What is a Work Platform?

An online platform facilitating employment, and connecting labor to demand directly, through individual users.

Overview

What it is: A Work Platform is an application that connects people to jobs, of various kinds. Popular Work Platforms include Uber, Lyft, InstaCart, and TaskRabbit. Unlike traditional employment arrangements, jobs are created and acquired dynamically in a public fashion. Workers doing business through work platforms are better thought of as contractors than employees, completing micro-contracts as they choose to take them on.

What they do: Work Platforms for a given service connect supply directly to demand. In the case of “ridesharing” apps like Uber or Lyft, for example, commuters and drivers communicate directly. This creates online marketplaces for specific services that are more efficient than traditional alternatives such as (for Uber and Lyft), taxi companies.

Why it matters: Work Platforms are reshaping the world of work. They have disrupted a number of service sectors, especially those traditionally managed by monopolistic entities like taxi companies and grocery stores. This has created both consumer satisfaction and raging disputes about the ethics and economics of the new “gig economy.” Their impact is so pervasive that, in the parlance of startup funding, it’s become cliché to suggest that a new application will be “the Uber of” a given market.

What to do about it: Look into whether the completion of routine tasks in your business could be supplemented by labor from Work Platforms. If your enterprise currently uses Work Platforms, be aware that the regulatory landscape could change, requiring platforms to offer higher wages or benefits to workers, thus increasing costs. If your enterprise is considering new application ideas, consider the fact that Work Platforms can be tremendously profitable, with strong network effects and potentially low overhead.

Business Advantages

  • Enables the dynamic acquirement of labor, often at low costs
  • Can allow positive disruption of stagnant/monopolistic markets
  • Can reveal untapped labor reserves and create demand
  • Are hugely scalable if successful, creating potentially massive profits
  • Increase employment by lowering barriers to entry

The Versatility of Work Platforms

There are myriad Work Platforms, servicing different markets in different ways. Some, like Upwork and Fiverr, are halfway between pure Work Platforms and job boards, connecting employees with one-off jobs as well as recurring work. Others, like Uber and Doordash, are pure gig applications, with relationships between hirers and workers that only last for minutes or hours. While some offer work that’s narrowly specified, others, like TaskRabbit, allow for a variety of jobs.

Considerations

There are differing opinions on whether Work Platforms are good or bad for workers. On the one hand, one could argue that they provide workers more freedom, allowing them to acquire work as desired. They also give businesses flexibility in deciding how to address labor needs. On the other hand, Work Platforms in some sectors, such as transportation, have demonstrably lowered wages and decreased job security, which has lead to unionization drives and regulatory efforts.

The Future of Work Platforms

Regulatory overheads could challenge some Work Platforms. For example, California is enacting a bill requiring Uber and others to treat freelancers as they would employees—however, it’s still unclear how this bill will be enforced, or whether it will set a national precedent. It’s possible that regulation will have less of an effect on Work Platforms that facilitate marketplaces already ruled by gigs, such as Chefs Feed, a Work Platform for chefs hosting private dinners and other one-off events.