Going to the office every morning at 9 AM just because that office policy was decided by someone decades ago, seems…well, extremely old-fashioned to say the least. Not only that, it no longer makes any sense.
We are now living in the digital age, in the sharing economy and in the knowledge economy. What you can offer an employer is all in your head. That’s where you keep your expertise, your skills and your experience. It goes with you wherever you go. And yet, you are constrained by office walls that have no meaning for the services you provide. Is this really the best way for you to use your full potential and to offer your services as efficiently as possible to as many as possible?
We force everyone to follow the rules of the office, but we can’t even remember why and it’s unclear who actually benefits from it. It simply does not make sense anymore to try so hard to fit a square peg in a round hole.
Why is it that when you buy and sell services or products as a business or as an entrepreneur, you are in a position to negotiate, but when you are selling a service as an employee, it’s a take it or leave it approach? Sure, you can of course negotiate your salary, your annual leave and your employment benefits, but you are still expected to follow the rules of the company or organization. You need to show up at a certain time, work in teams with co-workers, hand in your reports, or whatever it may be in your specific role. Even when you are not working in a factory you are expected to still have the daily routines of your forefathers back from the times of the industrial revolution. Why?
It’s costly for the employer to have office space, provide benefits and keep staff on pay roll at all times. It’s restrictive for the employee to stick to the same employer and same routines and it’s unclear, to say the least, if it is actually the most beneficial way to organize work for society as a whole.
Is the world a better place when you only “own” your brain and your free thoughts on weekends? I think not. If you are given the space to be creative, everyone benefits. You shouldn’t need to compartmentalize your ”work thoughts” and your personal thoughts and ideas. Ideas come to you when they want, not just on Sunday afternoons. But during the week, we are often too busy working with the assignments given to us by our employer, that we don’t allow ourselves to ask what if this could be done differently? Or what if I could make this better?
Even if you love your job, it’s unlikely that you jump out of bed every morning equally excited to head to the office. Some days, even some weeks or some months, you want to do something else. You want variety, inspiration and to try something new. Who says you can’t have that?
And does it really benefit the companies that you spend a certain number of hours in the office, when you’re actually checking your Facebook feed or Instagram account two hours per day? Or when you get into an argument with your co-worker? Wouldn’t it be cheaper and better for them to avoid all the human resource dramas and just pay for the actual tasks they need to get done? With the money they save, they can pay a higher compensation for specific assignments.
I understand that there are plenty of jobs out there that simply must have a specific structure, as it is in the nature of the job itself. The focus in this article is on work that gets done purely on brainpower, creativity and soft skills.
If you are hit by a sudden inspiration on a weekday morning, feel your creative juices flowing and you ready to write a brilliant article, in whose interest is it that you push that feeling away and instead go to the office to answer customer emails? If you have an idea for a new innovation, but need to meet with some other creative minds to finish the final product, in whose interest is it to say that you have no more days of leave and can’t take the day to do that?
Instead of trying to make us all adapt to an organizational structure and process, why don’t the organizations adapt to us individuals?
In the sharing economy, we share and trade our homes, our cars and our stuff. Companies, organizations and even public authorities are tailoring their information and services more and more after your specific needs. Google helps you to find what you are looking for and Amazon gives you suggestions of things you may want to buy. Yesterday, I heard about a company that is creating an global app for healthcare and no matter where you live in the world or what illness or pain you have, it will suggest the specific specialist you need, rather than you being restricted to going to whatever doctor or clinic that has been assigned to you based on where you live. Everything in society is being turned around and focused on the specific needs of the individual, rather than on the organizations and on a dated societal structure that is already set up in a certain way.
But why are we not yet better at adapting work around the individuals in the same way and sharing our jobs or tasks?
The way I see it, it’s time to turn the job market around as well.
Instead of posting open job positions, maybe companies should announce tasks that need to get done. Those who like having the same daily routines and want to have coffee in the office kitchen with their colleagues every morning, can raise their hands to take care of some of these tasks for a longer period at a time or take on a project that spans over months or even years. Others, including restless souls like myself, can offer their expertise wherever it’s needed on a daily or weekly basis. Nobody checking our location or our hours, but just happy that the work gets done. It would be like a gigantic Freelancer.com, but for all tasks, for everybody, all the time.
