40% of American workers will be engaged in alternative forms of work by 2020. Ways of working are becoming increasingly fluid, adapting to the imperative of agility and flexibility imposed on companies by the acceleration of technological innovation and the need for resilience in an increasingly uncertain world.
This impacts where we work, when we work and what our ‘status’ at work is in multiple ways.
Work from anywhere, anytime
What Time magazine called "The world’s largest work-from-home experiment" has changed radically how we are working in Europe. While in 2019, only 9% of employees were working from home, they were 37% in April 2020. More importantly, Remote work is here to stay: managers have noticed a gain in productivity while employees want to continue to preserve their quality of life and level of autonomy. Remote work is working.
This means that the workplace is becoming a more complex and flexible ‘ecosystem’ (office/home/third places) supported by a hybrid mix of digital and physical experiences; implying that the notion of a fixed, central location that is often costly and under-used is being eroded.
Workers on demand
For the first time in the United States, the number of freelancers / contractors has exceeded the number of permanent contracts. This reflects the blurring of borders for organisations between internal and external sources of labour. Elsewhere, in the UK the number of self-employed workers have increased by 40% since 2008, which could lead to over 7m self-employed by 2030. In France it has grown by 145% in 10 years (around m freelances in 2019.
92% of French workers want to continue remote working after lockdown (source : observatoire 2020 Cap Digital)
3 in 4
3 out of 4 of hiring managers are more likely to engage independent talent in the future due to COVID-19 (source : Upwork Future workplace report 2020, US)
85% of the HR managers consider remote working should be develop on a long-term basis (source: French association of human resource directors, 2020)
47% of hiring managers are more likely to engage independent talent in the future due to COVID-19 (source: Upwork Future workplace report 2020, US)
OPPORTUNITIES & CHALLENGES
Adapting to the new remote reality
For the worker, remote work increases autonomy, productivity and well-being. They gain on average 45 minutes of sleep, reduces their commuting time by 40 minutes, while increasing productivity by 22%. On the other hand, it also creates challenges : the difference between the personal and professional spheres can be eroded, the notion of personal territory within the workspace is disappearing, social connections are lost and isolation can grow. 1 out of 2 individuals report that they feel lonely for a minimum of 1 day a week, while 22% said ‘switching off’ after work is their biggest challenge.
For companies, remote work is an opportunity to reduce costs, when we know that for many rent is their second-biggest cost: in France office space costs €13,000/employee annually. Some companies have declared that they want to go fully remote but it is unlikely that this will become widespread given the organisational challenges of having no fixed offices. Nevertheless, many will certainly rethink the role of their offices and will aim to make them more flexible than ever.
They may also decide to open their new jobs to the worldwide: Facebook has announced its intention to do so in May 2020. Moreover, they will have to adapt to offer more flexible work infrastructure, including furniture, physical and digital tools that work for everyone wherever they are based.
They will also have to support people that may face difficulties dealing with these new ways of working (parents, young employees, those that are less comfortable with new technologies...) and train managers to avoid falling into the trap of counterproductive surveillance.
Re-wiring HR to deal with ‘liquid workers’
As the workforce becomes increasingly fluid, companies will have to rethink HR processes to better manage, support and develop this diverse workforce. Skills management and training will have to be redesigned in order to adapt to increasing turnover. Fostering a shared culture (and employer branding) will become essential but even more difficult as there will be fewer permanent employees to bring this culture to life and share its values and rituals.
Everyone must become an entrepreneur to survive
The growth of a more transactional and project-based approach to work creates opportunities for workers that can adapt to this new reality : more freedom to build a career, to explore new opportunities and to work on their own. However, it also creates new risks : as competition is becoming global, skills are more rapidly wearing out and strong, social safety nets are harder to maintain. This means that the new workers will all need to become more entrepreneurial and manage their own career throughout their lives. Clearly, this is not going to be possible for everyone so we can expect to see increased risks of social tension and exclusion for those who are left behind because they do not possess the necessary social, economic or cultural capital.
Collaboration is king
As work is being untied from space and time the challenge is to create social cohesion and engagement for this new workforce. Before the pandemic, collaboration already accounted for 80% of an employee’s working day in the UK. Communication and collaboration tools role are taking this time into the digital realm: the number of Zoom users worldwide grew from 10m in December 2019 to more than 300m in April 2020. The workplace will also need to be rethought to rethink and encourage collaboration and go beyond constant conference calls. Indeed, 85% of US employees says they want a more collaborative work environment, which shows a clear path for improvement.
SO WHAT FOR LYRECO ?
1. How can we adapt Lyreco’s offer and commercial strategy to service this new, more fragmented world of work (third places, home working, free-lances, office sharing, gig worker platforms, collaborative tools...)? Should we be thinking of subscriptions and/or selling direct?
2. What are we doing for workers on-the-go? What tools and services are essential to facilitate the nomadic worker’s life and help them to rapidly create their work territory wherever they are? How can Lyreco sell the directly to the end-user?
3. How can Lyreco’s existing customers be helped to make their ‘fixed’ / corporate offices more flexible and better adapted to new needs (collaboration, creativity, sharing, culture)?
4. A flexible, liquid workplace probably means less paper (at least at a central location). What is our role in a ‘paperless’ office?
5. What are the Lyreco products that help boost creativity? Strengthen cultural connections? Enhance bonding? How can they be sold to project workers and not just permanent staff? Who will buy and use these products?