Virtual Organisations and Crowdsourcing

Work organizations are undergoing major changes. In the coming decades we will likely see a diminishing size and number of large companies. The number of small companies and independent workers will increase and this will cause the shift of many people from permanent offices to shared work spaces located at the heart of lively urban neighbourhoods. Employees will work much more from home or while on the move. At the same time the sense of a shared “enterprise” will be supported by on-line social environments that will allow people to communicate in ad hoc and unplanned ways, get a sense of the course of activities and host meetings.


New company structures (leaner, smaller), environmental constraints (pollution and CO2 emission cuts) and technology support will make it possible to work in an extremely distributed way, with lower “same place, same time” shared offices. Knowledge workers will integrate work into their life schedule in a much more dynamic way, focussing and being assessed on results, rather than on time spent in the office.

But new technologies do not always benefit equally the work organization and the worker, especially when harnessed by organisations seeking ever cheaper labour. For example in the micro-task market crowdsourcing platforms tend to be designed largely for the short term economical advantage of the organisation requesting work, rather than the worker, potentially causing ethical issues as well as long term disadvantageous impacts on the business.

Using both traditional ethnographic methods and digital ethnography of online turker communities, we have been looking at these issues to understand how to redress this balance. In particular our studies have revealed the complexities of the relationships between worker and organisation and informed the design of some aspects of these relationships into crowdsourcing platforms and applications to be beneficial for the organisation as it is for the worker.