The world is changing fast and so is the world of work. Technological transformation, global competition, and demographic change are affecting drastically how we work, consume and live. These three factors, according to the study Employment and Social Developments in Europe 2018, have determined two trends in the European labor market: Human capital quality improvement (reskilling) and highly diverse forms of work (atypical working).
Atypical work, defined by Eurofound (European Foundation for the Improvement of Living and Working Conditions), is any employment relationship that do not conform to the standard or ‘typical’ model of full-time, regular, open-ended employment with a single employer over a long-time span. Atypical work includes part-time, temporary, fixed-term, casual and seasonal work, self-employed people, independent workers and homeworkers. New forms of atypical working—broadly called flexible employment—that have also emerged during the last years are: employee sharing, job sharing, interim management, ICT-based mobile work, voucher-based work, portfolio work, crowd employment, collaborative employment, and platform work. Platform workers in Europe 2018 reported that the proportion of this emerging phenomenon in Europe is still small, reaching roughly 10% (ranging from 6% in Finland to 12% in Spain and the UK). In the Netherlands, 10% of the people surveyed reported to have done platform work, but only 3% considered it as a main job. In platform work, online services are potentially global (data entry, customer service, animation, copywriting, etc.) and on-location services are local (transport, teaching, photography, etc.), but both are digitally matched and administered through the platform. Examples of digital platforms are: PeoplePerHour, Freelancer, Upwork, Amazon Mechanical Turk, CrowdFlower, Uber, and TaskRabbit.
These flexible working trends are obviously driven by technology, but also by a global workforce that demands a better work-life balance. The Workplace Revolution, for example, states that in 2017, over 50% of workers in the Netherlands have worked outside their main office 2,5 days a week or more, and that 36% of them worked from home. Today, apps allow workers to be productive and remain connected online at all times from laptops, tablets, computers, smartphones, Cloud applications, instant messaging, and VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol; hardware and software that enables internet as the transmission medium for telephone calls). On the other hand, Millennials, young men, women and aging people globally claim for flexible locations and working times, attractive remunerations, interesting work that is compatible with family life, and work that can be developed independently of health or disability.
Europe has seen an overall increase in atypical employment during the past two decades. Rising from an average of 12,5% in 2002 to 15,8% in 2016, atypical employment has gained positions at the expense of the unemployed and inactive, meaning that non-standard employment has opened up access to the labor market for more people. In the Netherlands, ISHN (Industrial, Safety and Hygiene News) reported a big increase in flexible workers that reached 3,2 million in 2015, the 40% of a working population of 8,3 million. But this trend is even larger today if we consider part-time work in general, where the Netherlands leads the EU with a share of almost 50% of the working-age population. In general, companies in the Netherlands report increased numbers of consultants and freelancers in their workforce, and they seem to be open to embrace this trend while reducing fixed office costs and leasing arrangements.
But why should companies embrace atypical work? Flexible working can improve health, wellbeing, and the work-life balance of employees, but it can also benefit employers, fostering staff engagement and motivation. Natalie Pancheri, HR Policy Adviser at the London School of Economics (LSE), says: “The benefits of flexible working are well established, from increased employee engagement to better performance. Flexible working means recognizing that individuals have different needs both inside and outside of work.” Tom Neil, guiding writer from the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service of the UK government (ACAS), explains that flexible work can “help to reduce absenteeism, increase productivity and enhance employee engagement and loyalty. It can greatly increase the pool of applicants for vacant roles, while helping to retain the experienced and skilled staff already there.” Pancheri adds, “we also know from research that staff can often value flexibility over other more traditional forms like remuneration, so there’s a positive financial implication for organizations to consider too. Flexible working isn’t about being a parent anymore; it’s what the millennial generation of workers are coming to expect and it is something organizations should be embracing and seeking to embed wherever possible.” Theodore Henderson, an American author, coach and trainer in business and leadership success, agrees: “In a study by Ernst & Young, 76% of respondents have difficulties managing personal, family, and work responsibilities. This is one of the reasons why workplace flexibility—along with pay and benefits—are the top considerations for accepting a job offer and staying with an employer. With 66% of resignations happening [in America] due to lack of work flexibility, it shows that managers must find ways to accommodate this need. Otherwise, organizations might find themselves limited in their applicant choice.”
It seems clear that the future workplace will not only consist of full-time employees. It will be a blended workforce that also comprises the gig economy—environment in which temporary, flexible jobs are commonplace, where companies tend to hire independent contractors and freelancers instead of only full-timers. “Working virtually—at home, at a coffee shop or anywhere else there’s wi-fi—is a growing trend in the United States,” says Josh Millet, CEO of Criteria Corp. “This makes it possible to recruit from almost anywhere in the world, and it’s no surprise that many startups are built with remote teams. From a corporate perspective, it opens up the pool of candidates, and by offering remote work capabilities, it’s a way to retain current employees and boost job satisfaction through a better work-life balance. With video conferencing and collaboration tools evolving every year, this trend will only continue on the upswing.”
Planning for the future will require HR leaders and management to embrace atypical working, foster work flexibility and be proactive in onboarding and integrating gig workers as well. Companies, employees and the society at large will benefit from this collaborative, flexible, technological yet humanized working space.
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Written by Paula Arellano Geoffroy for Together Abroad.