One Day We'll All Be Contractors

The big disruption is neither apps nor fintech. The big disruption is how we’ll work. One day soon, we’ll all be contractors. The concept of the big corporation, where you can forge a career has been disappearing, but soon it will be consigned to history and communication technology will be the cause.

Desks are not utilised 40 hours per week. People are absent from their desk for many reasons; travel, meetings, and holidays. In the drive to increase profits many large organisations are thinking differently about staff seating arrangements. In some firms, no longer do people have dedicated desks, rather they have a laptop and a mobile which they take with them throughout the day and they sit wherever they can find a desk, usually within their “neighbourhood”; an arrangement known as “hot-desking”.

Does a mobile team need to be restricted to a neighbourhood or located in the same building? Cloud storage enables employees to work from anywhere they have WIFI access; at home or at the local café. While some would regard security as an issue with Cloud storage today, over time this issue will be resolved. The ability to conduct meetings over the internet reduces the need for groups to co-locate. From the employer’s perspective, reducing occupancy costs will improve the bottom line. While the current ratio in some companies is 70%, over time, would a ratio of 50% of desks to employees become the norm, or perhaps 25%?

A mobile workforce encourages specialisation and once you become highly specialised the concept of continuous workflow is replaced by project work, which leads to the question of downtime. As a specialist why “appear” busy when you would rather be doing something more interesting? As an employer do I want to pay my highly talented specialists to perform low value-added activities during periods of downtime?

In some fields expert individuals are employed as contractors to work on specific projects wherever they are needed. Between projects, these experts are free to do as they please. Indeed, if you possess highly specialised skills, why tie yourself down to a single employer when you can make yourself available to the highest bidder? While this work arrangement used to be common for tradespeople and those who work in highly specialised fields, it now is moving into the more traditional office roles, whereby the number of contractors on projects is increasing while the number of employees is falling. Of course, there needs to be a balance between the higher cost of using contractors versus the flexibility of using contractors, but it won’t be long before the practise of using consultants will become more common.

The essential tools of the knowledge worker have become the laptop and the smart phone. With cloud storage no longer do we need to be tethered to the office. These developments are a benefit to the knowledge worker and their employer. As we become more specialised in our skills we no longer will be employees but rather will become contractors offering our services to the highest bidder. The driver of these changes is communications technology. One day soon the concept of employment will change. One day soon we’ll all be contractors.