance expectations, and employee-employer relationships fundamentally
change, presenting both benefits and risks for workers. Currently, the design and management of ICT
systems for work is still geared towards ‘standard’ organizational settings and traditional forms of work.
However, Personal Digital Infrastructures (PDIs) emerge as alternative sociotechnical infrastructures that
can help workers realize the opportunities of flexible work while avoiding challenges of precarious work.
Building on extensive empirical work, we present PDIs as consumerized, connective, adaptive, and
temporally hybrid systems which reflect and reinforce multiple dimensions of flexibility: spatial, temporal,
organizational, and technological. We provide implications on how the design and management of ICT
systems for work can be made more amenable to the needs of flexible workers.
Introduction
Flexible, contingent or ‘agile’, working arrangements provide workers with greater autonomy over when,
where, or how to fulfill their responsibilities. In search of increased productivity and reduced absenteeism,
organizations have increasingly turned to flexible work arrangements. Although access to flexible work
arrangements are more prevalent among high-skilled workers, in the form of flextime or co-working, the
past decade has also witnessed growth of independent contractors, flextime, digital nomadism, digitally-
enabled crowdwork, online freelancing, and ‘on-demand’ platform labor1.
Flexible work arrangements reduce commutes and can enable workers with care-responsibilities to stay
in the workforce. Additionally, younger workers see flexibility as a top priority when considering career
opportunities2. Flexible working arrangements can also be mutually beneficial, enabling organizations to
scale dynamically. Specific skill sets can be accessed immediately by turning to freelancers to fill
organizational gaps. A growing number of organizations and workers rely on short-term and project-
based relationships, using online platforms such as Upwork or Fiverr to connect. However, flexible work
arrangements often come entwined with precarity cloaked in emancipatory narratives3. Fixed salaries and
benefits have given way to hourly rates and quantified ratings. Flexible workers frequently face
unpredictability and uncertainty as they carry more risk, more responsibility, and are burdened with a
great portion of administrative costs (i.e., overhead) associated with organizational support systems4.
Flexible workers at Google, for instance, outnumber full time workers but face far more unpredictability5.
Current formulations consider organizations as relatively fixed ‘containers’, which encapsulate the work
performed and the ICT systems used to perform it 6. However, flexible work arrangements take place
outside of organizational containers. In this new sociotechnical dynamic, flexible worker interacts with a
diversity of digital tools that defy centralized, top-down standardization or governance.
We capture this diversity of digital tools through the concept of Personal Digital Infrastructures (PDIs).
PDIs denote an individualized assemblage of tools and technologies such as personal laptops,
Communications of the ACM (2021). 64 (7). 72-79
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smartphones, cloud services, and applications brought together by workers to perform their work tasks.
Yet, flexible workers constantly reconfigure their PDIs as the technology landscape, client-relationship,
and task requirements shift. For flexible work arrangements to be mutually beneficial, PDI integration in
ICT systems for work is increasingly necessary, beyond a narrow focus on enterprise systems supporting
standard work.
Our collective research on flexible work arrangements indicates that PDIs present non-trivial challenges,
but a more effective design of ICT systems for work can facilitate the integration of these bottom-up
infrastructures. The nuanced understanding of PDIs presented here, highlights their interplay with flexible
work arrangements across key dimensions (spatial, temporal, organizational, and technological) and
suggests key priorities for technology and platform developers.
Methods
These findings are based on 170 semi-structured interviews with flexible workers conducted between
2015 and 2019. This number included 11 digital nomads, 37 remote knowledge workers, 51 online
freelancers (e.g., Upwork and Fivver), and 71 other types of on-demand workers (ride hailing, food
delivery and task work). Participants’ average age was 35. 104 were male and 66 were female. 107
resided in the US and 63 in Europe (Norway, Sweden, UK and Netherlands), including diverse
nationalities and immigrant workers, particularly from India. Interviews were conducted both in person or
online (over the phone or on Skype/WhatsApp/GotoMeeting). Our analysis highlighted a large diversity of
tools and technologies for work used by the participants. Examples included digital labor platforms,
personal laptops, mobile devices such as cell phone or tablets, applications such as Asana, Google drive,
Google maps, and Zapier reflecting varying needs
Flexible Work Dimensions
Even though flexible work environments are becoming more common, our findings reveal a general
mismatch between the dynamic requirements of flexible work arrangements and the current technological
landscape. Workers often have to go to great lengths to configure PDIs to fit their needs. Designing more
effective PDI necessitates a more nuanced understanding of the requirements of flexible work
arrangements.
