Harvard Business Review published an interesting article by Professor Diane Mulcahey last week called, “Will the Gig Economy Make the Office Obsolete?” https://hbr.org/2017/03/will-the-gig-economy-make-the-office-obsolete . The point Mulcahey makes is that when companies use independent workers for key projects, these gig workers are being judged by their results; their presence or absence in a certain physical location is not germane to their performance.
What is interesting to note is the historical pattern of work locations. Prior to the industrial revolution, work of most types tended to be done at home. Fishermen and soldiers are key exceptions here. The work was not separate from life, but rather an embedded part of it. As Alice Kessler Harris, a History Professor at Columbia put it, ” the workplace was an extension of the household.” http://gender.stanford.edu/news/2014/historical-view-american-workplace Professions which did have offices, i.e. doctors, were typically co-located at home. Although certain work was gender related, women tended the farm just as much as men helped with the weaving. It was all just a part of life.
But life changed with the advent of industrialization, because the location of work shifted, with many roles requiring an onsite presences, whether at a factory, a warehouse or an office. Along with that shift, came set hours and shifts which delineated work time. These separate workplaces were often in conflict with household schedules and further accelerated the segregation of work from home life. As more women entered the work force the conflicting demands of work and household became all more acute.
However fast forward to the end of the 20th century. As the knowledge economy grew in importance, supported by technological enhancements, the time and place where work could be done became less important. With increased connectivity and advances in software and security, remote work has become commonplace. Coupling that with hard working employees who want more work life balance, many companies have made moves to reduce their physical office footprint. Indeed, software company, Citrix, has predicted that by 2020, 70% of people would work away from the office as much as they worked at their office.
Add to this the increasing adoption as a strategic business practice of using independent consultants, high-end gig economy workers, for projects throughout the organization and the question of worker location becomes even more pertinent. Most of these gig economy workers rate flexibility and control over their lives as key reasons for pursuing the independent career path. In researching my upcoming book, Thriving in the Gig Economy, I read half a dozen different studies about the reasons independent consultants choose this path and flexibility is chief among them all. Whether they work at a client office, a co-working space or a home office, these professionals want be in charge, They want the balance in life that comes from control. They want their work to be an extension of their household just like it was 200 years ago. As the saying goes, what comes around, goes around.