The value of work – how blockchain could scale out the gig economy

By David Smith, - Financial ServicesFuture WorkplaceProductivity

My wife and I recently decided that instead of moving home to get more living space, we would extend and modernise our current house.

It’s been a rollercoaster ride tumbling from trade to trade, and it got me thinking once again about the gig economy and how we can scale it out without devaluing human work.

The domestic construction market has long been an example of the gig economy – direct payment for the completion of a job to be done by a specific trade, often a sole trader, to a date, price and spec.

Those sole traders are empowered to choose when and where they work, and for who, and whether they’ll take the job at a given price.

As a client, it’s not the most relaxing process. How do I know this is the right guy? Are the references they’ve provided real? Will they turn up on time and do the job to the standards I expect? What’s a fair price for this job?

I’m sure the sole traders have similar worries – once the job is done, will they actually get paid?

The answer is always blockchain, right?

Like any good techie, immediately my mind leaps to a technical solution – blockchain, in this instance.

Smart contracts can spell out the job to be done, acceptance criteria and payment terms. No more do we need to wade through reviews in search of the truth – the blockchain would maintain an irrefutable inventory of whether clients and contractors fulfill their obligations.

Wrap up that tech with a great user experience and we could have a fantastic digital peer to-peer-business –  Uber for builders!

But hold on one sec. Today, Uber is arguably a commodity model that assumes the service rendered by each sole trader is identical.

In the construction industry, there’s a wide range of trades and skill levels. And there’s an equally wide range of clients, all seeking different styles of engagement and slightly different outcomes in terms of price, quality and time.

The current solution is to rely on personal recommendations – finding someone like you who can recommend someone they like.

Although if you push people to define why they would recommend a given supplier, more often than not you’ll get the answer: “because they care”.

Care about my new en suite toilet like a nurse or a doctor cares? Arguably not. But perhaps it’s more about provider and client having similar perceptions of the values that describe how the service is to be provided.

To be successful in the long term, our “Uber for builders” concept will need to be smart enough to match-make between clients and suppliers – we’ll need to find a way of enabling them both to define the ’value of work‘ that describes them, so that we can link like-minded people and build a ’win‘.

Get it wrong, and we’ll start to losing users (clients and contractors), promotors (recommendations) and repeat business.

Right now, blockchain seems a world away from the construction industry, where paper invoices still abound.

But of course the gig economy is everywhere. Industries such as IT have moved towards project work, staffed by contractors, but this still frequently relies on personal networks and recommendations.

So how can we realize the dream of the gig economy – empowering individuals to choose when and where they work – if they will always need to return to their home city to find their next gig?

We may well find a part of the answer within concepts such as The DOA , which look at how blockchain could decentralize an organisation. These solutions consider how gigs, tasks, and contributions can be proposed, agreed, recognized and incentivised, and payments executed.

But here, too, the process of identifying the right participants for the organisation has not yet been fully addressed.

Understanding the value of work

The digital gig economy business models that will succeed in the long term will be the ones that truly understand and enable the end-to-end value chain.

They need to define and understand the value of work and enable all participants to come out with a win.

It will be interesting to see if some of the big names we think of when we hear the words ‘digital disruption’ will still be there in a year or two’s time, or whether they are simply flushed away.


Do you want to learn more about what’s the value of work in the age of automation? Click here to read more

Sign up to our regular newsletter and get all the latest articles straight to your inbox

Our newsletter contains some of the latest content and includes a recap of the top posts you might have missed as well as a peek at what's coming up before it's published.