Millions of employees around the world are already working without a human leader while being controlled by algorithms, and this number is growing exponentially. Most people are not aware that in many Finnish companies nearly all management tasks have already been automated, writes Pekka Abrahamsson.

“I feel like in my job I use an app to confirm my every move: I confirm that I received the order, arrived at the restaurant, received the food, arrived at the destination, gave the order to the customer…”

In practice, the algorithm-based boss is present in such a way that the employee no longer has an actual supervisor from whom to seek support or ask questions. Instead, intelligent systems guide our activities in good and bad.

Uber’s mobile app, for example, tells the driver who to pick up and which route to drive while monitoring the driver’s performance.

The app may even automatically fire the employee if their performance falls below the target level.

Algorithmic management is a socio-technical process that arises from the combined effect of the members in an organisation and the algorithms controlling their work. The topic has been studied rather little in relation to its significant and rapidly growing impact on working life. Our research focuses on the viability of the traditional and currently applied management theories in an operating environment controlled by algorithms.

The most noticeable companies using algorithmic management are, for example, Wolt, Foodora and Uber. With the increase in remote work, however, algorithms have become familiar also in more traditional professions in recent years.

Typically, the solutions range from simple systems for using a calendar and tracking working hours to intrusive monitoring programs that monitor the computer screen, keyboard and mouse clicks.

However, it is not a law of nature that algorithmic management would need to be used to exploit employees. Some organisations have turned the use of apps on its head by using them as a platform for independent work instead of controlling and monitoring employees.

The Dutch healthcare organisation Buurtzorg, for example, uses software to support the teamwork of self-directed nurses, while the Finnish technology company Vincit utilizes software as a resource for wellbeing at work and competence development.

The key to all management systems are openness, trust, equal treatment, and wellbeing at work. These qualities allow for the high-quality and efficient functioning of an organisation. Algorithmic management is therefore not an exception, and each member is entitled to good management in an organisation, whether the performance management is done by an actual human or by the help of algorithms.

Pekka Abrahamsson

The writer is a Professor of information systems and software engineering. Algorithmic management research is part of the University of Jyväskylä’s multidisciplinary research profiling project, EWIDE, which focuses on future employment and wellbeing.



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