Trend: Liquid Work
The increasing decentralization of work and social structures, which are often replaced by community projects, will lead to a massive migration of workers and the emergence of gig culture in the world and especially in Europe. The latter is characterized by the fact that unlike jobs where you sell your loyalty and time, people start selling their skills and outputs. They will become freelancers. Labor productivity will not be assessed on the basis of quantity, but on its tangible and visible impact. This trend gets accelerated by an increase in using home office work arrangements caused by the global coronavirus pandemic in 2020.
Social Implications: Flexible teams of internal and external collaborators will emerge, working partly remotely and partly on-site. The vast majority of the population will have multiple employers or multiple sources of income. It will often be common to combine well-paid and expert white collar office jobs with more manual work, which will often create value in the local community. Imagine a business manager working in this position ⅔-time who in the position of an entrepreneur also runs a children’s club in the remaining ⅓ of her work time. The so-called Start-up-ism phenomenon is emerging -people think they want to start a business, but they in fact “just” want to invent or create a position for themselves. When working remotely, company managements will begin to apply the tight-loose-tight principle, giving employees an opportunity to develop their own freelance work. Impacts of such an approach will also be visible in the real estate sector, where lands and housing within the reach of a two-hour ride from metropolitan areas will gain in value. With the development of telework, these trends will become relevant to the masses.
Marketing Implications: Freelance work will define people as individuals, often accompanied by an overlap into creating sustainable values for the local community, for example. Individuals will build their personal brand on the creation of sustainable value, which will be needed to develop their own freelance practice. Employer branding will also become more important and will have to move away from benefits that are tied to a specific workplace. The much-maligned quality of the coffee will cease to be relevant (as it had been until now).
What is the future of work? When Pulsar, an analyst firm, looked at the September 2019 data and compared the data to those from autumn 2020, it became clear that more and more people across all segments of society, all over various social media and search portals, started asking the question about the future of work. An overwhelming part of the world was closed down in home offices in 2020 due to the coronavirus epidemic. In conjunction with catastrophic scenarios presented by the media, it seemed that people would be doomed to stay there forever. Every topic tracked by Pulsar (career progression, sustainability, work culture or pensions) shot up across all search engines and social networks, but only two themes were the most prominent: flexible work arrangements and inclusivity. Both are perhaps the most important social events of 2020. The Coronavirus and the Black Lives Matter movement.
Getty Images is the world’s most prestigious stock photo agency. Although you can spend an enormous amount of time browsing through analyses of consultancy agencies and search in them for a pattern of human behavior, you will quickly spot what you are looking for in the massive flood of photos people offer and search for on Getty Images. That’s why Getty compiles its view of upcoming trends every year. A Betterment study reports that one in three American workers is also a freelancer. How does such a fact manifest in the visual language?
Searching the expression “freelance” or “contractor” is growing by 90% year-on-year. Photos and visuals documenting “working from home” are being sought out by 122% more Getty Images customers year by year.
The visuals represent changing ways of working, the ways in which we spend and save money in the 21st century, which are being transformed by the gig culture. It is an inclusive visual narrative that shows how people — a diverse array of individuals of all ages and backgrounds from different regions all around the world, are working later or earlier hours outside of the traditional 9–5 scheme.. These people work independently, in their own “office” hours and on their own tasks.
Visual storytelling that talks about phenomena such as technological innovation, the sharing economy etc. is a reliable way to create a deeper relationship between a brand and consumers: they want their daily working lives to be reflected in advertising.
Today and every day I see “Dáme jídlo” or Bolt couriers arriving on a bicycle that they could never have afforded to buy from their courier salary. They are middle-aged men, managers, who probably are prevented from doing their regular job s by “obstacles on the part of the employer” (hence they cannot perform their normal work and receive a reduced salary), maybe using the home office work arrangement with their regular employer. In any case, they have more time at their disposal. Why are they doing this? In other words, why have they decided to take up the job of a courier? Maybe they need to compensate for the lost income resulting from the reduced salary (caused by application of the “obstacles on the part of the employer”). Or maybe they want to be around people more and finally have an excuse to spend all day on their cool bike. You just don’t see this lifestyle in traditional advertising and it probably hasn’t even made its way into the meeting rooms where marketing personas are created.
