Understanding the impacts of gig economy platforms on freelancers’ work practices

Alvarez De La Vega, Juan Carlos (2022) Understanding the impacts of gig economy platforms on freelancers’ work practices. Doctoral thesis, Northumbria University.

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Freelancing platforms have enabled opportunities for millions of knowledge workers worldwide to pursue a freelance career. Freelancing platforms are part of an emerging work model characterised by technology companies mediating work relationships through algorithms that manage, monitor, and evaluate work – the gig economy. Previous literature has studied freelance workers’ practices, for instance, how they go about getting work, cultivating their reputation, and managing their work. However, most of this research has been conducted prior to the emergence of freelancing platforms, leaving a gap in our understanding of how platforms impact freelancers’ work.

This thesis comprises of three qualitative studies, engaging with views from a total of 476 freelancers, to understand the opportunities and challenges freelancing platforms introduce for their work practices. The first study explores how freelancers view online freelancing platforms through a qualitative analysis of discussions in four freelancing subforums. The findings suggests that platforms can enable opportunities to source clients, gain experience, and mitigate precarity while constraining control over their work choices, reputation, and client relationships. The second study focuses on understanding the impact of platforms on freelancers’ everyday work-life through a qualitative diary study followed by semi-structured interviews. Findings from this study illustrate how platform features and individual circumstances shape freelancers’ everyday life. Importantly platform features introduce new constraints on work availability, autonomy, and detachment. The last study builds from the previous two studies and literature recommendations to develop a design fiction that explored a model of online freelancing where platform features are designed to support (rather than constrain) freelancers’ work preferences. This design fiction is used as the basis for five focus groups, identifying novel areas for research and development to support freelancers’ autonomy, entrepreneurship, and peer support.

This thesis makes contributions to knowledge, design, and policy. Firstly, it contributes novel empirical knowledge to the impacts freelancing platforms have had on freelance work by unpacking core challenges and opportunities. Secondly, it contributes design implications that move towards thinking about ‘worker-centred’ research interventions, platform configurations, and features to mitigate challenges stemming from platforms. Thirdly, it contributes policy implications to regulate and hold platforms accountable, rethink social institutions to better support freelancers, and legislate emerging technologies that manage work.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Uncontrolled Keywords: freelancing platforms, freelance work, work practices, algorithmic management
Subjects: G500 Information Systems
N100 Business studies
Department: Faculties > Engineering and Environment > Computer and Information Sciences
University Services > Graduate School > Doctor of Philosophy
Depositing User: John Coen
Date Deposited: 28 Jun 2023 13:06
Last Modified: 28 Jun 2023 13:15
URI: https://nrl.northumbria.ac.uk/id/eprint/51602

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