Not all flexible work arrangements are flexible in the same way. As a useful framework for understanding
the intersection of technologies and flexible work, we propose that flexible work arrangements diverge
from standard work arrangements along three key dimensions: 1) organizational attachment (the extent to
which workers are under the control of the organization); 2) temporal attachment (the extent to which
workers are employed long-term by one organization); and 3) physical attachment (the extent to which
workers are in physical proximity to the organization) 7. Our collective research suggests that flexible work
also diverges along a fourth dimension: technological flexibility, referring to the extent to which workers
are able to self-curate their own personal digital infrastructure (PDI) to support their work. These flexibility
dimensions are not mutually exclusive and flexible workers often operate across multiple dimensions.
Table 1 summarizes the four dimensions, documenting the role of the current technological landscape in
enabling and constraining different dimensions of flexible work environments.
Table 1 is also helpful for understanding the nature of flexibility since flexible work arrangements render
workers less dependent on organizations. However, labels such as remote working or flex timing do not
fully capture the complexity of flexible work8, and hence are a poor basis for design of PDIs and can lead
to confusing, even abusive, employer-employee relationships.
Communications of the ACM (2021). 64 (7). 72-79
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Dimension of
flexibility
Definition
Common
examples of
work
arrangements
presenting
flexibility
dimension
Examples of
supporting digital
technologies
Examples of
technological
constraints
Spatial
flexibility
The extent to
which workers can
detach themselves
from specific
locations and
workspaces
Nomadic work
Portable
computational
equipment;
Non geo-restricted
access to systems;
Adequately reliable
and affordable
Internet connectivity;
Access to charging
stations and/or long
battery life
Fixed
computational
equipment
Geo- restricted
access to systems
Lack of access to
reliable or
affordable Internet
connectivity
Lack of access to
charging stations
and/or low battery
life
Temporal
flexibility
The extent to
which workers can
detach themselves
from specific work
schedules
Temporary
work;
Part-time work;
Flextime
Complex time and
task management
systems
Personal cloud
services (e.g.,
Google drive);
Asynchronous
Communication
platforms and norms
Blurring of work-life
boundaries
Digital distractions;
Inflexible time and
task management
systems
Organizational
flexibility
The extent to
which workers can
detach themselves
from organizations’
administrative
control
Gig work;
Contract work;
Freelance work
Digital labor
platform;
Bespoke
employment/engage
ment contract.
Digital accounting
mechanisms
Community-
developed add-ons
and plug-ins (e.g.,
scripts)
Policies restricting
the external use of
enterprise systems
Technical
management
norms
Technological
flexibility
The extent to
which workers can
self-curate the
infrastructure that
supports their work
All types of
flexible work
arrangements
Ownership of
personal IT (e.g.,
personal devices
and cloud);
Systems that
operate across
platforms and
devices
Lack of
interoperability of
enterprise
applications/ task
management
software/file
formats
Table 1: Different dimensions of flexible work environments
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Each dimension of work flexibility presents workers with both opportunities for and challenges to their
autonomy, efficiency, and effectiveness. It is these opportunities that PDI technologies must magnify and
mitigate.
Spatial Flexibility
Spatial flexibility refers to the extent to which workers can detach themselves from specific locations and
workspaces.
Opportunities: The ubiquity of networked infrastructures allow flexible workers to be increasingly mobile.
Modern norms of digital communication have created an environment where workers can be reached just
as quickly half a world away as they can be in the next office. Our research participants who worked
primarily online could ‘get to work’ wherever they were, though sometimes bound by geo-restrictions in
terms of which tasks they could fulfill. Spatial flexibility was characterized by being able to work from
home, but participants would still utilize extra-domestic spaces such as co-working spaces, hotel rooms,
and coffee shops. More pervasive cellular network coverage also contributed to the possibility of working
remotely or on-the-move. Several participants had embraced this opportunity, becoming ‘nomadic’,
traveling long distances and even setting themselves up wherever a stable internet connection was
available. Self-identifying global digital nomads are the best examples of high spatial freedom unleashed
by digital connectivity.
Challenges: Spatial flexibility is, however, challenging as workers have to constantly navigate and
prepare for unpredictability of new and changing work environments. For example, spatial flexibility is
often stymied by the lack of an adequate or reliable Internet connection or charging station. Although the
stereotype of the coffeeshop nomad holds true, workers face potentially high and unforeseen overhead
costs in negotiating continued access to workspaces and essential information infrastructure. One
participant noted: “The biggest kind of uncertainty is that I can’t guarantee there will be a strong
connection when I do go to coffee shops.” The cost of co-working spaces can eat up much of the financial
profit gained from remote work. As a result, for high-intensity digital work, such as semantic sequencing
or video editing, most profits go to workers with stable and highly ergonomic home-office set-ups rather
than those working remotely and using mobile devices9.
