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Want To Be Your Own Boss? Why Soon You Will Be Forced To.


Title of the article: "Want To be Your Own Boss?..." And a Guy Ready for a handshake

A couple of months ago I stumbled upon this: 50% Of the Workforce will be Freelancers by 2027.

This Forbes article from 2017 states that the freelance revolution is well on its way and that by 2027 half of the workforce will be freelancers in some way. What does that mean for you? That's a bold prediction that they are making, but the more I think about it, the more I think this has some serious consequences for everyone participating in this economy employees and employers alike.

The Digital Revolution Changed Everything

The digital revolution that we have live through in the the past 30 years is disrupting everything we do. What took a company 10 engineers to do in the year 2000 now takes 3 engineers with the right computer tools. The people that are skilled with these digital tools get more work, and those are not get less work.


For all us millennials in the work force we assume this is normal because we have never known anything else. But in fact it is very far from normal. Productivity has exploded while our wages have not kept up with the very real increase in the costs of financial assets (including housing). So we end-up on average way poorer than our parents. We just don't feel it as bad because a big part of our consumption is related to technology which has been steadily dropping in price.



This however does not mean that everyone is poorer, just that on average we are worse off. If you are highly skilled and highly specialized in using the technologies that have developed, your wages have increased in the last 20 years. Just look at the tech world. If you’re unskilled you’re left flipping burgers and driving Ubers and you can barely afford rent in the gig economy.


This gap between generalization and specialization is about to get worse. Before COVID, there was one single factor that was slowing this trend down: The fact that one can (generally) only work for one employer, for 40 hours per week, sitting in one single office. This is changing.


Who Will Win The "Work From Home - Back To Office" Tug Of War

COVID-19 and all the associated lockdowns has been a saving grace for burnt-out office workers around the world who's job was not dependent on a physical service in the real world. They all got to go home and keep working. Their quality of life shot through the roof, their expenses dropped, they had more time to spend with their families and less time stuck in traffic.


A couple years forward, now that lockdowns are hopefully a thing in the past, many managers are starting to implement hybrid work schedules or full back to office policies and it's slowly blowing-up in their faces because very few people want to go back to an office. Obviously, there are some valid reasons why you might want your workforce back in the office. Here are a couple:

  1. In-person service to clients;

  2. Team cohesion;

  3. Solidarity with those that have to come in to work due to working with physical systems, etc.

But these reasons cover only a minority of people, while the rest of us are straight-up told that we don't work as hard at home. I think this argument misses a critical point: When there is enough work and tight schedules, people work just as well from home than from the office. When there isn't, people just pretend to work more in the office while they don't have to do so at home. All those water-cooler talks about the last-night's game or the latest interests hike? Yeah, not productive time no matter where you are.

Work From Home Back to Office Debate Meme

But there is no way your are going to convince most people to go back to the office willingly because the lifestyle benefits are just too great. The genie is out of the bottle and we are not going back to the pre-pandemic era. But I think we will not see meaningful advancement in that debate until two very important things happen.


First, we need to adopt better collaboration tools for day to day work. Most organizations are still stuck with Emails, Meetings and Excel sheets as their primary source of information exchange. And if you remove the water-cooler talk, the chatting with your co-workers and other unofficial collaboration methods, then of course information exchange, team cohesion and team performance will suffer.


But these tools already exist. The software industry has been using them for at least a decade. Tools like Gather, Jira, Confluence, Mural boards and many more are capable of replacing 90% of all office interactions and bridge the performance gap between in-person and virtual collaboration. All we need is a cultural change to adopt these tools.


Second, we need to talk money. Even with better collaboration tools some people will still have to be physically present at the place of work. At least until VR-controlled robots become a thing. The problem is that the office workers that don't need to be present at work are usually better compensated than those that burn gas, depreciate their vehicles and spend hours in traffic. In any honest debate on the topic, we need to address that. My view is that in relative terms, all remote workers will have to take a pay cut (relative to inflation and all other wages). All those savings will be then passed on to increase the salaries of those that come to the workplace.


My point here is not that I have the miracle solution, My point here is that this mess creates a huge division of opinions, debates, conflict and frustration in the work force. But I predict that there is a 95% chance that the remote work side of the debate will win within the next 5 years, There is one simple reason for this: Labor shortages.


Going Out Of Business


If you are an experienced professional and looking for a job you are probably getting messaged by recruiters almost every day. This is good. Because while everyone else if busy debating whether they should offer a hybrid schedules to their employees, Some employers are waking up. They adapt their culture to the new reality, adopt the right collaboration tools and make their businesses fully remote, or close to. And in that process they are stealing all the best talent from everyone else that refuses to do so.


And as the wage inequality debate between the remote and in-person workers progresses they will also be able to provide better products and services at a lower cost with their remote work forces. Where does that leave more traditional organizations that refuse to do the shift? Out of business or on government life support. Natural selection at its finest. In case it's not clear yet I'll spell it out:


diagram of how businesses that go fully remote will succeed in a digital economy: go full remote, hire the best talent, lower costs, outcompete market, profit.

If you think this is good news then you are right, at least for a while. But there's more stormy clouds on the horizon, and this next topic is something that no one talks about.


Overemployment

Think back to your days in the office. How many hours did you work? If you answered 40 then I call bullshit. Depending on the organization, a quarter to a third of the time in the office is not spent productively, having debates on which friends episode is the best and generally relaxing between bouts of concentration. The reality is that in a traditional office space no one actually works the full hours.


