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“The future of work is freelance” and 10 other lessons from #TFOW2015

“People are loyal to their art and their skill – not their employer,” said chair Jimmy Kyriacou on opening the very first Future of Work event, hosted by WeWork Moorgate.

“The future of work is freelance,” agreed Shib Mathew, CEO of freelance platform YunoJuno. “This is a global transformation of the labour market. The industrial revolution of our time.”

He pointed to stats that estimate half of all US workers will be freelance by 2020, with 20% of UK graduates now joining the labour market as freelancers.

“In the early 90s freelancers were seen as a lone wolf, a gun for hire, the person you got in when your favourite was away on holiday,” Mathew said.

“Now freelancers are the favourite option. They enable companies to respond to very specialist briefs they might not otherwise have been able to deliver.”

So, what else did we learn at #TFOW2015?

Flexible working ain’t nothing new

Amali de Alwis, CEO of Code First Girls, highlighted that Dame Steve Shirley started a software company in the early 60s called Freelancers International where 98% of the workforce was female, working around family and kids.

“14% of people in the UK regularly work from home and in London that goes up to 20%,” she said.

Flexible workers might make better workers

She also flagged research from Stanford University that found people who work from home are 13% more productive, “which equates to an extra hour of work per day, or an extra month per year. And they also take fewer sick days.

“But if you do it, you’ve got to have great communication skills. And you do have to consider how to create the right culture.”

Flexible working is the law

Since June this year, de Alwis explained, everyone is allowed flexible working and if your employer declines your request to do so, they have to put forward a proper case as to why you can’t.

But flexibility might breed confusion

Ruth Cornish, founder of freelance HR agency Amelore, said: “Company structures are becoming flatter – which throws up some interesting HR issues – like what happens with career progression? And how do you reward your employees versus your freelancers?”

“There’s also a trust issue with management around flexible working,” de Alwis added, “and some people get promotion paranoia when they don’t have access to water cooler conversation.”

Appraisals are out, culture is in

“Do not bring in an appraisal system,” Cornish implored her vaudience of startup talent managers. “They have had their day and even big corporates like Ernst & Young are getting rid of them. A big corporate can spend £1m per year on appraisals – that’s versus simply developing your people.

“Employers should be supporting people across career management, professional development and personal development,” she explained. “The last one is hugely important. If you’ve climbed a mountain, that’s as interesting to me as any technical skill.

“Developing your people gives you a competitive advantage, it makes people want to work for you, it makes you different. It’s a hugely important thing to invest in. The difference between someone staying and leaving is the fit between someone’s personality and the company’s culture.”

Employees are dead

“They aren’t employees. They are a workforce,” Cornish added.

And jobs are dead too!

“People need to be ready for the digital world – but digital doesn’t really mean anything – people really have to be prepared for a world that is constantly changing,” said Koen Thewissen from skills school Hyperisland. “Ready to cope with change.

“The future of work is all about learning – how do you create a learning organisation?”

It’s really about awesome teams (with lots of women!)

“Skill itself is not the only thing to make success,” Thewissen said, delivering his word-perfect first attempt at an entire presentation in English.

“The three things that have been consistently proven to create more success in groups are: how good each person is a reading other people’s emotions, the room each person is given to speak, and having more women.”

“They’ve redone this again and again in a clinical environment and more women makes a team more successful,” he added.

… Just like they have in China

“China has the most self-made billionaire women in the world,” explained Hyperisland student Quin Quin Chen, “along with 51% of senior managers being women.” She outlined her next project, Super Future Woman Boss, where she is going to find out why this is.

… But not exactly 

“But there are 600,000 deaths in China every year from work exhaustion,” Chen added. “And there are even WeChat stickers about a character called Tusiji who is very overworked, which are very popular.”

She explained how she struggled to transform her workplace back home. “I read all of the management books and we implemented shared calendars and we celebrated birthdays and we went hiking together. We were reducing overtime and working smarter. But we weren’t happier. In an attempt to create better communication, I’d created more bureaucracy.

“So I did what any benevolent dictator would do – I left.

“Where I am now, I’ve learned what management books and podcasts wouldn’t teach me – that it’s all about empowerment, not rules. We had to learn to talk, work, play with each other.”

So don’t work too hard!

The future of work may well be freelance, which means great opportunities to choose how, when and why you work. But we haven’t quite solved many of the legal and logistical issues that this vision of the future throws up – ‘freelance’ isn’t even a legal job status in the UK!

But for starters, Hyperisland has built loads of free tools that could help you make a successful team out of anyone, anywhere. Also check out Sara Horowitz’s Freelancer’s Union founded in the US for other ideas on how to arm yourself for our freelance future.

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