Temporal Flexibility
Temporal flexibility refers to the extent to which workers can detach themselves from specific work
schedules.
Opportunities: Temporal flexibility ranges from workers setting their ‘working hours’ more flexibly within a
defined set of parameters (i.e., flextime), to workers having complete freedom in choosing when and how
long to work (i.e., creative freelance work). In both cases, digital task and time management systems
aided this temporal flexibility among our participants, who employed a variety of tools in parallel to
manage fluid temporal work rhythms. Communication platforms such as Slack, afforded temporal
flexibility in communicating with peers, asynchronously and across time zones. Personal cloud services
such as Google Drive or Dropbox also enabled flexibility in creating, accessing, and manipulating
information across time. Those affiliated with larger organizations also used independent cloud services
as the shared repository of asynchronous collaboration, in tandem with enterprise resources.
Challenges: Temporal flexibility requires high-trust levels from an organization and/or high-autonomy for
workers. Temporal flexibility is also relatively incompatible with traditional micro-management styles or
Communications of the ACM (2021). 64 (7). 72-79
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with time-sensitive tasks. One of the most prominent challenges that our participants faced was the
conflation of personal and work times. A participant puts this succinctly: “When you’re in your office,
people assume you’re in the office, you’re available. You’re out of the office, maybe not as available. And
now technologies made [us] available 24/7. People think, ‘Wait a minute, I sent you an email. Why didn’t
you respond?’” Mobile technologies have rendered the boundary between the two spheres even less
distinct and being able to work at any time increases pressure to be ‘always on’ and always available to
respond to messages. Communicative affordances such as read receipts or the ‘seen’ function in
messaging, means that workers face a pressure to respond immediately.
Organizational Flexibility
Organizational flexibility refers to the extent to which workers can detach themselves from organizations’
administrative control.
Opportunities: Along with changing norms of work, such as project-centrism, flexible workers can find
and execute projects on a global scale by using digital labor marketplaces facilitated by online platforms.
Online labor platforms provide key facilitators of organizational flexibility through mechanisms digital
escrow, digital accounting software and digital contracting. Through manual selection or more
complicated algorithmic matchmaking mechanisms, these platforms lower transaction costs for the
service recipient (increasingly an enterprise) and the worker. More open platforms, such as Upwork,
enable workers to pick and choose clients based on their own preferences. Several of our research
participants left standard work arrangements and became dedicated freelancers because they saw the
diversity of projects and tasks offered by online freelancing platforms as a source of learning and raising
social capital. Without a formal employment contract, workers can engage in multiple projects and
organizations can decide about which contracts they want to take. For instance, one of our US-based
participants forwent full-time employment, a steady revenue stream and health insurance benefits (as a
cancer survivor), because he found working on a large number of system administration projects from
different organizations a more fulfilling learning experience than being attached to a single firm with
limited diversity of technical challenges.
Challenges: On the other hand, ‘gig economy’ platforms such as UberEats and Deliveroo, provide
algorithmic matching mechanisms between clients and workers, but provide limited choice over which
micro-contracts to take and limited organizational information (such as total length of delivery) which
might enable workers to choose their tasks more profitably. Indeed, even though flexible workers may
enjoy a higher administrative flexibility, they may find their work to be fraught with different restrictive
policies or requirements set by the organizations. For example, a participant described his work laptop as
“locked down” as he “can’t use any type of Google platform, can’t use Skype, and can’t use any Open
Source, because it’s [considered to have] security issues” by the employer. Along the same line, several
participants noted how installing applications on the work laptop, or a smartphone is not possible without
going through a tedious bureaucratic process. Therefore, workers in these settings can usually be subject
to the restricted work systems imposed from above. Without careful design, the same systems that
enable greater flexibility, can also be used to increase technical managerial control and restrict worker
autonomy 10.
Technological Flexibility
Technological flexibility refers to the extent to which workers can self-curate the infrastructures that
support their work. Technological flexibility represents the convergence of multiple technological
paradigms, such as consumerization, the proliferation of smart mobile devices, and the platform
economy.
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Opportunities: Our research makes it clear flexible work is largely enabled by technological flexibility.
