This paper will explore the role Airtasker has played in transforming the way we look for work, or complete our day to day tasks. Within an economic, political, social and cultural framework, these transformations will be dissected to fully understand its contribution to what is already known, as the gig economy.
A historical overview of how the platform was developed is critical in understanding the vision and purpose behind the online platform; ultimately providing an understanding of who Airtasker is. The owners of Airtasker will be introduced and the business model they foster. This will lead on to explore the company with respect to its position in its niche industry and how their practices differ from competitors. This essay will then continue to explore the innovation behind Airtasker; assessing whether it has been a driving force in changing the way consumers understand the internet and its use as an enabler of the gig-economy.
What is Airtasker and who is behind it?
After needing to ask a friend who owned a truck to help him move house, Tim Fung’s business mind sparked the idea to develop Airtasker – a community marketplace for people and businesses to outsource tasks. Co-partners Tim and Jonathan Lui devised the business concept in 2011, where the duo started the privately held company design on their living room floor. With a University level background in business and commerce, Fung was able to strategically find sources of funding for his start-up. Starting on University campus, the co-founders began by targeting young university students who perfectly fit their niche market; eager to make money and having flexible timetables. From there, creating job posters and grasping the attention of influencers, coupled with a customer feedback loop led to the tremendous exponential growth of the company (Jungleworks, n.d.).
Within two months of Sydney launch in 2012, the duo developed relationships with investors from their workplace at mobile start-up company Amaysim; leading to their immediate outreach to both individual and business customers. The company soon flourished as their vision was based on the premise that: to run their errands, busy people would pay someone else (SBS News, 2018).
Airtasker is now a trusted Australian company that connects freelancers with jobs in a matter of minutes. The platform can be accessed via its mobile app or through its internet webpage. With both its website and app being user-friendly and quickly accessible, the platform has quickly become a popular gig-economy avenue (Ma & Yang, 2018). The dashboard feature is where either a job can be posted, or freelancers are able to browse through the available assignments to find work that best fits their services. Technological advancements and this dashboard feature afford a streamline podium for the coupling of freelancers and service advertisers.
Airtasker runs on a simple marketplace strategy with steps as simple as:
- User posts a task (including specific details, location of task and fee indication)
- Selects the freelance worker that is believed to best suit the task
- Add funds to the tasks
- Task is completed
- Payment is processed to worker
Airtasker sets itself apart from similar companies through the customer value it produces through 3 propositions: local workers, flexibility and a simple self-serve platform. This has been highly favoured amongst users as the focus on ‘skill’ rather than ‘job title’ is allowing for greater community reach and providing more opportunities for those who may other be disadvantaged in traditional workplace hierarchies. This has added to the platforms transformative impact as it is changing the traditional workplace dynamic. This challenges the current presence of discrimination and disregard for the skills of certain individuals based on ethnic profile, visa status and language capacity, while instead implementing a profile review system where freelancers are rated and given feedback based on previous work they have completed.
Airtasker is now also available internationally in New Zealand, Singapore, United Kingdom and Ireland. International tasks are not offered (Airtasker, n.d.).
The business model
The tech-driven business, Airtasker employs the gig-economy model. According to Ian Brinkley from The Work Foundation (2016) the gig economy is a sector of work comprised of freelance works who sustain employment by taking on a series of various small jobs. In the current context of Airtasker, these jobs are supplied through an online platform on the web or through a smart device application. Companies facilitating the gig economy experience exceptionally rapid growth and high valuations in the current digital climate (Ian Brinkley, 2016). This model of employment is set to shape a new definition for the term ‘work’, however there are a number of political, economic and social considerations that must be considered within the gig economy.
How is Airtasker situated in the current ecology of online marketplaces?
As seen in the above flowchart, Airtasker is highly engaged in the current ecology of online marketplaces and gig-work. As a newer company, compared to its current competitors Airtasker has been proactive in maintaining its partnership and investors in order to ensure they are receiving steady economic and marketing support. With a community of over 1.6 million users and processing $15.4 million in tasks every month, the platform is nearing the same numbers being produced by competitors like Gumtree who have been in the industry for over a decade longer. Airtasker remains competitive despite the limitation of not offering international tasks and service sharing.
