Digital labour platforms allow for knowledge-intensive work outside of cities – and the jobs are better paid

Knowledge-intensive work has traditionally been heavily concentrated on urban centres. Online labour markets and digital intermediaries can disrupt this pattern. Etla researcher Otto Kässi’s study was recently published in a high-impact academic journal “Information, Communication & Society”. The study found that digital labour platforms facilitate working from outside of urban centres at least for a rapidly growing minority of workers in knowledge-intensive jobs.

Even if information and communication technologies in principle allow location-independent working, well-paid knowledge-intensive work is still heavily concentrated for urban centres. A central reason for this is that face-to-face interactions facilitate the transfer of ideas and, ultimately, improve trust between individuals.

ICTs and the urban-rural divide: can online labour platforms bridge the gap?’, a recent paper by Fabian Braesemann, Vili Lehdonvirta and Otto Kässi studies one of the most prominent online labour platforms. These platforms are internet services, where workers and employers are digitally matched. On these platforms, all administrative workplace tasks take place digitally; for example, job interviews take place online, the payment is conducted digitally via the platform, and the result of the work is delivered digitally.

The main finding of the paper was that, as a result of these platforms, a small but quickly growing share of the digital workers do knowledge-intensive work outside of urban centres. According to the study, digitalization is not enough to reverse the urbanisation trend as the majority of the work still takes place within cities. Jobs done in rural areas were however found to be more demanding, and on average, better paid than the jobs done in cities.

Why is this?

– We argue that one reason for this is that the digital labour market institutions created by the platforms facilitate the transfer of ideas and generate trust even at a distance, Kässi explains.

The study was conducted primarily before the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. During the pandemic, work has become strongly digitalized and the effects of the pandemic may make face-to-face encounters less desirable in the future as well. Kässi will follow with interest the further development of the urbanization trend in the coming years.

Kässi is delighted about the academic publication.

– It’s always fun to finish a long project! Due to long publication lags one usually gets tired of the papers before they come out, Kässi comments.


The article was published in the journal Information, Communication & Society. The journal concentrates on studying the societal impact of information and communications technologies.