Personal digital tools have penetrated the workplace, and many of our participants enjoyed a high level of
flexibility in bringing their own devices to work, a trend which is captured through Bring Your Own Device
(BYOD) programs and IT individualization. The ability to select their own work tools, rather than being
picked and imposed by the employer, help workers create PDIs that are tailored to their needs and
dynamic work environment.
Challenges: On the flip side, the diversity of tools used by flexible workers can result in a lack of
interoperability between various platforms, systems, and file types. Whereas Apple Macbooks are
preferred tools among workers with creative and design tasks, their lack of interoperability with Windows-
based systems and software creates many problems. Even small details such as missing fonts, or graphic
packages can create adversarial scenarios, lost income and client-dissatisfaction for these workers.
Several of the research participants, for instance, who use Gmail do not want to integrate Google Drive
for cloud storage. A participant noted, “I use Google Drive, mostly because Google kinda forces you to
use Google Drive.” Another lamented, “I’m having trouble with making all the technologies work. Google
wants to take over. It wants Google Calendar to be your calendar.” Since platform organizations impose
their dominance, cross platform coordination becomes difficult for workers who wish to take advantage of
technological flexibility.
Characteristics of Personal Digital Infrastructures (PDI)
PDIs are strategies employed by flexible workers to realize the opportunities and mitigate the risks that
come with flexible work arrangements. Workers, whether flexible or not, will selectively use some digital
tools and devices more than others, configuring these sociotechnical systems to support largely
individual, creative, operationally resilient, and problem-driven work 11. In what follows, we discuss the
characteristics of PDIs which enable them to play this complex enabling role for flexible work.
Figure 1: Technological and social layers of PDIs
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PDI Technological Layer: Heterogeneous, Consumerized, and Cost-
Efficient
PDI's build on fundamental technical characteristics of heterogeneity, low-fixed cost, and technology
consumerization to create the conditions for realizing the benefits of flexible work arrangements. To
achieve technological flexibility, PDIs are heterogeneous and involve ensembles of personal, consumer-
based devices, end-user tools, digital platforms, and ubiquitous infrastructures (e.g., local WiFi networks).
Yet, such digital technologies are often not owned by an organization, even if the worker is affiliated with
a larger organization. Rather, our research participants built on what is available in the consumer
technology market to remain versatile and retain control over the parameters of their work. The cost of
purchasing and maintaining such devices, however, falls on the worker and can generate problems in
instances of interoperability and reduced device security. Our participants were cognizant of these costs
and had to find strategies to keep them under control. As a freelance journalist, one participant managed
to use Dropbox for free (beyond the normal capacity of free accounts): “through absolute pure stinginess
to avoid paying for Dropbox, I do everything they offer to keep bumping up my limit, and the latest thing
was if you store your photos on Dropbox we’ll give you an extra 3 gigs. So I said sure.”
PDI Social Layer
Building on the foundational technologies, PDIs are connective, adaptive, and temporally hybrid
sociotechnical systems, reflecting and reinforcing multiple dimensions of flexibility.
Connective
While the heterogeneity of digital technologies enables workers to adapt to the diverse needs of flexible
work environments, this diversity simultaneously creates a key challenge: lack of interconnection and
interoperability among various technologies and competing consumer-based ecosystems (e.g., Microsoft
vs. Apple). Therefore, to effectively support work practices that often stretch multiple tools, PDIs connect
various ecosystems and enterprise information systems, often through gateway practices (activities that
bring together competing systems), VPNs, or integration tools such as Zapier or IFTTT. Some of this work
is done manually, requiring extra work on the part of the workers. For example, one participant receives
new legal cases from clients through an organizationally-sanctioned document management service
called NetDocuments. However, in order to use his preferred cloud-based document management
system (Box.com), he downloads and manually uploads each case separately.
Personal
Flexible workers often enjoy higher organizational flexibility and therefore assemble collections of digital
resources from personal, public and corporate elements based primarily on personal preferences. PDIs
reflect personal and specific work situations, and the worker is personally responsible for making these
collections of technology function. As such, our participants may dedicate great efforts to maintain PDI,
and have to rely on personal learning and development, rather than receiving dedicated training 1. This
often requires a great deal of experimentation and situated learning. For example, a web developer in our
sample figured through trial and error that he could leverage inflight WiFi without having to pay for it. He is
able to develop applications while his computer could still communicate with the client company’s
development server.