Airtasker through an economical, politics and cultural lens
Gig economy platforms can scale rapidly, while reducing staffing costs as highly flexible work can be engaged at short notice and with no expectation for continued work. This has significant economic impact on both individuals and businesses, as individuals are able to benefit from financial reward while not being bound by long-term contract. In similar ways, businesses are able to outsource specified tasks without hiring the service on a long-term basis – ultimately reducing their financial burden (Burtch, et al., 2018; Hall and Krueger, 2018; Johnson, 2014; Tweney, 2014). Given the current trajectory of the gig economy, companies in this short-term contract type work are anticipated to comprise a large portion of the economy in the coming years (Sundararajan 2014). This shift in short-term work models is expected to implicate economies and disrupt already existing industries (Morse, 2015). This shift could be beneficial however, as on-demand availability of tasks offers greater range of quality and variety that encourages consumerism and ultimately stimulates economic growth (Sundararajan 2014).
On the other hand, the emergence of gig-work has caused uproar in the corporate sector where there is concern that this form of work could lead to increased economic insecurity and worker vulnerability (Livni, 2019). As employment is not always guaranteed for freelancers, this poses a risk of limiting autonomy for certain individuals. It should be noted however, the positive economic impact and opportunities afforded by the gig-economy far outweighs this concern.
The political implications of engaging in the gig economy is predominantly focused on concerns surrounding state regulation and labour power. State regulation creates the regulatory environment that both restricts and encourages the growth of this form of work. In certain cases however, current legislation may not be structured to take into account the specificity of this type of work. To avoid this leading to the evasion of certain platform and work regulations (Graham & Woodcock, 2020), questions on liability and insurance must be posed. This is an important political consideration as individuals engaging in gig-work are still receiving monetary return for their services – in the same way an employee would – however, uncertainty surrounding authoritative coverage could cause transactional dispute and impede otherwise productive and profitable interactions between users on the platform (Sundararajan 2014).
Furthermore, this matter is also of legal concern where the scope of coverage from the existing employee equality law is unknown. Associate Professor Alysia Blackham from the Melbourne Law School (2018) conducted speculative research on whether or not the structure of gig-economy work challenges existing workplace laws, and how these individuals fit in current legal models. As independent contractors on a platform, there is a challenge of determining whether, legally, the employer is the company (in this case, Airtasker) or the customer who is paying for the service. Blackham (2018) proposes that gig-workers can be protected under equality law by regulating work contracts (rather than specific relationships between employer and employee), explicitly include the category of gig-work in the legal framework and legally require companies to remove any discrimination in their algorithms. This last point is an important consideration when understanding the gig economy’s technological change in a social and cultural context.
Through a cultural and social lens, platforms like Airtasker are changing the way individuals are perceiving the use of the internet. Day to day tasks are being approached with greater confidence and lesser anxiety as certain tasks are more easily able to be outsourced to other more specialised individuals (Sundararajan 2014). This has also changed the way the internet is understood, as there is a shift from traditional uses of research and social networking, to now, a source of recruitment and employability (Brinkley, 2016).
The gig-economy has presented new challenges with identifying bias and discrimination (Blackham, 2018). Airtasker is a peer to peer marketplace where platform algorithm plays a major role in how customers are matched with the services they are seeking (Blackham, 2018). Rating and review features are major players contributing to the recruitment decision, whereby prospective hirers are able to access testimonies and reviews left from previous jobs. Platform users are required to create accounts where their name and location is visible to all those seeking their services. The perpetual access to various service providers allows users to headhunt a freelancer based on their online representation – unfortunately this leaves room for a covert form of work discrimination and fear of trust where certain individuals may not be ‘employed’ due to reasons outside of their ratings and reviews, possibly including factors like appearance, ethnicity, postcode, age etc. (Blackham, 2018).
Since 2017, Airtasker has been in agreement with Union NSW who protects the social rights of all users on the platform and has set out guidelines that cover social concerns ranging from best practice in the workplace, health and safety standards and pay rates (Union NSW, n.d, ). Under this agreement, workers using the online marketplace are provided with an affordable and flexible insurance that will protect them against any workplace incidences involving injury or illness. This is a huge step toward protecting the social rights of users as this bridges the concern of insurance coverage (mentioned above) and in turn, will lead to the development of better quality service and more secure business relationships between freelancers and their customers.
The gig economy has had tremendous impact in re-defining work and the framework in which it belongs. The transformative online platform Airtasker has changed the way individuals and businesses are tackling their day to day tasks as a shift in on-demand work allows for greater flexibility, financial autonomy and the opportunity for entrepreneurship. Despite the challenges in the development of this new technology, the social, political and economic advantages of this new business model appear to be far more enticing in the current digital era.
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