Press Release  | 

The pandemic strengthens the platform economy and fuels the growth of virtual services

  • The rise of platforms shows the pending challenges to make new forms of work visible through the regulation and protection of workers

  • The Covid crisis reinforces the adaptability of platforms to unforeseen changes and promotes protocols to increase worker safety

Digital work platforms have experienced unprecedented growth as a result of the pandemic, both in the supply and in the demand for services, a trend that will continue over time, so it is urgent to address the regulation of this new way of working. This is one of the main conclusions of the virtual meeting held today between experts from the world of work and led by Digital Future Society and Bid Lab.

The round table was composed by Emilce Grimi, CFO of Workana (Argentina), the largest digital platform for virtual services in Latin America; Albert Cañigueral, connector of Ouishare, global network of innovators and freelancers of the collaborative economy, for Spain and Latin America; and Javier Pacheco, Secretary General of CCOO Catalonia, who have debated about the most controversial aspects of virtual service platforms. The growth in demand for this type of service; the business model changes that platforms have experienced with Covid-19; the contractual relationship between platforms and workers or the problems that arise with the transnationalization of work.

The CFO of Workana, Emilce Grimi, has pointed out that, with the outbreak of the pandemic, they have detected an increase in the number of freelancers on their platform, which has been maintained. "The most demanded professions are still the jobs related with information technology and design, but professions such as psychologists and data science are increasingly booming". Although he admits that there are gaps on which to continue working, such as the job security of workers, he considers that the solution is to advance in the field of the gig economy or platform economy. "We must continue to offer more opportunities to freelance professionals, listen to them and accompany them for their professional development, this implies facilitating entry barriers, reducing costs, procedures and bureaucracy, offering them recommendations and tools that allow them to improve their work.

The representative of Ouishare, Albert Cañigueral, lists some changes on digital platforms that have occurred in recent months and in different parts of the world such as California, India or Spain, with a ‘Rider Law’ pending. "In recent months we have seen many small changes in regulation, platforms have been professionalized, specializing by sectors, some platforms no longer act only as intermediaries, but are involved in the process in different ways". Cañigueral considers that it has already been normalized that platforms are part of the world of work and "this has made them specialize and create niche platforms with great added value, we have also observed greater solidarity, a community of platform workers is being created, now we don't talk about the solitary freelancer anymore”. Likewise, the Ouishare spokesperson points out that "there is a lack of agreement and a consensual taxonomy to be able to develop public policies adjusted to the future of work”.

The Secretary General of CCOO Catalonia, Javier Pacheco, sees digitization as an opportunity for job development and for the balanced distribution of capital gains, but is concerned about the working conditions associated with the platform economy because it can lead to creation of new precarious spaces. Pacheco points out: “We have already created a stereotype of the platform worker, but there is still great invisibility and what is not seen does not exist, therefore, we must establish a regulatory framework for these outsourcing jobs with clear criteria on how they must be the relations between worker and platform”. And he adds that "we must continue to strengthen the spaces for collective bargaining, promote the monitoring of the rule with new powers for inspectors and prevent this condition of autonomy from becoming precarious and vulnerable for workers".

Analysis of the future of work and the gig economy

Digital Future Society and Bid Lab have analyzed the future of work and the platform economy in recent years, and especially in the wake of the impact of COVID-19. The director of Digital Future Society, Cristina Colom, points out: “We are facing a digital emergency situation, with numerous challenges that have to do with digital advancement, and this new reality in the world of work is one of them. All the actors in society must do our part to contribute to creating equal societies”. In this sense, Colom has highlighted the collaborative research work with the Bid Lab: "Studying and analyzing a complex phenomenon in constant evolution is essential to advance in the regulation and protection of workers".

As an example of the recent growth of the gig economy, the CEO of Bid Lab, Irene Arias, explained that the virtual services offered through digital platforms increased their offer in Latin America and the Caribbean by 77% and 23% its demand between March and June 2020. For its part, it has underlined the need to seek consensual solutions that "do not put at risk the innovative potential of these platforms that are the main source of income for more and more people". In this sense, the Bid Lab representative believes that “we must correct this information asymmetry, which will allow us to make more accurate decisions. An informed discussion is essential to understand what the options are to resolve the unintended gaps that can be created. Our joint analysis shows that platforms can be part of the solution".

One of the results of the collaboration between both institutions is the in-depth research that focuses on the so-called delivery activities, in the care sector and virtual services, both in Spain and in Latin America. The study highlights the adaptability of the platforms themselves to unforeseen changes since, in most cases, the platforms have been able to adapt to variations in demand, new consumer trends and the need to offer safer services, minimizing interactions or expanding the volume of tasks performed remotely. Likewise, the analysis has shown that the general trend regarding the relationship between platform and worker has been to establish new protocols to increase worker safety and that of the service itself.

A paradigm shift in the world of work

The main transformation that the labor sector has undergone in recent years has been the birth and expansion of digital work platforms, an extremely complex, variable and constantly evolving phenomenon. While these atypical forms of work are not new, digital work platforms are causing major changes in business models, work organization and labor relations.

The conclusions of the experts who participated in the round table show that it cannot be ignored that this new reality creates challenges for workers, policy makers, employers and social protection institutions. The challenge is to find a balance between fostering innovation and, at the same time, protecting the rights of workers, as well as the interests of businesses and consumers.

This type of study, such as those developed by the Digital Future Society and Bid Lab, is essential in this era of constant change. The statistics and existing data, even the regulation, tends to focus more on the platforms that perform services in person, avoiding virtual services and making them invisible. Studying and analyzing differentiating the particularities of each segment is essential to understand the future of work and be able to act accordingly, offering guidance to the sector and recommendations to those responsible for formulating policies.