Research Topic

Fair Work in the On-Demand Economy

The on-demand economy is enabling new forms of flexible employment. In some aspects this can be empowering, but workers face unknown risks and disadvantages. We conduct rigorous research into sharing and internet-mediated micro-entrepreneurship.


In this research stream, we aim to be both sensitive to the perspective of employers and workers, as well as to technology design. We see our project as primarily research oriented, and bring a more digital, and labor related, perspective to business ethics, but also strive to bring new findings to related fields in organizational leadership, identity, culture and commitment where we think this technology-centered perspective on work might generate new discussions. Over the last years, it was our mission to help facilitate pubic deliberation on desirable digitized work, through generating practical insights into how to design better cooperation and business practices and to raise corporate awareness of the rights and needs of this newly emerging digitized workforce. We focused our core research on the various fairness aspects, their outcomes, and implications for responsible business practices. Through a group of international collaborators and their associated research, we over the years in particular worked on:


Sub-Topics and Findings

Recent years have witnessed the rise of a new culture of sharing as consumers increasingly choose to make their possessions, such as their apartments, cars, bikes, tools and other items of everyday life, accessible to others on various online platforms. In our research, we have mapped out the motives, challenges and paradoxes of the sharing economy relying on a combination of qualitative and quantitative methods. We presented and discussed our research on several international conferences and published the findings in various relevant journals of the field.


Why do people share?

Shifting consumer preferences from ownership towards access have sparked the advent of the sharing economy. While we understand the motives on the consumer-side of the sharing economy relatively well, the picture on the provider side is less clear. Therefore, in one project published in ‘Computers in Human Behavior’, we scrutinized the diverse motives for internet-mediated sharing as well as their role in shaping attitudes towards sharing one's possessions in commercialized as well as non-commercialized settings. On the basis of qualitative and quantitative research, we first developed a scale of sharing motives, showing that the reasons for participating in online sharing platforms are more nuanced than previously thought. Second, employing a motivational model of sharing, rooted in the theory of planned behavior, we showed that sharing attitudes are driven by moral, social-hedonic and monetary motivations. Furthermore, we identified materialism, sociability and volunteering as predictors of sharing motives in different sharing contexts. Building on these findings, we explore the possible role of monetary incentives as a necessary but not sufficient condition for sharing one's possessions with others.


Authenticity is key – to a degree

Transactions in the sharing economy create informal or spontaneous instances of closeness between the sharing provider and consumer. A guest in a room-sharing context, might for example sleep in their host’s spare bed, prepare food in their kitchen, and take a shower in their bathroom. This closeness may entail challenges such as dealing with imposed social interactions; the personal objects of another person, such as photographs or clothes, or their physical traces such as hair or smell; and dealing with threats to one’s privacy, for example, when guests and hosts encounter each other in a potentially vulnerable state. In one of our explorations into the topic of ‘Authenticity in the Sharing Economy’ (published in AMD), we managed to show that sharing partners are less disturbed by slight imperfections and interpersonal intrusions if they perceived the overall experience to be authentic. However, we also showed that there are clear – sometimes group-specific – limits to what is deemed acceptable even highly authentic settings.


Stressing the Privacy Paradox

Building on our work on authenticity as well as sharing motives, we further dove into potential privacy threats tied to inviting others – often strangers – into a sharing transaction. While the popularity and quick rise of the sharing economy implies that users are quite willing to share goods and services, we know little about how they deal with compounded informational and physical privacy threats. To amend this, we develop and test a framework for analyzing the effect of privacy concerns on sharing that considers institutional and social privacy threats, trust and social-hedonic as well as monetary motives. This research was published in ‘Information, Communication and Society’. Our findings stress the existence of a privacy paradox: while privacy is a strong concern in the sharing economy, neither online nor physical privacy concerns directly affect sharing behaviors.


Emotional Labor

During peer-to-peer sharing economy platforms, two parties come together to co-create a service experience, such as a shared car-ride or a home-stay. In traditional service contexts the service provider (waitress, flight attendant or taxi driver) is expected to perform emotional labor as part of the service (smiling, showing empathy etc.). In the sharing economy, the display rules and behavioral expectations are only just emerging and little is known about the antecedents and outcomes of emotional labor.

A large-scale survey comparing European and US sharing participants reveals that both consumers and providers of the sharing economy perform emotional labor. While there is a slightly heightened propensity towards performing emotional labor in female and more tenured participants of the sharing economy, emotional labor is both a stable and a universal trait of the sharing economy – spanning various geographies and sharing contexts such as homesharing and ridesharing. These findings were presented and discussed in the proceedings of the 51st Hawaii International Conference on System Sciences.

Our findings further show that platforms actively encourage the performance of emotional labor practices even in the absence of direct formal control. Emotional labor practices are encouraged through (hard) design features such as mutual ratings, reward systems, and gamification, as well as through more subtle (soft) normative framing of desirable practices via platform and app guidelines, tips, community sites, or blogs. Taken together, these findings expand our understanding of the limitations of peer-to-peer sharing platforms, where control over the service experience and quality can only be enforced indirectly. These findings will be published shortly in Research on the Sociology of Organizations (RSO).


