New research project iWork: investigating the Future of Work and Organizing in the Digital Platform Economy

How digital technologies are implicated in profound changes in the nature of work has been a topic of much interest in the past years. One realm of high-skilled ‘knowledge work’, historically conducted by full-time professionals in the office, is increasingly technology-mediated and executed by remote independent contractors. Platforms operating online labor markets are the harbingers of these changes, yet knowledge on the social and organizational implications of platform utilization by firms has remained scant.

I’m honored and grateful to be awarded a British Academy Postdoctoral fellowship that allows me to address this gap. In the three-year research project ‘iWork: Investigating the Future of Work and Organizing in the Digital Platform Economy‘ I ask the fundamental question how ‘work’ is changing when firms use digital platforms to bring remote independent contractors into the workplace.

The iWork project stands at the intersection of Organization and Management, Economic Sociology, and Information Systems Research. It builds upon and extends my current work in the iLabour project by answering substantially different questions and making novel contributions: My current work on online labour markets adopts an ‘institutional’ lens to answer the question how – as new intermediaries – online platforms design and operate their marketplaces, thereby developing new labor market institutions. Developing such insight, I realized the significant importance of understanding the social and organizational implications of using platform technologies and associated remote working models to engage ‘online freelancers’ in the workplace. Hence, the focus of the iWork project is to advance understanding of how ‘work’ itself is changing in the digital economy and its social and organizational implications. For this, I will adopt a ‘sociology of work’ lens.

Through an ethnographic study inside the world’s largest platform for knowledge work, the project is the first to document how the platform itself engages online freelancers, thereby shaping at origin the future of work. Connecting scholarship on organizations, work and occupations, and the digital economy, the project is likely to offer novel theoretical and methodological approaches to studying 21st century work and organizations. I will also use this fellowship to translate research findings into novel teaching offerings.

This year, 53 postdoctoral fellowships were awarded by the British Academy to early career scholars in the social sciences and humanities. The BA-funded iWork project will commence January 2020 and be embedded at Saïd Business School, University of Oxford in close collaboration with the Oxford Internet Institute. An independent project site is being developed. In the meantime updates will be shared through the ilabour website as well as @iWorkOxford on Twitter.