Blockchain and the Decentralised Workforce

Building a new infrastructure for work

Hi, I’m Andy Spence and this is the Workforce Futurist Newsletter about the rapidly changing world of work.

Thanks to all the new subscribers – especially Alison, Nicky, and Ignacio!

This is the 9th regular article delivered to your inbox every other week.  Thanks to all those who have shared these articles with your network, this is appreciated.

I recently gave a talk on “Blockchain and the Decentralised Workforce” which pulls together some recent strands of my research.  This week I share a few knowledge nodes which I hope you find interesting. Happy May Day!

The Tectonic Plates of Work are Shifting

We are at the intersection of some mega-trends that have been moving slowly but are coming to a crunch. These include:

  • The Decentralised Workforce – more ways to earn and learn using digital infrastructure, allowing millions to achieve their economic potential outside of traditional employment.

  • A New Infrastructure for Work – moving from the 1st generation internet business models to Web3 with self-sovereign identity, tokenisation of work, NFTs, digital credentials, and DAOs.

  • Industries Restructuring due to the economic impact of the pandemic.

We can be optimistic about the future of work, however, we need less extrapolation of 100-year-old management practices and more rethinking of work itself.

My article on what will drive the future of HR mentions these trends in the context of one business function but applies more broadly.

In many cities, nearly half the workforce can work from home.

The physical location of distributed work is understandably the current focus, however, the organisation of that work is still very much centralised

Any substantial organisational change needs to be much deeper than just location.

We all have a role to make work better for the next generation. Those who flourish will be those that can make the required mental shifts.

Decentraland and DAOs

Decentraland is the first fully decentralised 3D virtual world.

It operates as a multi-player role-playing game and allows users to build an entire virtual world. You can buy land, then build whatever content and experiences you want including music concerts, games, casinos, art shows, exchanges.  Recently 12,600 square meters of virtual land was sold in Decentraland for about $1 million.

Decentraland is also a Decentralised Autonomous Organisation (DAO).

The community vote on policy updates, future LAND auctions, and whatever the community deems relevant. Voting takes place on the Decentraland DAO's governance interface, powered by Aragon.

A DAO is a new way to finance projects, govern communities, and share value. 

Early adopters are in virtual environments, and publishing, but the potential for any new organisation is obvious. DAOs will only be as good as the trust within a community, but provide a promising mechanism to facilitate the next generation of organisations.

What Crypto Creators Tell Us About the Future of Work

In my article NFTs and the Tokenization of Work, I highlighted how crypto artists are finding ways to monetise their work.

In a global labour force of about 3.4 billion people, those working independently in the creative industries are relatively tiny, and ‘Crypto Creators’ are a small subset of a small subset of a small subset.

The way creators are making a living and selling directly to customers could be a model of how other industries work in the future. They illustrate how technology will lead to disintermediation between buyers and sellers.

The potential scope of new frameworks such as DAOs is much bigger than creators, and will be useful for anyone building communities of value - new organisations, products, social enterprises, education, and artistic projects etc.

In the broader supply of work tasks, this will reduce the need for intermediaries, making the relationship between employer and worker more direct and transactions smoother and more efficient.

The story here isn’t all about solo workers, but the new teams that will form. We are already seeing new reinvigorated forms of communities.

The glue that holds communities with common interests together is Trust.

DAOs will work where they help to build trust between members.

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The Emerging Use of Blockchain in Work

I started researching blockchain in work 4 or 5 years ago. My background is in organisational transformation, so I could see the massive scope for improving work fairness, effectiveness and efficiency.  This is why I have supported the development of blockchain in workforce solutions, not because I enjoy the finer points of database design or cryptography 🤓...

Blockchain technology is being developed in the following areas.

Work Matching Platforms — here we can see blockchain versions of Upwork or Fiverr. Paying different types of workers using blockchain mechanisms, including overseas remittances with much lower fees. Check out LaborX, Experty, HireVibes.

Credential Verification  Platforms -  using blockchain to verify credentials such as work history, references, employment history, skills, university degrees. Singapore issues its graduates with a verifiable Skills Passport, which saves time and the need for physical paperwork. See companies such as APPII, Zinc, and Veremark.  Just think of all the checking that would save in HR!

Identity Management and Career Profiles  - including self-sovereign identity (SSI) used to validate who someone is in a more efficient, private and secure way. With Self-Sovereign Identity - a user stores their own personally identifiable information on a personal device such as a smartphone, and only shares it with third parties as necessary. SSI allows people to interact in the digital world with the same freedom and capacity for trust as they do in the offline world. Check out the work of the Decentralized Identity Foundation DIF.

The need to instantly verify an individual in a health setting is currently open to fraud and is a large administrative burden.  Improving this situation would improve patient safety and care.  I recently attended a webinar hosted by Evernym, “Credentials, Covid-19 and Digital Staff Passports” with Dr Manreet Nijjar and Andrew Tobin. A digital staff passport is being developed by Truu.  One of the co-founders is a Consultant Physician in Infectious Diseases in a busy NHS London hospital, and I found the context and journey told here powerful.

