Crowdsourcing: The Way of the Future?

If you work in human resources, a trend to keep an eye on is something called crowdsourcing.

It is part of a larger trend in business where having access to resources is more and more replacing the traditional model of ownership of resources, according to Rita McGrath, a business school professor. One example of this that McGrath cites is the ZipCar, where you rent a car when you need it and then return it when you’re finished. You may need it for just one trip, or longer. Another access model is called AirBnB, where people share rooms. Another access-model company is called oDesk, which allows businesses to hire independent contractors in almost any area.

These models are changing people’s ideas about what is needed to operate a business, McGrath says. She says outright ownership of any resources, including permanent employees, soon may become an outdated kind of model. Resource-access models fit better with our globalized world, where being flexible is a big priority. When things change, it is more difficult to make changes in your business when you have to readjust everything you have, rather than simply going out and finding new resources that you can use, McGrath says. And often businesses don’t need resources permanently, so accessing the resources you need just for the time you need them is another attractive aspect of the resource-access model.

And this is where crowdsourcing comes in, which is based on the idea of using services just for when you need them. It is like outsourcing, but it is different in that you are using the labor of hundreds, even thousands, of people who each are doing a very small task, which when taken together, can do things machines cannot. The employer doesn’t have to take on even temporary contract help, let alone use permanent workers.

The obvious disadvantage of such a procedure is that it reduces the number of full-time jobs. But McGrath points to some advantages as well. It is useful for people who are just looking to make a little walking-around money, when it’s not practical for them to get a full-time job, maybe for physical reasons, for example.

McGrath contends that norms are changing in society, and that includes traditional ideas about stable working relationships. She says that in the future, more companies may be turning to things like crowdsourcing.

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