Going to Work Is So 20th Century Forget freedom from government regulation - the next chapter in free enterprise will be about the individual's freedom from the company.
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The American economy is crumbling, or so headline after headline would have you believe.
Joblessness is at highs not seen since the Great Depression. More than 40 million Americans have filed for unemployment as of May 2020, and that figure only represents those who've filed. There may be millions more who could file but haven't for various reasons.
While the "official" unemployment rate sits at 13%, the real value is likely in the 20-25% range, as the standard metrics for gathering such data are unable to account for entire industries being shut down.
Some economists are forecasting unemployment to stay as high as 15% through 2021 and nearly 13% still through 2022, as small businesses and big corporations alike have shuttered for good. With even decades-old, household names such as JCPenney, Gold's Gym and Hertz declaring bankruptcy, it's abundantly clear that COVID-19 will leave a lasting scar on the American economy.
And yet, this is not another doomsday editorial.
"So, what's the silver lining?" you ask.
The good news, at least for startups, business managers and other entrepreneurs in need of creative support in a flash, is this…
Right now, talent is everywhere, sitting idle, just waiting to be given the green light.
While the retail, transportation and travel sectors of the economy are taking the hardest hit from COVID-related shutdowns, many professionals in creative industries have also been let go, seen projects cut or work hours reduced.
Thousands of writers, coders, web developers, graphic designers, photographers, videographers, project managers and other skill-based professionals are anxiously wondering…what's next? And they're more than ready to be reassembled into an elite team for some new venture, even if it's only for a one-off project or recurring part-time work.
But wait — there's more. Not only is creative talent in ready supply at the moment, but…
The time is ripe for rethinking how that talent goes to work.
Consider, for a moment, the current nine-to-five, butts-in-seats paradigm of American work life. Where did it come from?
Just like the modern classroom setup, with its standardized curricula and rows of desks of pupils, has roots going all the way back to the 1800s that are largely outdated and unexamined, so, too, does the modern workplace owe its shape and structure to historical circumstances that are hardly relevant today.
The first wave of the Industrial Revolution took place in the textile factories of Great Britain in the 18th century. Workers, primarily young women, were needed to operate looms that would spin cotton, linen or wool on a mass scale into yarn used to make garments, rugs, upholstery and other products.
Productivity depended on human bodies congregating under one roof and attending to machinery. Workdays were overlong, with 70- to 100-hour workweeks not uncommon until Henry Ford popularized the 40-hour workweek in the 1910s, and Congress made it a workplace standard with the Fair Labor Act of 1938.
Nowadays the script is flipped. Outside of the manufacturing sector, most workers no longer need to congregate within the same four walls to attend to big, cumbersome machinery. In fact, today's digital tools, rather than demanding attendance, largely free us of the need to be confined under one roof. Welcome to the dispersed workplace.
What's more, the standard 40-hour workweek, divided into five eight-hour workdays, is largely a farce. According to one UK survey, the average office worker is only productive for less than 3 hours a day. The rest of the workday is given to distractions and faking productivity. (Interestingly enough, in Thomas More's work Utopia, which imagined life in a perfect society, each workday was capped at four hours of physical labor — the rest was for leisure and pursuits of the mind.)
If coworkers no longer need to attend to machines or be proximate to be productive, and if the eight-hour workday is clearly unnecessary for most workers to adequately perform their jobs, then it's high time to reconsider how we go to work. If only something would give us the opportunity to do so…
COVID-19 may permanently usher in a new era of business assemblage.
Prior to COVID-19, around 5% of employed Americans worked from home or worked remotely. At the height of the pandemic's stay-at-home orders, that percentage jumped to 62%.
Many people discovered they enjoyed it. According to one survey, a vast majority of the WFH crowd say they were more productive, enjoyed seeing their family more often, enjoyed experiencing interruptions from coworkers less often, and even put in work hours outside the typical 9-to-5 slot without being required to. Three in five said they want to keep working remotely, if possible.
And why not?
Working from home, or remotely from a place of one's choosing, is in many regards a big step toward one very American dream: being one's own boss. It's a dream shared by 70% of Americans, and yet only 10% of Americans are actually self-employed.
With today's digital tools, however, skill-based workers can connect to project-based work easier and faster than ever before and essentially become a "one-person business" without the need for expensive and time-consuming accoutrements, like an office building, marketing budget and so on.
Sure, there are risks involved. But the rewards include many freedoms: the freedom to choose whom one works for, and when, and for how long, and on what projects; the freedom from an unnecessary commute, which is the bane of many a big-city worker's existence and a leading curtailer of overall life satisfaction; the freedom from a predetermined salary cap; the freedom to set your own work-life balance; the freedom to be authentically you, rather than play-acting for bosses, managers and other superiors; and the freedom to take pride in saying you're "self-made."
Of course, hard work is still a given, but is there any more American way than venturing out on one's own? The digital tools are here. Consider them bootstraps.