Career Futurology: Where Do We Go From Here?

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21st century careers are changing us…or are we changing careers? Everywhere you turn, you see people wanting different things from their ‘traditional’ 9-5 roles: more adventure, more ownership, more creativity. It seems we are all looking for flexible and meaningful work that we can do from our homes, local coffee shops, or relaxed co-working spaces. So how are modern careers changing our lives?

More flexible working hours

People aren’t happy to be shut away in a cubicle for hours on end any more – workers want flexible work that they can take away with them.

  • The digital world has made telecommuting an even more real possibility, and many people are willing to take the plunge. By encouraging flexible working hours, companies may be able to save on staffing costs in the long run. For the employee, it offers work that fits around a busy life, and shortens the time spent on the daily commute.
  • The old way of working 12-hour days to boost productivity may soon be a thing of the past anyways. In an effort to boost results, Sweden brought in the six hour working day. People are increasingly becoming aware that simply doing longer and longer hours is not a healthy way to increase results (or happiness). It’s all about balance.
  • With the global world of business and finance never sleeping, some people are having to work unsociable hours late into the night. Though this may suit some people (and money is offered to sweeten the deal), this is one of the drawbacks of working in a globalised world. Flexibility has its downsides.
  • Another downside brought by digital is this need to be switched on 24/7 – especially people who work for themselves are in danger of being sucked into the vortex of checking emails at 3 A.M, and updating Twitter at traffic lights. With newfound digital flexibility, we have lost some of the old boundaries of work and home.

Multiple careers wrapped up into one

No longer do we have clear career trajectories that can be easily mapped and explained. (The average person these days manages to squeeze multiple careers into a lifetime).

  • People work multiple jobs at once, change careers frequently, go freelance, and take a Sabbatical if it’s offered. Sound familiar? There are more career opportunities out there for people to grab hold of – but there is also more competition. Some people thrive in a fast-paced environment, others struggle to keep up with the pace.
  • With misty-eyed nostalgia we look back to the days when people walked into a good job with a good salary, stayed, and got a pension. But was it really always like that? Old business disenfranchised many workers and didn’t ‘play fair’. It’s too easy to get caught up in the differences, and forgetthe continuity of human work, stretching back centuries. People have always had complex working lives, even if some ways of earning income remained ‘unofficial’.

Life is more unpredictable

There is less job security in the world as traditional industries struggle to remain competitive.  This leads to an increase in unpredictability, which can lead to financial instability.

  • Zero hour contracts, casual work, and part time work have raised arguments both for and against this new, increasingly casual way of working. Some people feel that British zero hour contracts offer freedom and flexibility, and casual work has been embraced across the globe as a way to having a career that’s more exciting and flexible. But casual contracts can also be financially crippling and keep people from meaningful full time work – some commentators see part time work as a factor for poverty in the US.
  • Pensions? What are those? Associations are trying to get young people engaged and thinking about savings and pensions, but with moving around, it’s harder to stay on track of who’s putting money into what pot. In the online world, money changes hands without the need for contracts (or even bank accounts), so workers and employers are less likely to follow protocol. The traditional pensions game may have to change; laws governing work have not caught up with people’s complex, global lives.

Global competition

The digital world makes frontiers and borders more porous, allowing people from around the world to enter the job market through freelancer sites.

  • Outsourcing over the web leads to tiered workforces of external freelancers and people based in head office, a relationship that must be carefully managed. (An Indian call center may now be replaced by live chat software, paving the way for experienced marketers, SEOs and developers to join the workforce instead). Open lines of communication and good collaboration must be at the heart of outsourcing.
  • The global march of digital progress has not been equally distributed across the globe. Emerging markets like Africa are causing a storm of positivity, but do all people have fair access to the latest technologies?

Rise of the online entrepreneur

Blogging, vlogging and ecommerce platforms have changed the face of working on the side, making it easier than ever for Joe Bloggs to start a successful side hustle. Some people are even jumping the corporate ship and exploring the world of full time online entrepreneurship, never looking back at the corporate world again (despite the many challenges of entrepreneurship).

  • The Avon lady has now become the beauty blogger who sells products through her sleek Shopify store, the columnist is now the successful vlogger and the food critic runs a popular foodie Instagram account. The online world has changed the ways in which people consume, create, and sell. The is an increased focus on community and user-generated content, rather than authoritative collating and editing of media.
  • Online tools and software are allowing small businesses to grow fast and manage their processes. Startups can manage their own finances and HR data in-house, without the expense of outsourcing.

Is it fulfilling us?

How do we know whether the modern, digital world is going to take us all to a better place with our careers?

  • No one can deny the amazing progress that technology brings – check out these awe-inspiring 2016 breakthroughs. But that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t still question or examine the changes it brings.
  • Most importantly, we need to make sure that the implications of technology on our careers, relationships, and personal fulfilment are examined. Are we living better lives because of technology? It’s tempting to look to some distant rosy future, but remember that those futures can easily turn dystopian…

The world of work is definitely changing. What new opportunities have you seized lately?

Patrick Foster, ecommerce entrepreneur, coach & writer.

I’m currently writing on where I share engaging ecommerce content for entrepreneurs and business owners. You can follow me on Twitter here, or add me on LinkedIn.

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