It is of course younger generations who get hit by the changes the fastest. Or is it the younger generations that are driving them? Be that as it may, one in five millennials say they want to quit their job and start their own business. And 84% of them want to start freelancing.
49% of millennials believe that new technologies will fundamentally change the way they work. 46% think that the changing environment makes it harder to find a job. The 2019 Deloitte Millennial Survey also cites the importance of reasons why one half of millennials plan to leave their jobs to start their own businesses:
- higher earnings are the most important reason for 58%
- 41% want to set their own working hours through entrepreneurship
- 37% of respondents want to have a better work-life balance.
A survey of European freelancers shows that expectations of better earnings are coming true. A third of them regularly earns around CZK 10,000 per day, and another one third earns around CZK 50,000 per month. 20% of European freelancers earn CZK 75,000+ per month. When you calculate the cost of a day from the earnings, it is obvious that 2/3 of freelancers work around 25 hours a week, roughly 60% of a typical employee’s working hours. The Malt/EFIP survey also reports that for 76% of freelancers, going freelance was a voluntary decision, not a decision based on a lack of job opportunities as one might expect.
For example, 16.5 million people currently freelance in the US (source: US Bureau of Labor Statistics), while only 80,000 work in the coal industry.
In Sweden — a traditionally socially oriented country — they went even further. In addition to the possibility to take various kinds of parental leave, the Swedes have introduced a possibility to take a six-month leave to start your own business (World Economic Forum). Thanks to this, Stockholm has become second only to Silicon Valley in the number of startups per capita. Their success stories include Skype, recently bought by Microsoft, and Mojang, the company behind the success of Minecraft.
In Europe, employment has risen by 3% since the last financial crisis in 2008, but the number of freelancers has increased in total by 17%. In 2013, there were just under nine million freelancers in Europe; we currently estimate the number of freelancers to have tripled.
The desire to have one’s own freelance work which brings more responsibility on the one hand and higher earnings on the other hand, correlates with how much the younger generations have accumulated in savings. As the Betterment research paper has shown, previous generations have managed to save significantly more. This may be due to the prevailing view that governments will not have the money for pension indexation in about 30–40 years, and therefore one needs to earn the pension funds by one’s own initiative. Recently, Leoš Mareš said on the radio that as a freelancer he pays the highest possible social security contributions and despite that, his old age pension will be CZK 12,000 a month. He says it won’t even cover his monthly Rolls Royce payments. You don’t need to be Leoš Mareš or have a Rolls Royce to know that a CZK 12,000 pension won’t be enough for you in thirty years.
An overwhelming number of younger generations are now intrigued by the Startup phenomenon. They think they want to start a business, but in reality they want to create their own tailor-made position.
Estonia already understands this. And so it has built its future identity on the entire concept of startups.
Values have been changing in all societies, and social forces and individual pressures have been forcing companies to rethink their focus on old definitions of growth. Fluid people are the flip side of the same coin: it’s about rethinking oneself, it’s about the lives people lead, the work they do, and their impact on the world around them. This trend reflects the human side of growth. It takes into account that we are more aware than ever of issues such as climate change, mental health and sustainability.
Meanwhile, the pandemic has only increased people’s desire to live meaningful lives. We have begun to think deeply about how we define ourselves and what is really important to us. And we are now more considerate of some of the most vulnerable members of our society — the elderly and people with chronic illnesses, for whom the pandemic posed an even greater risk. With this heightened awareness comes internal conflict, as more people experience moral anxiety and begin to navigate the trade-offs between competing ethical demands and their own desires.
People are “starting” something in a big way. Because over the last 25 years, the digital revolution has exploded into a supernova of possibilities of who one can become. 99% of customers who buy plant-based burgers are carnivores. It shows us that the perception of the added value of the product has been changing. These carnivores no longer seek in the burger the value of “28-day aged beef jerky”, but the value of changing the world with their purchase.