Blockchain Disrupting the HR Tech and Staffing Industries

Blockchain is a technology looking for a problem to solve - we found one to solve, which is credentials.

Aneel Bhusri - Workday CEO

Moving on from creators, artists, and startups – what about larger employers?

Blockchain solutions are developing fast in larger enterprises.

Workday has launched Workday Credentials, allowing candidates to apply for jobs using verifiable credentials.

Last week I attended the launch of the Internet of Careers, by the non-profit Velocity Foundation in the European Banking Industry.  This was led by  industry-leading vendors including HireRight, Vero Screening, Korn Ferry, Cornerstone.

Reinventing how career records are shared across the global market, members can issue, share and verify career credentials. This gives obvious benefits to regulated industries such as Banking.

Workday and Velocity Foundation represent nearly 1 Billion workers.

So this is happening - get involved with pilots if you can to help shape up its future development.

How The New Infrastructure of Work Might Evolve

Blockchain provides the database plumbing for the new infrastructure of work, driven by social and demographic changes. This is a world of digital skills passports, peer-to-peer work-matching and payment platforms, and easy to create DAOs.

A new decentralised workforce will emerge from the rubble of our 20th-century organisational structures.

How might this develop over the next decade?

The shorter-term impact in the next 3-5 years, will be the industry organising our career data better. We will see better candidate verification, more efficient labour markets enabling more Trust in work. 

In the medium-term, we will have more seamless work-matching and more teams of decentralised workers.  Regulators, and wider society, will adjust to changes in the workforce.

For workers, life-long learning will be a big theme and there will more opportunities to earn and learn.  We will ditch the CV/resume and use digital credential wallets, as we will for other personal data e.g. health, financial, identity.  There will be greater competition for our time and attention, where work and leisure overlap.

So what happens to the firm?

Building on Ronald Coase’s work, a firm is involved in activities related to searching, contracting, coordinating. When this is mainly automated, the firm shrinks.

Organisations will be able to find the talent they need when they need it from a liquid workforce, so will require fewer full-time employees, and we will see the demise of the traditional job. The focus will be leading work, not employees. Fascinating new DAOs, guilds, networks will develop with semi-autonomous organisations and networks of team flourishing.

Key Takeaways

As work unbundles, it will rebundle in interesting ways, enabling new ecosystems of workers.

The creator economy narrative is all about enabling individuals to flourish – but the real story will be the amazing new teams that form.

As more people choose to leave or have to leave the formal labour force, they will need these platforms for income. We are not all going to hold a concert in Decentraland, but some of us might make a living without the need for a boss.

Here are some takeaways

1.   The biggest change needed isn’t to our databases, but our mindset – how we think about work, money, value.

2.   Technology will enable billions more people to learn and earn in diverse ways. 

3.   THINK ABOUT how digital credentials, the internet of careers, and work platforms will impact your organisation.

4.   GET INVOLVED! A new infrastructure of work is being built, let’s try and make work better.

5.   TRY OUT new decentralised products e.g. Internet Browsers (Brave), Digital Wallets (Metamask), Virtual Worlds (Decentraland), Publishing (Mirror)

Here is a video of my recent 30 minute talk on Blockchain and the Decentralised Workforce at PAWorld21.

Some Nodes For Your Knowledge Network

Blockchain and the CHRO - downloadable PDF research report produced with Blockchain Research Institute, with a video introduction by Don Tapscott (6 mins).

Unleashing the Decentralised Workforce - a longer essay highlighting how people are earning in diverse ways from labourers to playbourers, carers to sharers, preachers to teachers, and tippers to strippers. 

How Blockchain Will Change The Way We Work - 30 minutes speech given in Singapore at TechHRSG.

Blockchain and the Decentralised Workforce - video and slides of talk available to delegates at PAWorld21.

Scribe Spotlight

Li Jin is a writer, investor and creator, and writes Li’s Newsletter.

Li researches the so-called, Passion Economy, and invests in the next generation of companies building platforms in this space.

She has written foundational articles on the future of work and recommended reading for Workforce Futurists would include Unbundling Work From Employment and Building the Middle Class of the Creator Economy.

Worker of the Week

A British Ed Sheeran Lookalike will do videos in The Shape of You, well personalised for you anyway, from £18.75.

$100m was spent on platform Cameo last year, providing personalised videos from your favourite stars. The Decentralised Workforce now includes underworked actors, musicians, athletes and comedians. I also spotted a motley bunch of politicians including Nigel Farage, Sara Palin and Vincente Fox (ex-President of Mexico).

Do drop by and say hello, and tell me about the interesting projects you are working on. Just reply to this email, or connect on Twitter or LinkedIn.