If you look up flexible working online, you’re inundated with articles about the gig economy, digital nomads and freelance communities. It’s overwhelming, and by the time you’ve done a quick Google search, you feel like you need to pack your bags and retire to a digital commune in Bali living a penniless, but fulfilled existence, or stay in your full-time job, unhappy and miserable for the rest of your days. There doesn’t seem to be a middle ground. You’re either berated for being an ungrateful millennial or being told you lack a work ethic and hard skills. It’s confusing, noisy and overwhelming. You started this trying to figure out a flexible way to manage life and work but suddenly, there’s no clear path and before you know it, you’ve given up the job search (because what’s the point anyway) as you settle down to binge watch Friends because Netflix dropping all ten seasons is the best thing to happen to you all month and feels a lot like the good old days when life was just easier.
But we don’t think it has to be that way, in fact, everything we know tells us it doesn’t. Which is not to say you should stop watching Friends, because you’re right, it is the best thing to happen to us all recently, but spiraling into a pit of depression at the state of your work life isn’t the answer. The missing ingredient here is that young graduates entering the workforce today don’t have to choose. To pigeonhole themselves into one role, or take on the uncomfortable nomad mantle. It doesn’t have to be one or the other, but rather, a blend of everything that gives you a broad range of skills, keeps you motivated and all while earning money.
The truth of the matter is, every option being peddled for the latest generation has pros and cons. The workforce also needs every type of worker, and it always will, so an entire freelance population by 2020 is just not going to happen, nor is it realistic. Or necessarily the right solution for the economy. The solution here lies in the opportunity to flex up and down, work across and develop different skills. Think of it as a career pic & mix. For example, the way we need to measure success is around outputs rather than time spent aimlessly at your desk. Did you get the project finished, what did you achieve and what have you produced? It allows you to utilize your skills and become more efficient with your time.
Flexible working gives you the opportunity to work for multiple employers in the same role and potentially move up the career ladder quicker. You’re not stagnant in one role gathering dust, but constantly searching for new solutions and challenges.
Remote working gives you the opportunity to stretch your experience over borders and state lines. What if you worked as a project manager on a six months contract across three separate organisations and countries. The knowledge you would gain in a year and a half amounts to what some manage in a decade at one business. Your perspective of the business world shifts to encompass more than one environment can ever give you. That kind of exposure is gold dust to those hungry ambitious types looking to learn and earn their way up the ladder.
At the same time, some roles don’t lend themselves to quick jumps and freelancer stints, and nor do some people. The idea of working remotely, displaced from the comfort of routine and having to hustle constantly for your next bit of work can send some into an anxiety spiral that not even the gang at Central Perk can lift you out of. But that’s okay, because the workforce doesn’t need to be full of digital backpackers and nor can it stay in its current state. It won’t survive the way it is and should wandering hearts and ambitious minds want to travel and jump and run and fly free across the globe, we need to build a workforce that can accommodate that, and actually, one that can thrive because of it.