Control, Flexibility and Balance: Where We’ll Work in 5 Years

UNLEASHCulture2018 01 11
Control, Flexibility and Balance: Where We’ll Work in 5 Years
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Cisco, a $48 billion company with more than 70,000 employees, is closing down offices around the world. The company closed 239 buildings between 2012 and 2017.

They’re not downsizing or struggling. They’re responding to what their employees are looking for: a different way to work.

To find out how work is transforming, I reached out to Brendon Schrader. Brendon sits at the intersection of old-school work (big companies) and flexible work. His Minneapolis, Minnesota-based marketing consulting shop, Antenna, works with 100 consultants to tackle deliverables and fill staffing gaps at major companies in the midwestern United States.

How do you see work changing, now and in the near future?

I see three main drivers behind the decision to opt out of a traditional career track and seek more flexible work.

First, people want control over their future, their destiny, their income and their schedule. People go out on their own, or jump into the gig economy, or create a portfolio career to gain more control over their own work.

Second, they want flexibility. Flexibility doesn’t necessarily mean a dramatic change in your work schedule. But people want the flexibility to integrate their work and life. They want to be able to manage their family life and their career in a way that both can be successful. The majority of traditional corporations still haven’t figured out how to give that to employees. Even if a company has a policy about flexibility, it often comes with stigma in terms of advancement. And true flexibility isn’t happening for everyone in a way that actually makes an impact on their everyday life.

Finally, they want balance. When people come to me looking for “work-life balance,” they don’t mean they want to leave a full-time job in favor of part-time work. Instead, they often just want to work 40 or 45 hours a week instead of 60 or 65. Traditional jobs can’t always promise that, so people are looking for new options.

What are you hearing from people about how they want work to change?

In 2018, life is busier. Maybe it’s not any busier than it was before, but with tech and everything else that goes along with life these days, people are stretched thin. And they don’t want to compromise on any facet of their lives.

Everyone is looking for more flexibility to integrate work and life together. That’s the main, common theme. If you want the corporate career track, how do you find the flexibility, support and tools to do it all at work while making space for your personal life?

Employers are hearing that call, and they’re trying to figure out how to give people the tools and support to manage work-life integration in a way that helps employees and therefore helps the company.

What are the biggest challenges you’re hearing from employers when it comes to building a different kind of work? What are the barriers that are holding them back and the things they can’t figure out?

I see two big categories: organizational change and the clash of generations.

First, there’s a lot of organizational and infrastructure change needed to give people different work arrangements — remote work, flexible work. Companies need new policies, systems, structure, training and accountability. That’s a big challenge.

Second, we’re seeing a clash between how the older, more traditional generation of managers thinks about work and what the new (and coming) generations think about work. Managing through that clash is a huge challenge. How do you set expectations, create a common framework, and give people the tools and training to have these conversations?

What are your predictions for how work will change in the next 5 years?

I see three big changes happening.

First, more remote work will happen within organizations. The workforce will continue to become more mobile and flexible, and employers will find new ways to empower employees to work remotely. But I think we’ll also see companies (especially large, global companies) changing the way the invest resources. They’ll start to ask how they can turn remote work into a strategic advantage. Companies will be able to employ the right people and help them do their best work, instead of investing in real estate and buildings.

Second, employees’ demands are only going to rise. Gen Y and Gen Z are going to expect work to be flexible. They’re also going to want work that’s meaningful and makes a difference in the world. The next generation of employees and eventually managers are going to think about work totally differently. So, if organizations want the best talent, they’re going to have to figure out how to meet those demands. The companies that don’t meet those expectations will lose out to companies that are more progressive.

Third, the “gig economy” will go upmarket. I’ve seen stats that in the next 5 years, 40 to 60 percent of the workforce will be active in the gig economy. Not only will the overall group grow, but I think we’re going to see the demographics of these workers change. It won’t just be Uber drivers and TaskRabbit workers. We’ll see more senior-level specialized, professional workers — contractors, consultants and independents. For companies, a big change will be engaging those individuals to drive business outcomes at a scale we’re not seeing today.

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