Communications of the ACM (2021). 64 (7). 72-79
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Temporally Hybrid
Due to temporal flexibility, PDIs often span the personal and professional lives of flexible workers. Using
personal devices and tools for work may often result in the intrusion of work contacts and projects into
personal IT systems. For most participants it was difficult to demarcate between tools and services that
define and support personal and work-related uses. For instance, participants used social media
messaging systems, such as WhatsApp, to communicate with friends, family, clients, and former clients.
The result has been a changing temporal rhythm of work that has further blurred the line between
personal time and work. In response to these challenges, some participants have adopted specific
strategies and tools to impose boundaries. They may use time management tools and offline working
hours to demarcate between work and personal life, or to avoid digital distractions. For example, some
had to clarify to their collaborators and clients that they would not reply to emails or messages after a
certain time, even though they are on a flexible work schedule. A participant clearly communicated to
work-related contacts: “I never check my email after 6 pm” or another has told clients when she is
traveling, “I’m not available. I won’t be responding.”
Practically Adaptive
PDIs are organizationally adaptive. While operating in a liminal space between different organizations and
projects, participants often have to accommodate the differing, sometimes contrasting, technological
requirements of multiple client organizations, projects, and collaborators. These workers are often
cognizant of organizational constraints as they directly impact their technology practices, and they make
sure their PDIs also connect with others to support collaborative information sharing, serving not just as
individual resources but also collective infrastructures. A couple of participants highlighted restricted
access to clients’ enterprise information based only on specific IP addresses (in clients’ offices or
predetermined locations). They, however, often used workarounds, such as emailing the documents to
themselves so that they had the flexibility to work on information resources outside of the designated
locations.
PDIs are also locally adaptive. Flexible workers may work from different places or even on the move.
Therefore, an awareness of local infrastructures enables workers to ensure digital connectivity, which is a
central element of digital work. Spatial mobility may sometimes require physical effort and planning for
technological use across different spaces. For example, a highly mobile worker in our sample used WiFi
Analyzer applications to gauge the available networks in a neighborhood and assess their relative signal
strength before choosing a public place to work. Others would carry assemblages of devices such as
external batteries, power splitter or USB-powered firewall (that provides a secure use of WiFi) to create
reliable mobile digital offices in different locations.
Implications
In what follows, we detail ways that organizational system design and management can help redress the
precarity of flexible work by reinforcing benefits of flexible work and ameliorating its challenges. In doing
so, we emphasize the need for better integration and facilitation of personal digital infrastructures (PDIs).
This helps organizations, workers, and platforms navigate the
consequences of flexibility and better support the PDIs that underlie effective and sustainable contingent
work arrangements.
Communications of the ACM (2021). 64 (7). 72-79
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Integration of PDIs in work systems
Flexible workers, across different capacities, must dynamically relate their PDIs with traditional
managerial structures and processes such as allocating, evaluating and coordinating work. Since PDIs
are assembled by workers in a bottom-up fashion, replication of traditional expectations would curb key
dimensions of flexibility. Rather, organizations must meet their flexible workers half-way, by tolerating and
facilitating technological diversity. Organizations need to identify priority points where technological
cohesion among the workforce is essential, such enforcing universally readable file types or requiring
certain smartphone operating systems. On-demand delivery platforms, for instance, require that workers’
smartphones have functional GPS, sufficient mobile data and battery, and can support the latest worker-
facing App updates12. On the other hand, organizations must also identify where technological cohesion
is not essential but merely desirable, since our findings indicate that workers not provided with enough
technological flexibility may resort to tedious workarounds or even to sabotage of formal work systems.
Figure 2: Flexible work environment shaped at the interplay between work systems and PDIs
Flexible work takes place in a hybrid space shaped by both work systems and PDIs (see Figure 2).
Flexibility inexorably creates more complexity, and a higher need for negotiation and transparency. In an
optimal approach, both employers and workers negotiate the top-down influence of work systems against
the bottom-up force of PDIs. Through these negotiations, organizations can assure their goals are fulfilled
and workers could meet their needs. PDIs enable workers to draw on systems that can be generative to
diverse and flexible uses. Platform designers and managers of systems for work need to recognize PDIs
as infrastructure of flexible work as workers strive to bring in their own personal technologies while firms
seek to balance these uses against the need for an integrated and secure system that serves as the
backbone of the organizational processes and meet regulatory and compliance rules. Via negotiations,
expectations of both parties should be made clear. For example, workers need to know the boundaries
for flexibility and non-negotiable areas so they can act upon it in enacting PDIs.