In response, businesses must redefine themselves. Organizations must support the increasingly fluid desires of customers and employees and their pursuit of deeper meaning in their daily lives. They can satisfy people’s growing desire for mindful consumption by providing guilt-free experiences and creating new ways to help people feel good about who they are and what they do.
A status product is no longer about how I look, it’s about how I feel. And so it is with the status of your work.
Operating System of Capitalism
To repeat things over and over again just because it has always been so is madness. It’s a bit reminiscent of our urban office life we now lead.
It’s interesting that people evaluate their personal success egocentrically by the highest amount that they can produce. However, we should judge ourselves by the final sum total. The more expensive is the car you drive, the more it costs you in fuel, insurance and road tax. So in the vast majority of the world, nowadays it makes no sense to live in the city to get a better paying job. The bottom line is that it’s not the rent, mortgage, items purchased under a leasing scheme , or a full fridge that makes you happy. It is rather how much money you have left for movie tickets or a new bike. An average American employee spends around $18,000 a year on office space and equipment, while the best home office with premium coffee and coffee machine costs no more than $4,000.
Companies need to understand this. If you run your business the old-fashioned way from one location, you can hire the best workforce within a 50-kilometer radius. By doing so, however, you eliminate your company from competing for 99.9% talents from all over the world (or a region). Microsoft, for example, has decided that it will allow its employees to work from home even after the pandemic is over.
A recent survey called “State of Remote Work 2020” then has confirmed clear benefits of remote working, while also clearly revealing that only a few people are able to work 100% of the time from a home office. 80% of freelancers work mostly from home and 97% would recommend telecommuting to other people. The biggest benefits include the ability to organize your own work and optimize your work/life balance. One fifth of those working remotely, however, still consider loneliness and a lack of communication with colleagues to be the biggest barriers to enjoying working from home.
People often say “I work in Vodafone” instead of “I work for Vodafone”. If you sit down for fifteen minutes in the reception area of any of the large or even smaller companies, you will quickly discover the essence of their brand and identity. Just stay there watching for a while. Much of the branding of larger and smaller companies is based on where they actually have their offices. Their building is the status they use to show how they want to look. But they forget to think about how they want their people to feel. The good companies have (often unwritten) rules about how to treat each other. For example, there can be a rule that the one and only person who has a dissenting opinion will always get the floor at meetings, because he/she actually is the very person who will eventually bring a new context to the whole solution. These values and the way brands communicate them to their future employees now will be the alpha and omega of how you attract the best talent. That is, after you stop making them commute to the office every day. If you want your employees to align with you in the future, ask yourself a basic question: What defines our workplace? And to begin with, it’s not the address, the view, the coffee or the office.
The highest paid author on the Substack platform earns over half a million dollars a year in subscriptions from his readers. The top content creator on Podia, a video course platform, takes home over $100,000 a month. Teachers from all over the US are joining in droves and are able to make a few extra thousand on top of their salary. These and thousands of other stories are evidence of a trend you might call the “creator stack” or “consumer turned into entrepreneur” craze. It doesn’t matter. Because what is clear is that now it is possible to make a living (or extra income) with a very specific skill that others also want to learn. Thanks to digital globalization, even the most kitschy artist can make a living, because their creations, for some hard-to-understand cultural reason, will be appreciated by an entire population on the other side of the world. Even if you are a teenager and know nothing but how to play computer games, there is money to be made from being watched. This trend is also described by some of the most important venture capital investors Andressen and Horowitz.
What is driving this realignment of work? This change is primarily catalyzed by an innate human desire: 2019 Freshbooks Study on self-employment has found that the primary motivations for those who pursue self-employment carriers are non-financial: most individuals seek a combination of freedom, fulfillment, and career control. Self-employment is the new American dream. But millions of people are “stuck” on the sidelines. What’s holding them back?
