Many people in the workforce today are (or have already) adjusting to office-less environments. In 2013, the magazine FastCompany estimated that over 30% of America’s workforce were already working remotely, and by 2020, that number may reach an over 50% majority.
America continues to shift from a manufacturing economy of principally blue-collar workers, to a service economy of semi-skilled white-collar workers. With this shift, employers are closing offices and having people work remotely from home. This saves the employers the enormous fixed capitalization and operational costs of maintaining office space — especially in large urban areas like San Francisco, New York, Boston Atlanta, Chicago and Seattle.
High Tech companies such as Yahoo were among the first to embrace working at home for employees. Google, Nike, Apple and many of the world’s high-tech firms and start-ups are crowd-working-collaborations, and it’s the very technologies that they are working on that are enabling these shifts in our work-world.
As businesses weigh the pros and cons of remote workers, they are also looking at the benefits of reducing employee’s hours in an effort to by-pass laws requiring them to provide employee benefits. By restricting workers’ hours to under 37 hours per week, employers no longer have to provide health insurance benefits, pension plans, 401K programs, and in some cases, are avoiding or lowering payroll taxes.
We’ve seen great examples in the media about Wal-Mart’s controversial under-40-hours-per-week employment policies with retail and clerical help, but we see other blue-chip companies also leaning toward using part-time and contract help to fill needed functions without the overhead costs.
All companies — large and small — are learning that by shifting some of these costs over to the employees, businesses are able to show greater adjusted growth in net income, thus attracting more investors and attracting Wall Street gamers with more positive “outlooks” and “expectations” that are based partly on some of these cost-saving practices. And they can increase their own net margins in the process.
Although there are many advantages for the businesses for remote workers, we saw a backlash against working remotely from the employee perspective: it is de-socializing the employees, where unity of common cause, dedication and loyalty between employer and employee are waning, leading to under-performance and lower productivity.
Just 3 years ago in 2013 Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer cut back on remote workers, banning the practice at Yahoo, saying that the company could better keep tabs on productivity of workers from an office environment. Two years later, she still defends her position and continues the ban on working from home, but the rest of the business community seems to be headed in the other direction — toward more remote workers working from home.
It is this environment that many millennials just entering the workforce are getting their first taste of how the work world functions, and this is their “normal.” But it is also of great concern to some of the older workers — people that have been in the workforce for over 15 years — which this adjustment is weighing most heavily on. Families are beginning to struggle under the pressure of variable incomes on a monthly basis; saving for retirement is being pushed off until hopefully more stable and more abundant income becomes available.
To offset this trend in the workplace, we are seeing more and more people of all ages taking on second and third jobs — all of these being part-time or one-off gigs that offer no benefits or stability. It is not uncommon in 2016 for everyone in a family of 4 — both parents and the kids — to be working multiple jobs to help ends meet for the entire family.
Middle and lower-class millennials are having to group together to afford housing for their first apartment away from their parents’ homes, and even with this, they are pushing off moving out of their parents’ basements until their late 20s and early thirties. And they seem to understand that this may be their permanent station in life, so they are trying to make the best of it.
I don’t know what the future of work looks like in America or the world. I’m not sure how long the “work-from-home” movement will last or if it will go away. But I’m taking a lesson from the reality-based — and somewhat disheartened — millennials that this is our world now. And we need to come together to find new and better solutions and create paths forward for ourselves, our families, our communities and our world.
Uber for Outplacement: The Gig Economy and The Death of HR
Contingent Labor: Getting The Gig Economy Right – Forbes Magazine
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