Collaborating Institutions

Harvard University, Rotterdam School of Management, University of Leipzig, University of Applied Sciences Lucerne, University of St. Gallen, Copenhagen Business School


Activities and Career Paths

The research on this topic revealed a vivid stream of activities and opened up new career paths for all involved members.

Throughout the project, Christian Fieseler was strongly engaged in the Global Network of Internet and Society Research Centers and its ongoing focus on AI and inclusion. Christian strengthened the presence of the Nordic research area in that interdisciplinary and quickly growing community. As a result of his outstanding scientific achievements, both before and within the Fair Labor project, Christian was promoted to full professor at BI Norwegian Business School in 2018. He will continue his work on the AI and inclusion as a project leader of the Toppforsk project Future Ways of Working in the Digital Economy.

Gemma Newlands joined the Fair Labor project in late 2016 and contributed importantly to the development of the research. Based on her expertise in the Fair Labor project, Gemma became a work package leader of the Horizon 2020 project Participation, Privacy and Power in the Sharing Economy and soon after joined the advisory board of the HubIT Horizon 2020 project. Gemma remains at the Nordic Centre for Internet and Society thanks to a succesful application for a Doctoral Stipendiary Fellowship with the Toppforsk project Future Ways of Working in the Digital Economy. 

Christoph Lutz, who started working on the Fair Labor project from the beginning of 2016 on as a postdoc, established this topic in close exchange with the collaborating institutions. Following up on his doctoral dissertation, which had dealt with inequalities in online participation in Germany, Christoph seamlessly continued his study of the inclusiveness of online media, trajectoring more into a work and labor angle throughout the Fair Labor project. Persistent performance at major international conferences such as ICA, AOM, AoIR and Social Media & Society (Christoph presented papers in all these conferences every year, 2016, 2017 and 2018), the organization of several workshops and pre-conferences in 2016 and 2018, and a strong social media presence led to substantial international outreach and impact. Major publications emerged from Christoph's work on this topic. In 2017, Christoph also became a management commitee member for Norway of the new COST Action From Sharing to Caring: Examining Socio-Technical Aspects of the Collaborative Economy in Europe. As a result of his scientific achievements, Christoph was promoted to associate professor at BI Norwegian Business School in 2018. He will continue the research of participatory aspects of the digital economy in the Toppfork project Future Ways of Working in the Digital Economy.

Eliane Bucher worked on the Fair Labor Project initially as an adjunct researcher while also holding a position in the digital industry. Most recently, she was responsible for developing digital platforms and products for a Swiss retail group in the areas of fitness, nutrition and health. Eliane became a full-time Assistant Professor with the Nordic Centre for Internet and Society in 2018 where she currently researches digital work and algorithmic management.



Key Publications

Bucher, E., Fieseler, C., & Lutz, C. (2016). What's mine is yours (for a nominal fee)–Exploring the spectrum of utilitarian to altruistic motives for Internet-mediated sharing. Computers in Human Behavior, 62, 316-326.

Bucher, E., & Fieseler, C. (2017). The flow of digital labor. New Media & Society, 19(11), 1868-1886. Journal link

Bucher, E., Fieseler, C., Fleck, M., & Lutz, C. (2018). Authenticity and the sharing economy. Academy of Management Discoveries, 4(3), 294-313. Journal link

Etter, M., Fieseler, C., & Whelan, G. (2019). Sharing Economy, Sharing Responsibility? CSR in the Digital Economy. Journal of Business Ethics. doi: 10.1007/s10551-019-04212-w

Fieseler, C., Bucher, E., & Hoffmann, C. P. (2017). Unfairness by design? The perceived fairness of digital labor on crowdworking platforms. Journal of Business Ethics, online first, 1-19. Journal link

Kost, D., Fieseler, C., & Wong, S. I. (2018). Finding meaning in a hopeless place? The construction of meaningfulness in digital microwork. Computers in Human Behavior, 82, 101-110. Journal link

Lampinen, A., Lutz, C., Newlands, G., Light, A., & Immorlica, N. (2018). Power struggles in the digital economy: Platforms, workers, and markets. Companion of the 2018 ACM Conference on Computer Supported Cooperative Work and Social Computing (CSCW). Jersey City, 3-7 November, 417–423. Proceedings link

Lutz, C., Hoffmann, C.P., Bucher, E., & Fieseler, C. (2017). The Role of Privacy Concerns in the Sharing Economy. Information, Communication & Society, doi: 10.1080/1369118X.2017.1339726.

Newlands, G., Lutz, C., & Fieseler, C. (2018). Collective action and provider classification in the sharing economy. New Technology, Work and Employment, 33(3), 250-267. Journal link