More than half of the U.S. workforce will be independent by 2020, according to a forecast by consulting firm MBO Partners. That's 70 million people, compared to a reported 16 million today. Members of this expanding independent workforce include
- people with fixed-term contracts,
- freelance consultants,
- people working through temp agencies,
- on-call workers, and
- business owners with fewer than five employees.
Nor is this increasing shift simply a matter of a depressed economy. Among those currently independent, the vast majority say they intend to stay so.
The 2020 forecast makes four further predictions:
- The future workforce will reflect a "growing demand for experts and seasoned skilled workers," including people aged 55 and up, who are moving their on-the-job knowledge to independent careers.
- "Independence [will be] fueled as new social communities and collaborative technologies continue to rise."
- State and federal governments will respond with "increased regulation and tighter enforcement" of labor laws.
- "Independent workers will require a 'passport for independence'" to carry benefits such as retirement and healthcare from project to project, employer to employer.
Obviously, one of the "seasoned skills" mentioned is clear communication, especially given increased "social communities and collaborative technologies." Writing skills will be especially valuable. While increased bandwidth and interconnectedness will certainly improve videoconferencing, scheduling meetings won't be any easier (especially across time zones). Nor will need for textual documentation decrease.
As people use cloud computing and shared applications more extensively—working on project documents at whatever time best fits their schedule—they'll undoubtedly leave notes for one another, connecting in real time only for brainstorming or clarification. Naturally, the better the written communication, the less the need for clarification.
Implications for Individuals
Implications for individual workers are clear: Learn to communicate well, including in writing, and adapt to evolving technologies.
Implications for Businesses
Businesses will also need to prepare, of course. Beyond putting new technologies in place, they'll need to establish best practices for communicating with this independent workforce. Some of their own full-time employees may become independent contractors, so training invested in them will pay off in the long run.
As Ben Cashnocha points out in "When Talent Can Easily Find New Opportunity, How Do You Retain Talent?" by fostering employee skills—even knowing those employees may then move on—companies encourage an alumni spirit, create goodwill ambassadors, and expand their own business connections. Weigh the cost of training against these benefits, together with the reduced overhead of a smaller office, and the equation looks pretty simple.
This then is a glimpse at the working world of the near future. The Information Age is truly dawning. It's an era of networking and communication. Are you ready?