The End Of The Office And The Future Of Work; We Love To Hate The Workplace, But We’ll Miss It When It’s Gone.

The U.S. Government Accountability Office estimates that contingent workers – including temps, day laborers, independent contractors and the self-employed – account for nearly a third of the U.S. workforce. According to this article this proportion is growing, thanks to an uncertain economic climate that makes short-term contract workers more attractive to companies than long-term employees with full benefit packages. “Many companies are plugging in on the fly to a constantly shifting network of freelance labor,” notes the author, while a significant proportion of the workforce “think not in terms of having a job, but of having a portfolio collection of different jobs at any one time.”

The article explores the new institutions that have begun forming to support this situation – clubs, unions, or “something resembling a medieval guild”—that provide those benefits ranging from medical plans to places to socialize to a sense of identity that have traditionally come with a job. It also examines the new forms of freelancing that have emerged as well as new companies “where not just the secondary jobs but core functions of the business are outsourced to a diffuse online workforce.”

Readers are introduced to practices like “crowd-sourcing,” the most radical form of freelancing where jobs previously done by one employee are broken up into much smaller tasks that are assigned to a host of online workers scattered across the world. The author notes that some distributed labor market companies allow firms in fields like pharmaceuticals and engineering to post problems they want solved and how much they’ll pay for a solution and let all interested parties “go at it.”

Source: Drake Bennett, The End Of The Office And The Future Of Work, Boston Globe, January 17, 2010

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