The Future of Work

Paula LaBrot

The job market is hot right now. It is a good time to be looking for work. But what does work look like in the rapidly changing relationship between employees and employers? Writing for Fortune, McKenna Moore reports, “The labor market has shifted. What used to be characterized by stable, permanent employment and few employers per individual is now a tumultuous string of contracted, temporary jobs.”

This is a huge subject. Let’s start with some new vocabulary for you to learn. Gigs, or “jobs of short or uncertain duration,” are a new norm. Freelancers or Contractors are 1099 individuals who possess a skill set they market on platforms like Fiverr,, Engineerbabu, Peopleperhour, etc.

These platforms are like temporary employment agencies. They charge a fee to the employer and aid in the hire. The talent, a person marketing themselves with a specific skill set, has ratings employers can check from previous employers, just like you can check restaurants and plumbers on Yelp. Because of available connectivity, this type of employee can come from anywhere in the world. They need not work in the employer’s office; they can work remotely from anywhere.

Employment is project-based. Talent is hired for one specific job, and, when it is completed, the relationship is terminated. This is part of what is called the “Gig Economy,” a labor market characterized by the prevalence of short-term contracts or freelance work as opposed to permanent jobs.

Millennials love the flexibility of the Gig Economy. They can multitask, working while traveling, going to school, raising a family or volunteering in service to humanity. They are not tied down to an office and can set their own hours.

One of my ex-students who works for a huge, multinational marketing firm, heads a team whom he rarely sees face to face. He allows them to set their own hours, and doesn’t care how much time they put in as long as the work is completed in a timely, high-quality manner. He, himself, loves to travel and works remotely from locations he enjoys visiting.

The Gig Economy is also great for entrepreneurs. If you have a skill or talent to market and leverage into a thriving company, you can connect with customers through the employment platforms and build a business. No need for heavy overhead and start-up expenses. Author Mark Miller writes, “In the Gig Economy, you don’t have to come up with a ton of cash, the way you might as a traditional entrepreneur, or deal with the hassles that come with running a business…It’s a good way to sort of get your toes in the water without a big commitment to see if things are working.”

There is, however, the downside. According to the BBC, “it is either a working environment that offers flexibility…or it is a form of exploitation with very little workplace protection.”

The employer has no responsibility to make Social Security or Medicare contributions. They don’t have to pay a minimum wage, important when competing in the global freelancer pool. The freelancer does not have to get paid for expenses, is not eligible for health benefits, retirement benefits, worker’s compensation, or unemployment insurance. Surprisingly then, Boomers (older Americans) are the ones who will probably benefit most from a Gig Economy, because they already have their safety nets in place with Medicare and Social Security. Part-time work based on one’s experience and skill set and flexible hours are pretty attractive to older folks.  

One last vocabulary word: Fissuring, i.e., splitting off functions that were once managed internally. From graphic design to janitorial services, all kinds of jobs are outsourced, reducing the cost of a large workforce. Staffing is outsourced to a staffing company; employees are let go and then may be re-hired to re-staff but at reduced salaries and benefits. No bueno.

For social and financial safety nets, this is a very fluid situation. There are bipartisan efforts to begin dealing with the disruptive new economies. I want to emphasize bipartisan, because there are positives and negatives for both employers and workers in the new economic paradigms. New, cooperative health insurance and retirement benefits programs are in the process of development. Uber and its drivers are hard at it.

The newest business paradigm is to be agile and lean.

Agile? Being able to draw human talent from all over the world is mind-blowing. Take a problem you can’t solve in-house, crowd source, send it out into the wide world of creative, problem-solving humans and find a solution so fast your head will spin.

Lean? Now, that’s the source of all employer/employee issues, where unions and guilds are so important. And that’s where the humanity—the morality and heart—of a culture will never be replaced by a machine.

Well, time to file my story. Remotely. From home.

Vamos a ver!


Paula LaBrot

Paula LaBrot is a 30-year resident of Topanga, a futurist with a special interest in the uncharted waters of cyberspace.

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