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Tools that facilitate a more cohesive integration of PDIs into work systems help both workers and
organizations control and manage projects while relating personal flexible routines. Integrative
management platforms, for example, can help flexible workers smoothly navigate and work across
personal data and enterprise resources. Such a platform provides versatile privacy configurations by
dynamically learning what data should be shared with the organization for effectively managing work
projects or kept on the worker’s personal storage systems (locally or personal clouds) to provide the
worker certain freedoms and autonomy.
Beyond the integration of flexible PDIs, enterprises must also facilitate flexible participation. Even though
flexible workers occupy a dynamic relationship with enterprises and enterprise work systems, many of
these systems are designed for standard, full-time employees and evidence still points to the invisibility of
this workforce 5. The design of these systems has to be mindful of a contingent, agile workforce that can
scale up on-demand and dynamically facilitate plug-and play type participation (e.g., connecting with or
disconnecting from certain enterprise resources). In addition, these systems must provide greater
flexibility for remote, flexible access; something that has become even more paramount during the Covid-
19 pandemic.
Facilitating construction and uses of PDIs by flexible workers
Flexible work is a largely independent pursuit and constructing complex PDIs is often done by each
individual worker. However, community support and collective learning can complement centrally-
provisioned organizational support (e.g., help desk support). Organizations can expand the scope of
support towards a hybrid model by encouraging community-based support, which work in concert with
formal IT support. Traditional firms, as well as digital on-demand platforms, can contribute to building
collaborative structures through which workers help each other. Furthermore, the design and
management of systems can promulgate community-based learning, which stands in contrast to the
implicit design of many on-demand platforms that discourage workers’ community building activities.
Flexible workers can greatly benefit from connecting with other workers who go through similar
challenges (e.g., securing the most profitable hits on Amazon Mechanical Turk; and most effective ways
of presenting skills on Upwork profiles). An example of such community-based systems is turkopticon
1
, a
browser plugin, which enables MTurkes to provide mutual aid by sharing reviews of individual employers.
Another key challenge PDIs is spatial constraints. Workers often have to go to great length to make PDIs
locally adaptive. Spatial flexibility often requires workers to grapple with spatial constraints such as a lack
of access to information or tools held centrally and the need to navigate multiple contextual barriers that
stem from their work over unfamiliar territories. System design therefore needs to be mobility sensitive
and strive to mitigate these challenges in creation and use of PDIs. One example would be a Firewall and
VPN that provides secure WiFi connections in public locations. Non-technological strategies that facilitate
mobilizing the workforce can focus on providing local resources for more geographically mobile workers
by, for example, partnering with local co-working spaces across different cities to ensure productive work
environments and reliable infrastructural access.
1
https://turkopticon.ucsd.edu/
Communications of the ACM (2021). 64 (7). 72-79
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Conclusion
PDIs are of growing importance to all workers, but especially workers who must adopt and adapt
practices to enable multi-axial modes of flexibility. The state of research and practice relative to the
design and management of ICT for work largely focuses on one of the two extremes -- either the
organizationally embedded work technologies or the individually-used consumer technologies.
Addressing the needs of flexible workers and organizations using flexible work arrangements will
necessarily require research, development, and deployment of PDIs that bring these two models together
in a way that helps all parties realize the opportunities and challenges of flexibility. To avoid exploitative
forms of precarious work, PDIs must provide adequate benefits for employees and employers while
mitigating the risk. Yet, by helping organizations and workers navigate the conflicting consequences of
flexibility, the design and management of digital infrastructure can support the emergence of new
effective, sustainable work arrangements and PDIs that undergird these arrangements.
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... Notice that our research is addressing a critical problem because a common use case for crowd work is to train machine learning algorithms, or to provide a human-in-the-loop approach when A.I. fails [13,44,100,106] . Since we are in the midst of an "A.I. revolution," it is plausible that we will see dramatic growth in the use of crowd labor [10,45,64,65,99]. In addition, post-COVID-19, there will likely be a large increase in people who need to work from home, whether that is for safety reasons or because of the massive number of worldwide layoffs [29,31,104]. ...