The big difference being though, that it must go both ways. It’s not just about the employers posting tasks and getting workers bidding to get the assignment, but also our own work getting posted for employers to bid on. That way, there is a balance and it won’t just be about who will get the job done the cheapest. Also, when you get everyone in on this, other things will matter more, such as experience, specific skills, knowledge about the industry, etc. and it will be in everyone’s interest to get the right match.
We will all become a giant pool of flex workers.
Let’s say you write an article today about health and well-being. There are plenty of websites, magazines and blogs with this theme and who need content. One of them could pick up your article. Let’s say you need a change of scenery and decide to fly to Italy tomorrow. You will have a couple of hours of free time, so you can ask if anyone needs anything done in Italy. Sure, you can’t go and negotiate a multi-million dollar company merger for someone, but you can do simple tasks, social calls and present information. And the more assignments you perform for different companies and organizations in different fields, the more experienced you get and the more attractive you will be on the task market.
You will be a flex worker superstar. With a five-star rating on your profile page.
But is this really different from just being a freelancer or even a temp worker? In some aspects, it’s similar, but even as a freelancer, the scope of the project is always set by someone else. You will receive instructions, limitations and a timeline. You can set up your own process perhaps and choose a location to work from, but the rest is usually predetermined.
In the concept with flex workers, you set the rules and you work in a way that best suits your preferences. You negotiate around your needs and offer the deliverables that you want to offer, in the time frame that works for you and then the companies can take it or leave it. Or keep negotiating.
And you can also offer work that you have done or are about to do and ask who needs it. It is basically a combination of being a freelancer and being an entrepreneur, but without the constraints of a freelance job and without the need to stick to a viable and long-term business strategy that comes with the life of an entrepreneur.
It’s a flexible way of working that doesn’t require that you do the same thing for years as an employee or as an entrepreneur. It doesn’t require that you work every day or that you work on the same type of tasks all the time. Maybe you are good with numbers AND you are a creative person. Why should your job only allow you to use one of these skills to make money? Maybe you want to write a blog post today, join a brainstorming meeting tomorrow and work on a project plan next week. Or maybe you want to do accounting at the same place, during the same hours for the entire year. The point is, it should be your choice.
With this way of working, you could work at night, if that’s your thing, instead of forcing yourself to get up at 7AM every morning. You can set up daily routines if that works for you, or you choose not to and take each day as it comes.
If knowledge-intensive tasks are set up in this way, the market will determine what happens.
But won’t everyone just buy the services in countries with cheap labor? No, because they can do that already now, but only a few companies do. Why? Because they still need and want your expertise.
What about competence in a field and industry-specific knowledge, won’t that be lost? And an understanding of the specific company’s products and services? If it is a very complex product or service, the companies would have to assign long-term tasks. And many workers would be happy to have that ”job security” knowing what they will be doing for years to come. But many jobs and tasks are not as complex as companies like to believe. Sales, marketing, administration, communication, programming, project planning, accounting, legal guidance are examples of tasks that are already to a large extent handled by consultants, freelancers and temporary workers.
What about healthcare, paid annual leave and other employee benefits? What about long-term sickness and other situations where you cannot work as much as you need to? Borrowing the expression of the online entrepreneur guru Marie Forleo; it’s “figureoutable”. Maybe companies need to pay a monthly fee to the government or another organization based on the number of assigned tasks and these funds are later used to compensate flex workers who are somehow unable to take on tasks. Maybe you pay for your own leave, as your compensation rates will be higher. Maybe the government needs to step in when long-term sickness occurs. There are several possible solutions. I don’t have all the answers, but I think it’s time to stir the pot in the labor market that is stuck in routines of its own, just like we are stuck in our nine to fives.
Maybe this is just my creative and restless brain working overtime again.
But I think we need a change. We need to see beyond our limiting beliefs of what our work life should look like.
I wish I could sell this idea to someone…
But unfortunately, it’s almost 9 AM and I must head to the office.