24 million Americans — more than how many live in Florida — want to work for themselves by 2021. There is no doubt that a significant shift in thinking is underway; however, millions of aspiring entrepreneurs say they face barriers to transition: 35% are worried about inconsistent income, 28% don’t have money to invest or need to pay off a debt first, and 20% don’t want to give up health benefits. That is why gig culture will hit Europe hard. Its population, however, is not so massively indebted compared to the US, and most European countries have a good health and social security net. So there’s no risk of being left on the streets to pursue your dreams.
Self-employed Americans are happier, healthier, and have no desire to return to “regular employment” anytime soon. The study sheds light on why so many people want to be their own boss. 96% have no desire to return to a ‘regular job’, seven in ten say they have a better work-life balance and 61% would be happy with their achievements if their career ended today.
The number of new companies is growing massively after the pandemic
A recent study has revealed that despite fears of a global recession, Americans will start 24% more new businesses and trades in 2020 during a pandemic than the year before. This is the highest ever increase in history. The desire for a job in which we earn money, and, at the same time, realize ourselves at the expense of the security of a regular income has intensified during the lockdown. Because a lot of us have come to understand that we don’t have to do our work from 9 to 5, but whenever we want. And that they can actually do it fast enough to devote more time to family or a hobby. Or a hobby that becomes their business.
Employers will welcome that stance. At least those who want to be successful in the future. A research performed by consulting agency Mercer shows that 83% of employers say they would provide greater flexibility in the aftermath of a pandemic; 1/3 expect 50% or more of jobs to be telecommuting. Compared to 1/30 before the pandemic, that’s a 900% change. 72% of employers expect increased flexibility around working time and scheduling.
But how to achieve this? Heuristic work requires people to get into a physiological state of flow. It was first named by the Hungarian-American psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi in 1975. Flow refers to a state of complete immersion in an activity and is best known as “the zone”. A McKinsey study on flow found that senior managers are up to 500% more productive when in a state of flow. A study presented by scientists at Advanced Brain Monitoring also found that when you’re in flow, the time it takes to go from novice to expert is cut in half.
Modern Companies Sabotage Human Productivity
Many organizations today sabotage the flow by setting counterproductive expectations for availability, responsiveness and meeting attendance. A research performed for Adobe has discovered that employees spend on average six hours a day writing and reading e-mail correspondence. Another study has found out that an average employee checks his/her e-mail 74 times a day, while people touch their smartphones 2,617 times a day. Employees are in a constant state of distraction and hyper-reactivity. Jason Fried, the co-founder of Basecamp and the author of It Doesn’t Have to Be Crazy at Work, told the Future Squared podcast that for creative jobs like coding and writing, people need time to really think about the work they’re doing. “If you asked them when was the last time they had a chance to really think at work, most people would tell you they haven’t had a chance to think in quite a while, which is really unfortunate.”
In fact, a typical day of an employee is characterized by a default meeting time lasting one hour. Nevertheless, many things could be dealt with separately (not in a meeting) or in a much shorter conversation time. Employees are constantly interrupted by notifications on their devices, instant communication in open space offices and the hunt for the badge of honor of “Inbox Zero”. Constantly jumping between tasks results in cognitive switching, during which one feels exhausted and, at the same time, they feel as if they have done nothing.
This will all be replaced by gig culture in future years. A social trend that will give you the ability to switch between jobs depending on which one you want to pursue more. Switch between wanting to make money and wanting to take joy and meaning out of your job. For let us finally realize that not everyone in the world can only do what they love.
Although a two-day weekend may seem like a given fact today, it had not been so, until Henry Ford introduced it along with the reduction of working hours from 12 to 8 hours a day. Even Henry Ford noticed back in those times that his workers would work better and more efficiently when they were given two days of rest; they were not so tired in their remaining time. Over the course of the 20th century, a number of governments and experts have joined the trend. These assumptions are now also confirmed by countless studies: if you work less, your overall efficiency actually increases, as psychologist Adam Grant and economist Ruther Bregman explain.
How will Liquid Work change the concept of the weekend? You will no longer need a government to enact a three-day weekend. You will be able to make it easily by yourself — i.e., it will be your decision.