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Crowdsourcing markets provide workers with a centralized place to find paid work. What may not be obvious at first glance is that, in addition to the work they do for pay, crowd workers also have to shoulder a variety of unpaid invisible labor in these markets, which ultimately reduces workers' hourly wages. Invisible labor includes finding good tasks, messaging requesters, or managing payments. However, we currently know little about how much time crowd workers actually spend on invisible labor or how much it costs them economically. To ensure a fair and equitable future for crowd work, we need to be certain that workers are being paid fairly for all of the work they do. In this paper, we conduct a field study to quantify the invisible labor in crowd work. We build a plugin to record the amount of time that 100 workers on Amazon Mechanical Turk dedicate to invisible labor while completing 40,903 tasks. If we ignore the time workers spent on invisible labor, workers' median hourly wage was $3.76. But, we estimated that crowd workers in our study spent 33% of their time daily on invisible labor, dropping their median hourly wage to $2.83. We found that the invisible labor differentially impacts workers depending on their skill level and workers' demographics. The invisible labor category that took the most time and that was also the most common revolved around workers having to manage their payments. The second most time-consuming invisible labor category involved hyper-vigilance, where workers vigilantly watched over requesters' profiles for newly posted work or vigilantly searched for labor. We hope that through our paper, the invisible labor in crowdsourcing becomes more visible, and our results help to reveal the larger implications of the continuing invisibility of labor in crowdsourcing.
Article
Crowdsourcing markets provide workers with a centralized place to find paid work. What may not be obvious at first glance is that, in addition to the work they do for pay, crowd workers also have to shoulder a variety of unpaid invisible labor in these markets, which ultimately reduces workers' hourly wages. Invisible labor includes finding good tasks, messaging requesters, or managing payments. However, we currently know little about how much time crowd workers actually spend on invisible labor or how much it costs them economically. To ensure a fair and equitable future for crowd work, we need to be certain that workers are being paid fairly for all of the work they do. In this paper, we conduct a field study to quantify the invisible labor in crowd work. We build a plugin to record the amount of time that 100 workers on Amazon Mechanical Turk dedicate to invisible labor while completing 40,903 tasks. If we ignore the time workers spent on invisible labor, workers' median hourly wage was $3.76. But, we estimated that crowd workers in our study spent 33% of their time daily on invisible labor, dropping their median hourly wage to $2.83. We found that the invisible labor differentially impacts workers depending on their skill level and workers' demographics. The invisible labor category that took the most time and that was also the most common revolved around workers having to manage their payments. The second most time-consuming invisible labor category involved hyper-vigilance, where workers vigilantly watched over requesters' profiles for newly posted work or vigilantly searched for labor. We hope that through our paper, the invisible labor in crowdsourcing becomes more visible, and our results help to reveal the larger implications of the continuing invisibility of labor in crowdsourcing.
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Digital work is bringing significant change to all professions, as established work settings are replaced by remote work and digital teamwork and collaboration. Healthcare is one area where digital technology is a growing influence on professional work, roles, and relationships. This thesis explores some implications of digital work related to how physicians experience digital technologies in daily work and learning, and how they view their roles and expertise in relation to digitally engaged patients. The data comes from interviews, focus groups, and a survey of Swedish physicians. The findings suggest that digital work can be understood as a process of coping with contradictions, where physicians reconfigure professionalism through ongoing efforts to embrace the new forms of work without sacrificing core values. The thesis concludes with guidelines to address the transformation of professional roles and responsibilities, the new qualities and competencies required for digital work, and the need for interdisciplinary research and diverse perspectives towards the goal of appropriate design of sociotechnical medical systems.
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Workplace surveillance is traditionally conceived of as a dyadic process, with an observer and an observee. In this paper, I discuss the implications of an emerging form of workplace surveillance: surveillance with an algorithmic, as opposed to human, observer. Situated within the on-demand food-delivery context, I draw upon Henri Lefebvre’s spatial triad to provide in-depth conceptual examination of how platforms rely on conceived space, namely the virtual reality generated by data capture, while neglecting perceived and lived space in the form of the material embodied reality of workers. This paper offers a two-fold contribution. First, it applies Henri Lefebvre’s spatial triad to the techno-centric digital cartography used by platform-mediated organisations, assessing spatial power dynamics and opportunities for resistance. Second, this paper advances organisational research into workplace surveillance in situations where the observer and decision-maker can be a non-human agent.
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We analyze a set of Twitter hashtags to ascertain how contemporary parlance in social media can illuminate the rich cultural intersections between modern forms of work, use of technology, and physical mobility. We use network word co-occurrence analysis, and topic modeling, which reveal several thematic areas of discourse present in Twitter, each with their own affiliated terms and distinctive emphases. The first theme centers on worker identity and is currently dominated by the experiences of digital nomads. The second theme focuses on the practicalities of working in a physical location and is currently dominated by issues related to co-working spaces. Finally, the third theme is a loose and speculative set of ideas around predicting how work will evolve in the future, with a particular emphasis on the role of the enterprise. We contribute to scholarship on social media methods by showing how a robust analysis of Twitter data can help scholars find sub-thematic nuance within a complex discussion space by identifying the existence and boundaries of topical sub-themes. We also contribute to scholarship on the future of work by providing empirical evidence for the ways that the myriad terms related to mobility and work relate to one another and, most importantly, how these relations signal semantic centrality among those who share their thoughts on these types of work.
