26 November 2021 16:31:04 IST

Microtasking poised to be the future of gig economy

By lowering entry barriers, it helps those in rural and semi-urban areas to earn an additional income.

Global tech giant Microsoft is currently undertaking a rather interesting experiment. They are inserting small word document jobs into people’s Facebook feeds, letting them get smaller portions of work done while taking time off from their major tasks. They are investing in what is being touted as having a huge potential in the work order of gig economies — unbundled microtasks. Simply put, unbundling work involves deconstructing a service through micro-tasking, a form of outsourcing which breaks down the service into a virtual assembly line of simple, repetitive tasks that are then completed by a group of individuals.

As the Covid-19 pandemic forced us to adopt newer ways of working virtually, it also gave an impetus to the already existing gig economy in India. We have close to 15 million freelance workers in India today. It has the potential for creating up to 90 million jobs across sectors, roughly 30 percent of India’s non-farm workforce, and also add up to 1.25 per cent to the country’s GDP in the long run. The gig economy model has been long adopted by popular companies such as Ola, Urban Company, and Dunzo. Microtask platforms, however, still have a large potential in this evolving work economy of the country.

Diversity and inclusion

These microtask platforms will have a huge impact in building a more inclusive workforce across sectors. It can allow people with less education and lower skills and those in rural and semi urban areas to earn an additional income with minimal barriers to entry. For instance, simple tasks such as data entry and verification, image tagging, usually require literacy but only basic numeracy skills. It can also enable more women who perhaps cannot take up full-time roles to enter the workforce. It is estimated that the unbundled microtask segment in India can impact up to 19 million people by 2030.

The industry is still nascent worldwide, as it is in India. The last few years however have witnessed the emergence of many start-ups in the domain. Awign, a Bangalore-based company, encourages firms to outsource tasks that require human effort in various locations and convert them into project-based internships for students. Another interesting platform, RuralShores, was established with the objective of generating employment opportunities for rural youth by procuring work from large companies and making smaller tasks available to youth in rural areas.

The start-up already has 19 delivery centres across eight states in the country. The investment in unbundled work and microtask platforms is expected to see a surge in the next decade. It is estimated to attract investments of $509 million and create revenues of $ 3.67 billion by 2030.

The global market of the micro-tasking segment is experimenting with different business models. Micro-online task platforms act as aggregators where people can promote their requirements. Amazon’s Mechanical Turk is a classic example where people earn money by taking up small computer tasks for clients. On the other hand, micro-offline tasks enable real world interaction where people can be hired to perform odd jobs such as grocery shopping or yard work.

New business model

There is also a significant scope for niche platforms for specialised tasks such as transcriptions, providing opportunities for remote work. Some platforms such as Appen are crowd process providers which manage all aspects of a microtask-based assignment right from defining the task to assessing data and providing a tech platform. Appen provides services to improve AI systems for their clients and have made tasks such as supplying high quality data and collecting large quantities of data for research efficient as well as cost-effective. This is the promise that micro-tasking can bring across sectors and industries.

The Indian market is sure to see more start-ups and investments in similar business models over the next few years. As this industry evolves, we will also need to be cognizant of the challenges it might bring along. Micro-tasking can surely save time and increase efficiency, but the quality of work gathered along the supply chain from different resources might be of varied quality. This also means that the process of reviewing for the organisations which are already resource-drained can be daunting. The risk of unreliable or skewed data could be a possibility. Organisations working in the segment must keep these challenges in mind while devising strategies and institutionalising their processes.

We are bracing an era of hybrid work economy and a diverse workforce. We are creating opportunities for an extended workforce that did not exist. The emergence of newer work models such as unbundled micro-tasking within the gig economy will give way to a new, resilient and more importantly, a much more inclusive work ecosystem in the country.

(The writer is Founder of social leadership forum Aspire Impact and Aspire Circle.)