And now with remote work you have the ability to be in multiple virtual offices and working with multiple teams at the same time. Some people make the math in their heads and realize they could have a second job with all the time they save with all those new fancy collaboration tools, reduced distractions and STILL work about 40 hours per week. This is what we call overemployment.


It's a very taboo topic because most managers are allergic to the concept of you spending company time doing something else based on the assumption that they own 40 hours of your week, even if you work remote. So most of overemployment happens hidden, underground and is not actually very sustainable in the long run due to all the added stress. But again, the genie is out of the bottle. And as long as people think they can get away with it they will do it.


But this is just a corporate culture issue. The precedent for overemployment already exists: Contractors. As a contractor or consultant you are paid to deliver a specific output, period. How you do it, or how many hours you spend on it really doesn't matter to anyone. So obviously no one bats an eye when a contractor has more than one client. It's absolutely normal.


And here again in a couple of years we will have another huge debate over overemployment. And it will happen in the same way that the debate over work from home is happening today. And in the same way, the proponents of overemployment will win. How? Most of us will be given the option of working contracts instead of regular old employment and we will take that option en-masse. That Forbes article is really is not that far off.


Why would you want to do that? It's a very easy choice. How about close to doubling your pay for the same amount of time spent in front of a screen? If you are overemployed as a contractor AND if your compensation is based on output, you will find ways to increase your productivity and automate part of your work to deliver more. Plus you have the added benefit of taking extended vacation time between contracts, more time with family, more flexibility in choose when, where and how you work. It's a huge win for your work-life balance.



Milennial professionals massively migrating to remote and contract work meme


Once that starts, the most adaptable employers that already have the best remote work force at the lowest cost will face evolution once again. They will start converting those remote full-time positions to contractor positions where they will measure your performance solely based on output, not hours worked. They will also offer slightly lower pay for the same output and you will accept because just like the work from home dynamic, your quality of life goes through the roof. And so does your compensation if you managed to find a second client.


The organizations that do this will again find themselves with the best talent at the lowest cost and everyone else will once again, adapt or go out of business. The only way to stop this in my opinion, is to pull the plug on the internet. Which is obviously not going to happen.


So Now What?

So what does that mean for you? This is brilliant news if you are a capable and skilled professional in your field. It means that in the next 10 years your earning potential will explode. Flexible schedule? Yes please. Early retirement? Yes please. Master of your own fate? Yes please. This is a dream come true from a Life Engineering point of view.


There is a huge problem however. All that happiness that you have will be contrasted by the millions of less skilled people that you will bump out of their jobs. If suddenly we have a class of super-productive contractor professionals what do you think happens to all the regular positions that can either no longer compete with you or that you simply absorb their responsibilities? What about all the in-person workers that do not have the luxury of remote work that are left behind wage wise?


I don't know the answer to that question. On one hand this can lead to massive unemployment. On the other hand, the labor shortage will persist throughout the next 20 years or so. What will really happen no one knows. There are so many disruptive trends that are coming online this decade that it's very hard to predict. It might be universal basic income, or increasing immigration, or civil war. I have no clue. But the point of this blog is not to have a political debate, it is to talk about Lifestyle Design. So let's talk about the choices that you have to make now that you know this.

With all the coming changes to the labor market it means that being hard working is no longer enough. Being hard working and educated is not enough either. You now also need new skills to succeed as a future contractor in your field. This includes: Entrepreneurship, Flexibility, Confidence in your abilities, Self-Determination, Autonomous Goal-setting, purposeful decision-making, understanding your strengths and skills, understanding who you are and how to best market yourself, understand where you want to go, how to identify and fill a niche in the market, what kind of life you want to build and why. Basically all the skills that I teach to my clients and that I had to learn in the past couple of years.

Diagram of the 5 most important skills to build in a new digital economy: self-determination, life planning, finding new opportunities, flexibility, sales and leadership

Time for a disclaimer. I understand that this theory of the future work world is full of holes and if you wanted to you could come up with a thousand examples of the opposite. All I am doing is pointing out the macro trends that I think will affect most professional jobs in the future because you already see the pre-cursor signs of them in different fields like software development, project management, engineering, law, coaching, business management, etc. Even if you disagree with the premise, I think we can all see the explosion in side-hustles and small consulting businesses. All I am saying is that to be ready for that environment, those are the skills required.

But what about everyone else? Like the trades for example. Personally I don't see welders or plumbers becoming obsolete in 10 years with this trend, but you know what? A lot of them are contractors already. They have their own small businesses and are doing very well. So they learned how to be professionals AND entrepreneurs a long time ago and this is the complement of skills that will serve them in the future. That is until they invent plumber robots.

With COVID-19 The final barrier, towards full digitization of work (which was more psychological than anything else) has just fallen. The world has changed, and no one talks about it. Because no one noticed. This is good news if your read this in 2022. You can start working towards this now and you will be 10 steps ahead of everyone else when this unstoppable train hits every industry in the face. If you do so, you will be ready, while everyone else is at the unemployment line ready for re-training.


What We Do.

Not sure how to work on these skills yourself? Now sure where you are headed or how to do this? Don't know who you are and how to build your brand? Answering questions like that is exactly what we specialize in. You can read the rest of the articles on our blog to get an idea.


Or book your free orientation with us to see how we can help more specifically.



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