T4-11: Theoretical and analytical issues (2)

6 September 2019, 11:00–12:30

Chair: Martin Schneider



Organisational control of platform work

Heiner Heiland, Technical University Darmstadt

The paper is dedicated to the emerging field of platform work, which is the epitome of the transformation of established industrial relations. Specific objects are online platforms in Germany, which take over the mediation of courier work of meals. These represent a new field that has become established within a few years in all major European cities, with annual growth rates of approximately 20%. At the present time, however, it is not the size of the analyzed phenomenon that underlines its relevance but its role as an organizational avant-garde. Because the service platforms focused here face central challenges that go hand in hand with the digital organization and control of work.

The focus is on the specific coordination and control of this type of work by organizing platform-internal markets. The German field is particularly insightful in this regard, as its key players have taken different paths with regard to central organizational issues, which have a broad impact on other aspects of organizing this type of work. Thus, the platforms show a varying degree of a shift of the market frontier into the companies. Specifically, one of the platforms hires the workers with a fixed employment contract and the other works with self-employed couriers. The work equipment must be provided by the workers themselves in both platforms.

This varying shift of the market frontier is the subject of a trade-off between low labor costs on the one hand and low levels of coordination and control over labor on the other. The platforms react to this with various instruments such as algorithmic management, information asymmetries and surveillance (Heiland 2018, Ivanova et al.2018, Schreyer/Schrape 2018, Heiland/Brinkmann 2019).

The thesis of the paper is that these mostly technological instruments are preceded by the control of work by determining the working time and space: "It is possible to define domination in such a way that it is always capable of prescribing the rules according to which people are [...] in a detailed organization of spatial and temporal parts "(Negt 1987). As shown in the article, this coordination and control of time and space in platform work is not based solely on a technological fix, but is complemented by an organizational fix (following David Harvey (1992) and Beverly Silver (2003)).

The research topic was investigated using a "fully integrated mixed-methods-design" (Teddlie / Tashakkori 2006), by means of which various complementary data were collected. There were 35 qualitative interviews conducted with food couriers, a quantitative online survey (n = 241) as well as ethnographic surveys conducted by analogue own courier work and digital content analysis of online forums and chat groups. The different methods were used interactively and referred on each other in all phases of the research process.

Central findings

The platforms are mediators between restaurants, couriers and customers. As such, they compete with other platforms for these three groups of actors. The platforms hope to initialize indirect network effects that will positively enhance the different groups (for example, more restaurants, bring more customers and thus more couriers). At the same time they are also gatekeepers. In particular, they control access to the platform for the potential couriers and thus the opportunity to earn an income through courier work.

In addition, the platforms are not just participants in markets, but organize their own internal markets. On these, couriers compete for the opportunity to work at their preferred times and in the desired places. Despite the differing scope of market frontier shifts, the platforms do not differ in this respect. Even the hired couriers have to compete for shifts on the platform-internal markets. And so, large parts of respondents on both platforms say they regularly do not get the shifts they want or need.

The general currency in these markets is the performance of the workers. But in this regard, the platforms differ concerning the central performance evaluation criteria. The company with only self-employed couriers does not face the transformation problem of potential labor into an actual performance. This is outsourced to the workers themselves as a result of their independence. The relevant criteria, which influence the platform-internal status, do not concern the work performance as such, but only the reliability of its execution. For the employed workers, on the other hand, in addition to the reliability, in particular criteria of the work performance, such as speed and quantity of the completed orders are central.

Good status as a result of appropriate performance gives the courier the opportunity to choose their shifts at different times. Good status means being able to access the shift schedule first. This is crucial for the profitability of the work done by the self-employed and the intensity of the work of the employed drivers and is therefore one of the central topics in the interviews.

The freedom and flexibility of platform-based courier work, which is regularly claimed to attract new couriers, is thwarted when the workers have a poor platform-internal market status. Anyone who either relies on income through self-employed courier work or can/wants to work at certain times and/or only in certain zones, is therefore dependent on a good status on the platform-internal markets.

