The world of work is changing in dramatic ways. Thanks to increasing media coverage and our own everyday experiences in our roles as workers and consumers, we know that it is so. In today’s advanced, market-driven economy, it is broadly understood and accepted that platform technology is being adopted to deliver more efficiency (sometimes now referred to as “sharing or “collaborative consumption”) and reduced cycle or response times (sometimes now referred to as “on-demand.”) Now it is also becoming apparent this has not only been occurring in areas such as retail and travel, it has also been occurring (perhaps less visibly) in labor markets and the world of work.
What Are Platforms?
While mobile, analytics, etc. and other advanced technologies have individually influenced how work happens, it is really the innovative “configuration/aggregation” of these technologies—in the form of platforms—that has begun to revolutionize how work arrangements are established between those who need to have work done and those doing the needed work. Platforms allow two or more groups of agents to efficiently and directly interact and enter into value-adding exchange relationships, without the middleman bureaucracies of the industrial age. In general, this could be as simple as buying and selling on Amazon or eBay, arranging lodging on Airbnb or finding temporary working space through LiquidSpace. Platforms allow resources to be utilized more efficiently by “time sharing” and enable faster “on-demand” fulfillment of whatever may be needed.
Platforms in the World of Work
In the world of work, platforms have emerged that are fundamentally changing, not only how work can be performed (for example, much work can be done remotely/online), but more importantly how work can be arranged (for example, permanent employee, temp worker, independent contractor, etc.) Industrial age work arrangements involved time-consuming, high-overhead processes for opening a position, searching for the right candidates, recruiting those individuals, onboarding the workers and then hoping they will stay in the positions – will “work out” and “will do the job.” Now platforms can automate and optimally rearrange and even eliminate process steps so that common pools of workers with different skills can be tapped with great precision and speed (effectively, with reduced labor market transaction costs) on a project basis.
From Job Market to Work Market
As such, a very fundamental shift has begun in the economy from a “job market” to a “work market.” Increasingly, for businesses (seeking much greater structural labor flexibility and cost efficiency) and for a growing–often skilled and specialized–segment of the workforce (seeking free agency as “businesses of one”), work is being arranged less to fill a fixed position or job and more to perform a specific kind of work in a project-specific context to achieves specific results. Technology-enabled platforms are critical in driving this monumental shift.
Prominent Work Platforms and Respective Positions
A range of different online platforms have emerged over the past ten years. The most well-known and now-leading platforms tended to take aim and make their mark in different work segments or niches (as depicted below). Fivrr is well known for its small work outputs purchased from remote workers by consumers or small businesses. Task Rabbit has been focused on allowing consumers and small businesses engage casual workers to perform small, relatively menial tasks, such as cleaning homes or offices. Elance-oDesk has evolved as the largest platform intermediary of remote, online skilled freelancers whose services have been procured by SMBs (often taking advantage of labor arbitrage across country borders.) In the meantime, a New York City-based vendor, Work Market, took the field with the unique distinction of being the first work platform to have designed in enterprise-grade capabilities to support contingent work arrangements, with any kind of worker, working anywhere (remotely, in a company’s office location, or dispatched on-the-fly to some field location.)
Work Market: The Business
Work Market was launched in 2010 as a “next generation online work platform” by Jeff Leventhal (years earlier, the founder of Onforce, the first online work platform for on-site contract workers engaged by enterprises). While the enterprise focus and on-location work segment were clearly part of Work Market’s DNA and provided a differentiated position for initial market entry, the capabilities to support all modes of work have been present and progressively leveraged to serve its enterprise clients. In five years, Work Market has raised $35M in three rounds of venture capital funding (most recently, a $20M Series C round in January 2015.) Established as the leading platform player in the enterprise and on-location work segment, Work Market also actively expands its client base that utilize online/remote freelancers. Work Market now serves many enterprise clients including SAP (enabling a nationwide talent pool of software expert consultants for SAP VARs and customers) and Yahoo (supporting a vast remote network of online freelance bloggers.) In addition to serving other business clients that need to engage and maintain financial and risk management control over large scale extended workforces while growing and nurturing those workforces, Work Market has fostered critical staffing industry partnerships, with companies such as MBO Partners and IQ Navigator.
