Area of Concern

Future of Work

Meet 7 new worker archetypes transforming the platform economy

While we hear about Uber and Airbnb in the news almost on a daily basis, the on-demand labor economy continues to disrupt sectors as diverse as financial services and legal analysis. Millions of people are already making their living “on platforms”—in the process of reinventing the rules of work for all of us.

Last fall, we set out to capture the voices of these first-generation platform workers across the country—to find out what motivates them, what challenges they face, and what new building blocks of work they’re stacking up for the future.

The result is a new study, Voices of Workable Futures: People Transforming Work in the Platform Economy, which takes us into the daily lives of people who are redefining our concepts of jobs using on-demand platforms and mobile job matching apps.

Voices of workable futures cover thumb

In Voices, we meet people like Nichelle, a 49-year-old Ph.D. who crafts quality courses in communications on the online learning platform to support her easygoing lifestyle as an expat in Costa Rica. Then there’s Jan, 35 and a homeless veteran who is using the pet-sitting site to earn her extra income while she works with Swords to Plowshares, a nonprofit veterans services organization, to find permanent housing and earn a degree. Seda, 35, runs her own small business selling women’s clothing and accessories, but she describes herself as a clinical trial “lab rat” who supplements her income by participating in well-compensated clinical trial studies that can take her all over the country. She knows that she can’t keep up the relentless month-after-month infusion of trial drugs, but she also doesn’t know how to wean herself from seemingly easy income, sometimes as high as $10,000 a month. For now, she continues to hustle trials, employing the tricks—and even lies—that get her the best “gigs.”

Seda is not alone in her hustler work style. In fact, the hustler is one of seven worker archetypes that emerge from the Voices study. Others are part-time pragmatists, who harness assets to hedge their bets. The savvy consultants game the platforms to grow a new kind of digital practice. Freelancers sell their skills to maximize their freedom, while full-time gig workers leverage platforms to level up their skills. Entrepreneurs bring their small-business dreams to the online world, and re-entry workers take advantage of both platform flexibility and structure to rebuild their lives after trauma.

Workable Futures map

The Voices study was conducted over the past several months in cities across the United States and included in-depth ethnographic interviews with 31 workers across a range of ages and socio-economic backgrounds.

The research was supported by a generous grant from the Knight Foundation.

Publication Date

September 2016

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