Could We Be Looking at the Future of Work Right Now?

workTake a moment to think about the word “work”.

Part of its meaning is rooted in the activity it represents: farming, programming, carpentry, factory work and analyzing data.

Another aspect of work’s significance is the social groups it represents. Today’s work world is comprised of 55 million Millennials, 53 million Gen Xers and 44 million Baby Boomers.

Also intertwined in actions and groups is the status of employees: freelancer, contractor, part-time, full-time and per-diem.

Think of each of these different words as galactic bodies weaving, orbiting and rocketing their way along as time passes quicker than you can imagine.

At some point, all these forces could collide.

As we thought about the concept of work, a Forbes series on the future of work sent our thinking into warp speed. It was a fascinating exploration of the workplace and the forces which constantly twist, shape and torque it.

Freelancers: The New Workforce

If you want one statistic that defines how much freelancers mean to America’s companies, it’s this: The use of freelancers has jumped by 70% in the past 20 years from 9.3% to 15.8%, Entrepreneur reported.

Websites like Gigster and Upwork have made it as easy as ever for companies to find and hire freelance help, with the majority of jobs given to developers, designers and copywriters.

Gigster is a great example of how popular freelancing sites have become. Founder Roger Dickey started the site in 2013. By 2014, it had $1 million in revenue and just one year later the company brought in $10 million. IBM and MasterCard have used the site to find top-notch developers.

Exactly why freelancing is booming is something Fast Company discussed in 2015. Reporter Brendon Schrader said part of the explanation is the rise of sites like Gigster.

“There are now more ways to work remotely than ever before, from devices, apps, and other personal technology that lets us communicate with one another from virtually everywhere,” Schrader wrote. “But there’s another kind of technology that plays an arguably bigger role—platforms designed to match companies with talent.”

Schrader rightly points out that freelancing can be a lonely profession – most workers are at home and don’t interact with their coworkers beyond an occasional phone call, Slack or Skype. And that leads us to the next sign of a new work world: co-working.

Co-work Spaces: Home to the Future of Freelancers

Nobody likes being the outcast; humans, for the most part, like interaction with real people.

While the freelancing industry is absolutely booming, there are thousands of independent developers, designers and writers who are craving more than independence; they want community.

As a result, an entire network (and economy) of co-working spaces, office space where freelancers who have no affiliation with each can work side-by-side.

Forbes is predicting that coworking spaces will soon experience huge growth. In their March 2016 article titled, “Coworking Spaces Poised to Enter New Growth Phase”, contributor Falguni Desai wrote, “Operators have emerged alongside the startup boom. While everyone has been reading and talking about fintech, virtual reality and drones, this fast growing, new sub-sector of the real estate market has become one of the largest startup segments, hiding in plain sight.”

These community properties tend to emphasize open spaces, bright colors and community kitchens. They are, no doubt, following the design tendencies of startups who are shunning traditional office designs and opting for floor plans as innovative and creative as the products and services they’re selling.

The Employee-Focused Office: Design Caters to Workers

Along with the emergence of freelancers and their community workspaces is the explosion of office designs which focus on the holistic needs of employees. Instead of cavernous corner offices and dark lighting that says, “We are powerful and successful,” companies are opting for spaces which say, “We are concerned with our people.”

Forbes listed several companies whose office spaces are leaders in this new era. Wired was one of those examples.

The company’s library “caters to the introverted or those looking for alone time,” Forbes wrote.

Randy Howder, principal at design firm Gensler, said the spaces they design often reflect and reinforce the product which their client creates.

For example, his company features quiet alcoves where employees can meet for conversations or conduct phone calls. These types of spaces allow for on-the-fly dialogue, something that Howder said “fits better with the agile methodology most companies use to develop software.”

But Gensler doesn’t just design spaces for software developers, and although their clients change, their methodology doesn’t: Design and furniture express the company, not the other way around.

At Etsy, Forbes points out, nearly all the furniture purchased for their office was sourced from artisans, a direct reflection of Etsy’s handmade online marketplace.

The Future of Work Looks Pretty Amazingfuture

The work world is truly transforming before our eyes. The freelance and coworking markets are just beginning to emerge as powerful forces. Office designs are borne of the unique personalities of employees and the companies for which they work.

Will freelancers one day outnumber office workers? Will companies diversify their main offices into multiple coworking spaces designated by department or seniority? Is the freelance market just a trend?

