As the future of work continues to encroach on our current patterns, how will our working hours and days change? WorkJuggle.com founder Ciara Garvan has some ideas.
My mother, like many of her generation, grew up on a farm in rural Ireland. My grandmother raised nine children on that farm and was, to all intents and purposes, a working parent for most of her life.
Even when she was retired, she was minding grandchildren and feeding chickens. There are many aspects of that life I would not be able to cope with; the poverty, the lack of travel, the paucity of opportunities.
And yet, there have been mornings in my own working career I have envied her life; working in the home where your children can see what it is you do and value that, rather than trying to explain a job that takes you away for long periods of time, the output of which they never see.
Anyone who has risen on a black winter morning, leaving sleeping children behind to get on the M50 to travel for hours to an expensive office building on the other side of the city to work for anonymous shareholders may relate.
Conversations about the future of work often revolve around AI, robots and the exponential rate of change. And all that is absolutely happening. But there are other conversations that should be heeded, around values and family, ownership, society.
There is a questioning on working norms. The model of working nine to five, 40 hours a week is a relic of the industrial age and, to quote Gaby Hinsliff from Half a Wife: “The belief that bums on seats equals profitability is as hopelessly ill-adapted to computerised, knowledge-based industries as horses were to warfare in the age of the tank.”
The importance of being flexible
It was these future of work conversations and my own personal experience that set me on the path to create a new model for the future of work and to launch WorkJuggle.com, a unique, curated platform that links highly skilled professionals with flexible, remote and contract roles.
The companies that feature on our site are those that are ahead of the pack, who share the viewpoint that nine to five isn’t a prerequisite for success and who know that thinking about talent in an innovative way leads to competitive advantage.
The arrival of high-speed broadband and smartphones means, for most working parents, the opportunity to adjust their working day.
For the majority of office workers, work no longer finishes once you leave the office. And that has it downsides. But it has its upsides, too.
Children can be picked up earlier, dinner and bedtime, and then log on again in the evening to catch up as needed. Remote working is the saving grace of many a working parent, particularly those with long commutes.
Rather than wasting time travelling to and from an office, the ease of logging on from home increasingly means that workers are searching for these perks rather than salary compensation.
A third of employees would prefer flexible working over a pay rise according to the Investors in People’s Job Exodus Trends 2016.
Digital nomads take the trend even further. Unwilling to pay the high rents of Dublin, London or Silicon Valley, they take their skills with them while working from Bali. Or Sligo. Take your pick.
Your second act
As the working day adjusts, so too does our working life. Lucy Kellaway, the renowned Financial Times columnist, recently made waves by her announcement that she was leaving her glittering career to become a trigonometry teacher.
At 58, she was ready for her “second act”. With the benefits of a good pension, house and health, she was willing and able to retrain as a teacher. As life expectancy continues to rise, expect to see more of this.
Kellaway’s organisation Now Teach recently launched with 58 former bankers, lawyers and management consultants all in their 50s retraining to be teachers in “challenging” London schools.
Every one of them had to fight for their place amongst the 1,000 applications they received. They were not fleeing an unhappy corporate life. Many of them had been highly successful, just as Gareth Stephens, who did 30 years in the city, said: “I always loved my work. But I thought, how much time do I have left on the planet? Do I want to go on and on doing the same thing?”
Our expectations around work and the importance it has in our lives are changing, and that will also be reflected in the future of work. For many (and not just millennials), there is the expectation that we will enjoy it and find meaning in the work.
Values are not something that get checked in at reception but rather, something to bring with you to the workplace.
Millennials are often quoted when talking about the future disruption that awaits. According to Intuit, young people graduating now will have between 15 and 20 jobs over their working lives.
‘Increasingly, employers realise that by advertising flexibility at the point of hire, they access a much higher calibre of candidate’
Anyone who has recently been to a barber shop, or drank a craft beer or distilled gin, is experiencing the impact of millennials on the future of work. High-powered knowledge jobs are only part of the equation.
The other half is an explosion in artisanal, craft work. Although not well paid, these are not meaningless jobs in the service economy. Instead, they are imbued with meaning, a search for authentic work with a direct relationship to the land. Embedded in local community and folklore, they are the antithesis to anonymous jobs in cube farms.
Masters of Craft: Old Jobs in the New Urban Economy by Richard E Ocejo vividly outlines these old jobs ingrained with new meaning as they are taken over and refashioned by cultural omnivores.
“I was tired of working in a box,” states Liam, previously a hospital manager and now a craft butcher working in the trendy Chelsea Market in New York.
At WorkJuggle.com, our candidates include people who have worked in major technology firms. The one thing they all have in common is that they are highly skilled and want to manage their own working schedule, be that having the option to work remotely, part-time, on a contract basis or with an employer who enables flexibility.
Increasingly, employers realise that by advertising flexibility at the point of hire, they access a much higher calibre of candidate.
In the technology industry, one of the most prominent trends has been the rise of the independent worker. Contractors may be part of the ‘gig economy’ but they are fathoms away from poorly paid Uber drivers. Hyper-specialised and highly technical, they enjoy generous – in some cases, even exorbitant – daily rates and trade the stability of permanent work with the autonomy of freelance work.
The exponential growth of this sector is reported on by Intuit and the Emergent Research institute. Their latest report claims that people who choose to work independently report higher levels of satisfaction and not only because of greater work flexibility. These people are more engaged in their work when compared to traditional job-holders, relish being their own boss and enjoy greater creativity than typical nine-to-five workers. Overall, they are happier with their level of income and report being just as satisfied as traditional workers on issues such as income security and benefits.
The future of work will allow for a more diverse working pattern, be that syncing your working hours around school hours or picking up contract work for nine months of the year rather than 12.
Correspondingly, our working lives will be less monolithic. The traditional 40 years of working life in one company with a defined benefit pension at the end of it is gone for most. Instead, we will see the rise of short-term working contracts, sometimes remote but always highly skilled with knowledge at its core.
And the search for meaning in the future of work? I’ll leave that to the wise words of Pericles, former rule of Athens who died of the plague circa 529 BCE.
“What you leave behind is not engraved in stone monuments but what is woven into the lives of others.”
By Ciara Garvan
Ciara Garvan is the founder of WorkJuggle.com, a digital, curated platform that links highly skilled professionals with flexible, remote and contract roles. Garvan spent 15 years in the technology sector working for companies such as Accenture, Eir, Meteor and Symantec.