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.

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