The Rise of the Microworker

August 5th, 2019
The world of work is changing all the time, with long careers less likely in the modern world and microwork opportunities coming to the foreground. Microwork is a series of small tasks that combine together to create a single unified project. Microworkers are normally employed in the technology sector, as a kind of virtual assembly line that flows between skill sets and across continents. While microworking can lead to a number of opportunities, what it offers in agility and flexibility it often lacks in stability and job security.

Microwork is also known as microtasking or the gig economy, with this new digital marketplace spreading its wings across the entire world. Instead of employing a single expert or a large team in one location, companies are looking to reduce costs and increase workflow patterns by dishing out work in tiny doses. By outsourcing tasks to multiple workers across the world, organisations can take advantage of currency exchange rates, time zones, and crowdsourcing opportunities.

Microwork often involves repetitive tasks that are simple yet not simple enough to be automated. Whether it's data entry, mass marketing, or high volume computer programming, this kind of work is often boring and repetitive but too complex for distributed computing. Amazon Mechanical Turk is one example of a microworking crowdsourcing platform, with remote co-workers hired to perform tasks on demand. From writing code and refining algorithms through to labelling pictures and videos, microwork can be incredibly diverse and flexible.

While microwork can be performed by anyone in any location, it is often performed by people in developing but tech-savvy nations such as India. While these global work patterns can be seen as economic exploitation, they also open up fantastic opportunities for local workers. Once you examine microwork trends, it's easy to see the huge effect that currency exchange rates and relative living wages have on the employment market. By hiring workers in India, Western companies can save themselves a lot of money while still benefiting from an educated work force.

Microwork opportunities are not limited to the developing world, however, with some platforms actively promoting jobs to disadvantaged people in Western nations. Samasource is a great example, with this non-profit organisation helping people in poverty to complete microwork and access a living wage. Microworking also exists in the volunteer workspace, with Galaxy Zoo one well-known scientific project that uses online crowdsourcing in an effort to classify a large number of galaxies from astronomical images.

From a worker's perspective, microworking opens up new avenues of employment and allows people to work from home on their own time frame. People often receive payment directly over the Internet, with the entire gig economy having exploded since the introduction of PayPal and other online platforms. While the treatment of microworkers can be a real issue due to a lack of standards and wage guidelines, in many ways, it's up to individual workers to set their own rules and protect their own interests. As internet speeds and global networks continue to grow around the world, tech literacy and associated microwork opportunities could actually help to level the playing field over time.