But it is also crucial that the effectiveness of this organizational control technique is based on a sufficient supply of interested workers. Thus there is a high dependence of the platforms on local labor markets, so that in some cities this instrument has no effect.

As the paper shows, the coordination and control of platform-based courier work is not based solely on technical instruments. Complementary part of this technological fix is an organizational one by means of which the workers are competing with each other and are required to work reliably and efficiently.

The locus of human resource decision making in MNC’s

The competing pressures produced by global supply chains

Harry Katz, Cornell University, ILR School

The expansion of global supply chains and the increased role of multi-national corporations (MNC’s) has produced competing pressures within those MNC’s regarding where decisions are made concerning human resource (HR) matters, including the working conditions, in the factories producing the goods marketed by the MNC’s. On the one hand, the increased role of independently owned factories who manufacture the products marketed by MNC’s has eliminated direct control of HR matters including how factory workers work, are compensated and managed by MNC’s and has put those decisions under the direct control of the supplier factory owners and managers. Yet, negative publicity regarding the labor conditions in those supplier factories has led many MNC’s to (re)establish various mechanisms to influence, albeit often indirectly, work conditions and terms in the supplier factories. Meanwhile, many of those MNC’s that retained direct control of the production of particular goods have chosen to shift from the traditional local control of HR matters in their factories to more regional and global control, in part to ensure effective coordination of their global supply chains and in part, like the MNC’s who no longer directly control any supply production, because of labor rights concerns related to the labor conditions in supplier factories. We illustrate those competing pressures in this paper by describing the evolving locus of control of HR matters in the global supply chains of Nike and Colgate-Palmolive.

Agile and traditional management approaches – a comparative analysis

Knut Linke, University of Applied Sciences Weserbergland, Institute for Knowledge Management

The digitalization and globalization of work places new and constantly changing demands on trained specialists and scientifically qualified employees. Employees are challenged to adapt changing requirements of customers and employers, to handle new and existing job insecurities and to work decentralized in human teams with the usage of digital tools and if necessary with robots in mixed teams. For the human resource management, which wants to employ and retain well-trained employees, this means that they have to prepare their employees for the changing working world and support them with further (scientific) education offers.

Within the scope of the German research project "Open IT Bachelor und Open IT Master", funded by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research, credit transfer programs for IT specialists with initial or secondary IT training are developed and tested (Städler, von Zobeltitz & Linke, 2018). Students are training through the academic lectures within the credit transfer programs in a way that they can fulfil management tasks after completing their studies.

This includes leadership tasks in the context of personnel responsibility in the form of an organizational, hierarchical role, as well as the assumption of responsibilities in projects - as a project manager or sub-project manager. The aim of assuming management tasks is also pursued by the participants of the study courses according to their own statements (Städler, Linke & von Zobeltitz, 2018). Regardless of the motivation of companies and their sometimes hesitant willingness or even refusal to promote employees (Linke, Städler, von Zobeltitz & Blochberger, 2017), there is a need to prepare employees for the future demands of the working environment. Agile management concepts, which strengthen the self-organization of employees and, in comparison to classical hierarchical approaches, manage with less defined processes, are increasingly cited as a solution of working in a VUCA world (Bennett & Lemoine, 2014, 311-314) in which uncertainty is the only security. Agile management approaches are mostly based on the agile manifesto (Beck et al., 2001) and aim at working in a project-oriented work environment. The term agility also increasingly appears in the context of general terms such as Work 4.0 (Arbeit 4.0) and Compatibility 4.0 (Vereinbarkeit 4.0) and is presented in this context as a solution for "open" organizations.

The scientific article intends to provide a comparative analysis of agile and traditional management approaches. Traditional project-oriented management approaches, such as PMBOK and agile concepts for Lean Management (Brenner, 2018), such as Scrum (Schwaber & Sutherland, 2013; Neumer, Porschen-Hueck & Sauer, 2018), Kanban (Anderson, 2011; Eisenberg, 2018), Objectives and Key Results (Doerr, 2018) will be considered as well as sociocratically concepts such as Holacracy (Radojević, Krasulka & Janjušić, 2016).