Pathfinding Work Innovation through FMS
If Work Market was launched as a next- or second-generation online work platform in 2010, it has now evolved to the point of being a third-generation platform, supporting multiple tailored 21st century “work markets” for different enterprises and affiliated contingent, independent workers. This is clearly juxtaposed to the 20th century, one-size-fits-all “job market.” Work Market has been recognized by various industry research groups (including Ardent Partners, Spend Matters, and Staffing Industry Analysts) as one of the pioneers and leading players in a new online work platform category known as Freelancer Management Systems or FMS. FMS, analogous to VMS (now a de facto enterprise system platform for controlling staffing firms that supply temp help), enables digital engagement of an enterprise’s extended, affiliated workforce of freelance or independent workforce as well as financial and risk management control over those engagements of that workforce. Notably, “Ardent Partners research has found that nearly 40% of organizations expect to adopt a Freelancer Management System over the next 12-to-16 months (second only to mobile applications in the “solutions on the rise” category of contingent workforce management technology.)” Unlike many of the other online work platforms (like crowdsourcing and freelance marketplace platforms) that have developed outside of enterprise contingent workforce supply chains, flying under the regulatory radar by serving small businesses and workers across borders, FMS is an enterprise-grade platform. It is designed to support enterprise contingent workforce requirements and aligns with other elements of the existing supply chain like VMS and MSP. At the same time, FMS facilitates hiring manager and contractor engagements on a more direct, peer-to-peer, and on-demand basis, as is necessary for an extended workforce of independent workers to function and add value to the enterprise (through heightened agility and specialized fit of skills to ). As a platform with APIs, it can also “plug in” various third-party service providers for background checking, classification, and payments. In short, every enterprise can have its own service ecosystem supporting its own platform-based “work market”—its own source of competitive advantage.
Work Market’s Business Vision
In a recent encounter with Stephen DeWitt, the recently appointed CEO of Work Market, much was shared about how Work Market views the business it is in and how it envisions its role in the evolution of the world of work. “We are in the midst of a transition in how organizations of all sizes—large and small—engage talent and labor capabilities,” DeWitt said. “The approach to leveraging talent and professional skills has historically been architected within the ‘boundaries of the firm.’ Today, and certainly looking towards the generations ahead, businesses will also engage talent and labor capabilities that are not “employees” as such, but rather are specialized talent or labor ‘service providers’ connected and dynamically contributing to the organization in a framework that is different from the industrial one of workers hired into positions or jobs. Work Market, in the past five years, has built the digital foundation that will enable enterprises and independent, free agent talent to engage with one another and arrange work in legally compliant forms.” “As we look forward, many “work markets” will emerge matching talent with amazing abilities with enterprises clients. Businesses will have the opportunity to build and curate private talents clouds of independent workers that can augment their operations in ways never before imagined. Through the years we’ve seen the realities of global competition on the work force and the critical need to keep looking for new plateaus of productivity. On-demand skilled labor will play a major role in the construct of our economy in the years ahead. De Witt added, “The win-win is for Work Market to be enabling the maximum enterprise consumption of valued-added work performed by independent, free-agent workers as a variable, extended set of talent/labor capabilities applied as services. Big data and new taxonomies of work have already been anticipated as a part of enabling platform solution that we will provide to both businesses and talent. We think that as a platform, we are in the process of re-writing the rules of the game for businesses and workers in the 21st century.”
The world of work, what we do in it, and how we do it is rapidly and fundamentally changing. Looking more deeply into the perspectives and mechanisms of one of the leading enterprise work platforms and a range of different contingent forms of work reinforces and informs the premise that how work gets arranged is changing significantly: From industrial models of hiring and firing (the one-size-fits all “job market”) to a more give-and-take and distributed model of dynamic work arrangements–between enterprises and independent, free-agent workers. Work arrangements are increasingly happening through many unique, online “work markets” and supporting ecosystems, where enterprises and independent, free-agent workers engage with businesses on sustainable terms. Work Market is clearly a leading platform player with a focus, technology, and vision to be the foundation builder of new “work markets” of the 21st century.