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Online crowdwork platforms have been praised as powerful vehicles for economic development, particularly for workers traditionally excluded from the labor market. However, there has been insufficient scrutiny as to the feasibility of crowdwork as an income-source among socio-economically deprived populations. This paper examines device requirements and differential access to digital infrastructure, both of which act as potential barriers to not only basic participation but also to economic success online. Given the increasing prevalence of mobile-first and mobile-only populations, research on this topic aids in understanding the crowdwork ecosystem among differing socio-economic sectors. Based on a survey of 606 crowd workers across the United States and India, this paper uses both quantitative and qualitative data to explore whether reliance on mobile devices is detrimental for economic outcomes of crowdwork. The results point to substantial inequalities in device use and received benefits from crowdwork, within each country and between the two contexts.
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We advance the concept of platformic management, and the ways in which platforms help to structure project-based or “gig” work. We do so knowing that the popular press and a substantial number of the scholarly publications characterize the “rise of the gig economy” as advancing worker autonomy and flexibility, focusing attention to online digital labor platforms such as Uber and Amazon’s Mechanical Turk. Scholars have conceptualized the procedures of control exercised by these platforms as exerting “algorithmic management,” reflecting the use of extensive data collection to feed algorithms that structure work. In this paper, we broaden the attention to algorithmic management and gig-working control in two ways. First, we characterize the managerial functions of Upwork, an online platform that facilitates knowledge-intensive freelance labor - to advance discourse beyond ride-sharing and room-renting labor. Second, we advance the concept of platformic management as a means to convey a broader and sociotechnical premise of these platforms’ functions in structuring work. We draw on data collected from Upwork forum discussions, interviews with gig workers who use Upwork, and a walkthrough analysis of the Upwork platform to develop our analysis. Our findings lead us to articulate platformic management -- extending beyond algorithms -- and to present the platform as a ‘‘boundary resource” to illustrate the paradoxical affordances of Upwork and similar labor platforms. That is, the platform (1) enables the autonomy desired by gig workers, while (2) also serving as a means of control that helps maintain the viability of transactions and protects the platform from disintermediation.
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We develop the concept of digital assemblages in order to advance current theorising on the ways in which information and communication technologies (ICTs) are helping to reshape work. The empirical setting is the US residential real estate industry—a ‘living laboratory’ for studying information-intensive work and the adoption and uses of ICT. We find that real estate agents' uses of ICT are pervasive and suggest that agents now embed themselves more deeply into the transacting of real estate by actively supporting buyers and sellers, rather than acting primarily as information intermediaries. Building from this, we theorise that this ICT use can more coherently be understood as a ‘digital assemblage’ rather than a formal information system. Digital assemblages are characterised as distinct patterns of ICT collections that, in use, are functionally equivalent and structurally similar, relying on standardised and commodified ICT and are neither formally designed nor collectively governed.
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Application of computer and communications technology to cooperative work and group decision making has grown out of three traditions: computer-based communications, computer:based information service provision, and computer-based decision support. This paper reviews the group decision support systems (GDSSs) that have been configured to meet the needs of groups at work, and evaluates the experience to date with such systems. Progress with GDSSs has proved to be slower than originally anticipated because of shortcomings with available technology, poor integration of the various components of the computing package, and incomplete understanding of the nature of group decision making. Nevertheless, the field shows considerable promise with respect to the creation of tools to aid in group decision making and the development of sophisticated means of studying the dynamics of decision making in groups.
Navigating the future of work: Can we point business, workers, and social institutions in the same direction? Deloitte Review
  • J Hagel
  • J Schwartz
  • J Bersin
Hagel, J., Schwartz, J. & Bersin, J. Navigating the future of work: Can we point business, workers, and social institutions in the same direction? Deloitte Review (2017).
Flexible Working: The Way Of The Future
  • J Burnford
Burnford, J. Flexible Working: The Way Of The Future. Forbes https://www.forbes.com/sites/joyburnford/2019/05/28/flexible-working-the-way-of-thefuture/#609f10ee4874 (2019).