The following research questions are focused within the considered scientific contribution:

  • What are the similarities and differences between the management concepts?
  • Are the concepts equally suitable for all organizational areas?
  • How is it ensured that the desired quality and works results are achieved?

In detail, the analysis will take into account the following categories of work organization:

  • Strategic goal and target of the organizational concept.
  • Operational focus of the organizational concept.
  • Implementation and proceeding of the approach within the organization against the background of defined roles, organizational framework and measures.
  • Relations between employees within the organization, employment relations and with (external) stakeholders.
  • Scalability of the compared approaches regarding the possible number of employees and the usage within centralized and decentralized cooperation

For the area of organizational methods, the comparison also serves to construct the requirements for agile work from the theoretical approaches and to support the definition of the term "agile". With this, it should be possible to show differentiations from the traditional non-agile, management methods. Also contents can be defined, which are comparable for all management types. Here the question will be asked if and to what extent agile management methods are equally suitable for each type of organization.

The later results will be used to define requirements for further scientific education, which can fulfill the developed requirements. The contribution is concluded by a reflection in which the compatibility of the different approaches in the context of work and private life is considered.


  • Anderson, D. J. (2011). Kanban: Evolutionäres Change Management für IT-Organisationen. Munich: dpunkt.
  • Beck, K., Beedle, M., van Bennekum, A., Cockburn, A., Cunningham, W., Fowler, M., Grenning, J., Highsmith, J., Hunt, A., Jeffries, R., Kern, J., Marick, B., Martin, R. C., Mallor, S., Shwaber, K., & Sutherland, J. (2001). The agile manifesto. Technical report.
  • Bennett, N. & Lemoine, G. J. (2018). What a difference a word makes: Understanding threads to performance in a VUCA world, Business Horizons, 57(3), 311-317.
  • Brenner, J. (2018). Lean Administration. Munich: Hanser.
  • Doerr, J. (2018). OKR - Objectives & Key Results: Wie Sie Ziele, auf die es wirklich ankommt, entwickeln, messen und umsetzen. Munich: Franz Vahlen.
  • Eisenberg, F. (2018). Kanban – mehr als Zettel. Munich: Hanser.
  • Linke, K., Städler, M., von Zobeltitz, A. & Blochberger, E. (2017): Motivation of and support from employers concerning the implementation of part-time studies from vocationally trained it worker, eucen Studies Journal of ULLL, 1(1), 21-27.
  • Neumer, F., Porschen-Hueck, S. & Sauer, S. (2018). Reflexive Scaling as a way towards agile Organization. Journal of International Management Studies, 18(2), 27-38.
  • Radojević, I., Krasulka, N. & Janjušić, D. (2016). Holacracy – The new Management System. Paper presented at International Scientific Conference - THE PRIORITY DIRECTIONS OF NATIONAL ECONOMY DEVELOPMENT, Niš.
  • Schwaber, K. & Sutherland, J. (Juli 2013). Der Scrum Guide. Retrieved from https://www.scrumguides.org/docs/scrumguide/v1/Scrum-Guide-DE.pdf
  • Städler, M., Linke, K. & von Zobeltitz, A. (2018). Anforderungen der Arbeitswelt an akademische Bildungsangebote im Bereich IT-Management. Zeitschrift für Hochschulentwicklung, 13(3), 145-165. doi:10.3217/zfhe-13-03/09
  • Städler, M., von Zobeltitz, A. & Linke, K. (2018). Das Forschungsprojekt „Open IT“ und die Bedeutung für IT-PraktikerInnen mit abgeschlossener IT-Erst- und Zweitausbildung, in: Michael Städler & André von Zobeltitz (Hrsg.): Akademische Weiterbildung für IT-Fachkräfte (3-12). Hamburg: Schriftenreihe Hochschule Weserbergland.


Subscribe to RSS - T4-11: Theoretical and analytical issues (2)