We’re interested to see how this all develops over the next decade. Aren’t you? Let us know your thoughts in the comments section below.

On the Big Screen: Three of the Best Movies About Office Life and the Workplace

movie“Nothing that happens in my office is interesting,” said no employee ever.

Whether you’re pounding away at a tiny cubicle in a massive insurance office or you’re rubbing shoulders with the founder at an open workspace, you’ve got stories. Some of them are hilarious, some of them are frustrating.

And with such a rich amount of source material at hand for storytellers, it’s no wonder that dozens of sitcoms and movies have been made about the workplace.

While there are plenty of options for office-related shows on Netflix, HBO and regular cable channels, the selection thins out a bit when you move to the realm of cinema.

That doesn’t mean there’s a shortage, though. Quite the opposite; work-related movies are like that battle axe of a coffee pot steaming with another cycle of acrid brew…there’s plenty to go around.

“Up in the Air” (2011, George Clooney and Anna Kendrick)

This pick is a bit of a surprise because the movie focuses on a guy who rarely spends any time in an office. However, Clooney’s winsome performance reminds us that, at the end of the day, every person who suits up to go into the workplace is a human being. As hard as we try to put on a certain persona, there are cracks in our carefully hammered armor.

Clooney’s character Ryan Bingham also gives us insight into the shadowy world of “letting people go.” His job is simple: travel around the country and fire people. He provides them with a few platitudes and a debrief folder that explains the next phase in their life.

For employees, we all know how terrible it feels (or would feel) to get that fateful summon to the firing room. For employers, Bingham’s role reminds us how gut-wrenching it can be to tell people they’re fired.

The movie also includes Anna Kendrick’s character Natalie Keener, the typical young employee with bright eyes and big dreams. Some of us will observe her character and think about how we were like that at one time, or her youthful exuberance may annoy us.

And while the themes of this movie are more on the emotional and interpersonal side of work, there’s also the fun side. Bingham is trying to collect 10 million miles on his credit card, an honor rarer than walking on the moon, he says:


  1. Office Space (1999; Ron Livingston, Jennifer Anniston)

Considered the absolute king of workplace movies, Office Space was the precursor to the emergence of office sitcoms from the mid-2000s on.

One of the main reasons the movie led to a movement is that it covers all the day-to-day aspects of work life through the eyes of a dissatisfied employee (Peter). You’ve got the odd but enduring relationships between quirky coworkers (Milton), the annoying boss (Bill Lumbergh) and that persisting daydream that one day you’ll leave your cubicle for greener employment pastures.

Here’s how a Washington Post review of the movie described Lumbergh, the prototypical boss we’ve all grown to despise:

“Running the program is Peter’s smarmy boss, Bill Lumbergh, dressed in the slicko duds of the office park manager: the expensive shirt, the suspenders matched perfectly with his tie, the eternal coffee cup in hand and the unctuous patter that starts with a “yeeeeeaaaaah” at the beginning of every sentence. You gotta love this world.”

  1. Pursuit of Happyness (2006, Will Smith)

There are many worthy movies out there that could’ve easily made this list. The 80’s classic Working Girl is hailed as a work of workplace art, as is The Hudsucker Proxy and the winsome In Good Company.

However, Pursuit of Happyness is, like Up in the Air, an exploration of the “what-goes-on-outside-the-office” life that tends to cause a tear or two to fall from just about anyone’s eyes.

The movie is loosely based on the life of Chris Gardner, a salesman who gets trapped in a bad investment. One day he runs into a finance pro who drives a nice car and Gardner vows to get a job that affords him the same level of luxury.

However, the only open position he can find is an unpaid internship at brokerage firm Dean Witter. There are two huge problems with this (besides the lack of a paycheck): He has a son and they have no place to live.

Happyness isn’t a satire of office life, but a narrative on what it’s like to believe in yourself enough to overcome poverty and earn the kind of money you deserve.

Gardner, of course, overcomes the odds and wins a position at the firm, beating out much younger opponents in the internship with him. Here’s the scene where he learns he’s been chosen from his internship group for a full-time position as a broker:

While the movie certainly has its points of sappiness, it is an excellent narrative on determination and self-belief, no doubt bolstering more than a few souls during the Great Recession that came just a couple of years after its release.