I have written a lot about the future of work and the changing nature of the workforce. Article after article, mine included, talk about future workers desiring flexibility and being able to work from wherever they desire. Many people already do and they make up what is becoming known as the “gig” economy, that segment of work that is performed by independent contractors. Let’s face it however, not every job can be worked that way.
Some jobs just can’t be flexible
In our current economic structure there are just some jobs that cannot be flexible in where they are done. You want to be able to do your job from Starbucks? What about the barista that is staffing the counter? By you being in their store you have denied them the opportunity to work from somewhere else. Having places for a lot of us to work from requires an infrastructure that supplies WiFi, coffee, food, security, etc. in order for us to have a place to work from.
Service jobs lack flexibility
Service jobs, such as food service, retail service, hospitality service and medical service, to name just a few, don’t have the kind of flexibility that independent contractor has. They cannot say “I will be serving breakfast from the corner of 5th and Main today.” For them to have that kind of flexibility they would have to have a food truck and not everyone wants that dining experience. These jobs do offer some flexibility for the worker, in that hours can be adjusted, and workers can work part time while pursuing other ventures, but they cannot serve me a cup of coffee from their house.
Will this change?
There may be some changes in retail and manufacturing. An Amazon-like behemoth may eliminate many retail establishments, and 3-D printing may distribute manufacturing in the next 10 to 15 years. Food service jobs may be replaced by robot workers, but I don’t see Starbucks baristas being replaced by robot workers any time in the near future.
An interesting article 8 Tech Trends Changing How We Work in 2016, by AJ Agrawal, states in his first point:
“Simply put, work is no longer a place you go, it is something you do and millennials have fully embraced that concept. According to research by Kenan-Flagler Business School, ‘1 in 3 millennials said would prioritize device flexibility, social media freedom and work mobility over salary in accepting a job offer’. The ability to work from places like home, hotels, coffee shops, airports and even airplanes from devices that are familiar to the end-users offer the type of flexibility sought without compromising productivity.”
Notice all the places to work from that will require workers to be on station to provide a flexible work environment to the rest of us.
Don’t get me wrong I am not anti-flexible gig economy type of work; to the contrary I have lived it for more than 25 years. I wonder though if we are not creating another level in society we will have to deal with in the future; more “have’s versus have not’s” where the “have” is flexibility. Will the flexible job be the highly prized job? It would seem the way we write about it today that will be the case.
Photo credit: Mike Haberman