A new and exciting phase in how we engage with the internet through online and mobile applications is emerging; one that is based on a decentralised architecture, like blockchain, rather than on a centralised one, like data centres.
The crucial differentiator of blockchain-based applications as opposed to applications run on centralised networks is that the community that uses these applications facilitates their development and operations by merely interacting with the network, which also maintains an element of collective control over the application’s path. This contrasts with today’s internet and digital economy, where a few centralised organisations and applications dominate the digital world and can decide the future of the applications we use. Even more significant is the fact that this technology has spurred a philosophical movement that questions the future of big tech.
Outside of technology, there is evidence of a similar mindset shift occurring in work. ‘The Great Resignation’ and ‘Quiet Quitting’ in America are prompting workers to resign in record numbers and reevaluate their work/life balance. Businesses on both sides of the Atlantic are struggling to reopen or deliver their goods due to a lack of staff, and many report that it is due to workers demanding more flexibility and job mobility than traditional models allow for. Burnout or a desire for greater meaning at work are also seen to be at the root of high job vacancy rates and turnover.
Wherever your opinion lies on the matter will depend on your own industry, experience and circumstance. Taking a macro view, the decentralisation movement in technology and the structural shifts happening at work share some philosophical bases. This observation, if accurate, could significantly impact the future of work. How people engage with work, the way work is distributed, and the authority distribution at work today are largely built upon the industrial model of centralised hierarchies, and are in many respects out of sync with the preferences of the modern worker.
So what would a more decentralised workforce resemble? Well, it would operate more like a co-operative than a factory. Workers in the network would be largely autonomous and independent, meaning they could move across jobs and businesses easily because they are not tied to a single central “node” or organisation. They could choose the businesses that provide the best opportunities, or best suit their preferences or availability. By putting workers on a more equal footing with businesses it becomes more heterarchical – meaning the worker and the business have similar leverage and control over the work. It makes sense in this decentralised cooperative model that workers would also have greater influence and control over decisions, but on the flip-side would take more accountability. In many cases, there would be cooperation between workers who may even band together to complete larger jobs. This in turn could lead to opportunities for workers to attain greater specialisation.
One of the arguments against a decentralised model like this is that it is inherently not organised by a central agent. As such, there is potential for a lack of stability, or for marginalisation of some participants. Without a central control agent, a wider set of agreed rules and structures would have to be continuously agreed by the network – either explicitly or implicitly through participation. The benefit of centralisation is that the central agent can take the hit and be forced to effect change when things go wrong. Without this, it is therefore important that applications for a decentralised future of work take account of the various pitfalls, and allow the operating system of the network to be built with flexibility at the core. The needs of all participants – businesses and workers – need to be balanced and market forces such as supply and demand within the network should assist in doing so.
For entrepreneurs operating in the gig economy, it is my view that the decentralisation philosophy could be the north star of the space because decentralised networks offer transparency across the network. By building flexible systems for the network to work autonomously on, it is possible to create decentralised apps that are both empowering for workers and efficient for businesses.
I welcome a discussion in the industry about how we can merge the technological advancements we are seeing with the empathy required to build people-focussed solutions. In a decentralising world, such applications could totally reshape the landscape.
About the Author
John Ryan is CEO & Founder at Gigable. Gigable.com is a free management platform where businesses can gain access to networks of freelance workers. You will have the ability to schedule, manage and pay your “Gigs”, all from our Online Business Portal or easy to use Mobile App.