Welcome to the future of work

Employees will no longer accept being constrained by outdated structured work patterns

Roslyn KuninVANCOUVER, BC, Nov 29, 2013/ Troy Media/ – Today we are going to use a lot of f-words. Not the unprintable one, mind you, but words like future, flexibility and freedom.

The future we will look at is the future of work and how it will be done going forward compared to how we used to work in the past. These changes are already occurring.

The old world of work, and the one for which our current educational system prepares us, does not offer much flexibility or freedom. Most of us had to be in a certain place, at certain times doing what we were told and being closely watched; just like in an elementary school classroom. Many still work in such an environment. One middle aged man I know who has a traditional job still refers to going to work as going to school and has the same attitude toward the job as he did toward school. Both were something that must be done between holidays.

This structured work pattern, however, has not been the norm. In 1850, in the United States, 90 per cent of white males were self-employed as farmers, craftsmen or business operators. Self-employment offers much more discretion about where, how and when to work, although the need to earn a living might mean that one has the freedom to start as early as one wants and finish as late as one wants, not the other way around. Since then, most workers moved into factories and offices with clocks and bosses. Freedom and flexibility were traded off for security and a paycheque. Adult workers accepted being treated like children.

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That is no longer true. Workers young enough to have grown up with technology know that just about anything can be done anywhere, any time. Even those workers who are close to what used to be retirement ages but who now need to continue working because they need the money and the economy needs their skills will no longer put up with rules and structures just for the sake of rules and structures.

Most workers, young and old, want freedom and flexibility. While they will accept being told what has to be done and when it has to be done by and having the results evaluated, they expect the freedom to determine how, when and where to do the work. There are exceptions, but they are disappearing.

What does future work look like?

Future Work, by Alison Maitland and Peter Thompson, provides an excellent analysis of where we are going. In the future, the authors write, people will have a great deal of flexibility to determine both the hours and location of their work. They are likely to work more hours than less – up to 19 more hours a week than their desk bound colleagues – before feeling burned out. They will work from home, car, coffee shop and occasionally even from offices. The hours they choose to work will suit their own preferences, even at night, which will allow for better customer service, especially across time zones.

Why should today’s organizations care? According to Maitland and Thompson, the first reason is the quality of their work forces, whether employees or contractors. The best and the brightest will no longer accept outdated limitations on their work. A second reason is being a greener company. If fewer employees have to fight rush hour traffic twice a day and if less office space is needed, the company carbon footprint is reduced. A third reason is savings. Having a happier and more productive workforce and less overhead brightens up the bottom line.

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I have been doing future work for over 20 years. I left a traditional job when I was told I had to be in a certain place at a certain time and there was no work related or other reason for me to be there. I am now self-employed both as a Troy Media columnist and as an economist, with my work and deadlines defined by my editors and customers. I can work anywhere, any time, as long as I meet the deadlines with quality work.

Welcome to the future.

Troy Media BC’s Business columnist Roslyn Kunin is a consulting economist and speaker and can be reached at www.rkunin.com.

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