All in a day’s work - Issue 126 - Magazine | Monocle

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Why freelancing can be career plan A 

Those who go it alone are often seen as playing second fiddle to peers in salaried full-time positions but that doesn’t have to be the case – so march to your own beat.
By Anna Codrea-Rado

When I lost my job I realised I’d been thinking about my career backwards: I had been focusing on what work I wanted to do not how I wanted to work. Mine is the generation that entered the workforce in the long shadow of the global financial crisis. The objective was straightforward: to secure employment. Any job would do. The unspoken understanding was that self-employment was too risky in such uncertain times, the less-desirable plan B. There were no booths promoting freelancing at any of the career fairs I attended.  

Yet here I am, an accidental freelancer. And my only regret is not seeing freelancing as the career plan A it can be. It took losing my job for me to realise that getting a salaried position still has no guarantees.  

There’s a paradox to freelancing: unpredictable work can be more secure than a full-time job. As a freelancer you’re more agile, able to see the threats coming down the road and divert course. As a journalist, I can see that this is true in my own industry: in 2019 alone there have been more than 3,000 job cuts in the media and yet, for the first time in my decade-long career, I don’t feel at risk.  

I’m not the only person who’s going it alone. According to the most recent figures from the Office of National Statistics, the number of self-employed workers in the UK is at an all-time high, having increased from 3.3 million in 2001 to 4.8 million in 2017. More than 15 per cent of the country’s workforce has gone solo, with economists predicting that even more will follow suit.  

Of course, those freelancers need support to make self-employment a viable long-term career option, to make enough money to not only pay their bills but feel relaxed enough to enjoy the flexibility of the freelancing lifestyle. There’s no getting around the fact that you do need some basic business knowledge but the digital economy has opened that up for more people.  

When I set up FJ&Co, a platform for freelancers, it was to help people who’ve chosen to strike out on their own to learn the practical skills they need that don’t get taught elsewhere. I wanted to make up for the lack of freelancing career booths. Freelancing isn’t for everyone but neither is a staff job. The focus should be on guiding workers, particularly those at the beginning of their careers, to forge a path that works for them.  

About the writer: Codrea-Rado is a freelance journalist who covers culture and technology for publications including The New York Times and Wired. She is also the founder of FJ&Co, a platform that helps freelance journalists make a sustainable self-employed living.


Busy being tiresome: the contradictions of a co-working space

The chatter of entrepreneurs, clatter of coffee machines and pitter-patter of freelancers’ feet – shared offices give you little chance of racing through the to-do list
By Rob Crossan

It’s 11.00 and from my rough-hewn bench seat at a long salvaged-wood table at a co-working space in London, I look at my laptop and do a double-take. I should be working but instead I’ve typed, “Shut up, shut up, shut up, just stop.” My internal monologue has leaked onto my document. Why? Because Philip and Mark haven’t paused for breath in the past 50 minutes.

I’m an accidental eavesdropper to this duo’s “rival to Airbnb” scheme for the Baltics, which is being hatched about a metre from my ears. I’d move seats but this co-working space has been full since 08.30; full of the noise of chairs being scraped and the sound of overpriced coffee being slurped, and awash with the sonic nausea always concomitant around people who can’t bear not to be heard.

The proliferation of such spaces is gathering speed. Between 2014 and 2018 the number of co-working sites expanded by 205 per cent worldwide; there are now at least 35,000 flexible workspaces across the globe. But not everybody is a fan. “It’s the lack of shared impetus that bothers me the most,” says Ed Gillespie, co-founder of the London-based communications agency Futerra, who recently went freelance and briefly tried using a co-working space. “In an office, when there’s a big project on there’s a propulsion that drives everyone. But in co-working spaces everyone has their own agenda. It fuels a kind of cognitive dissonance, which doesn’t do much for my ability to work.”

As a result of all this, I’m heading to the exit after two hours and three spiced lattes, with a pounding headache and a desire to never again hear anything from Philip about the “potential ramp-up” of self-catering apartments in Vilnius.

A conventional office is likely to be quieter than a co-working space but also, as I now realise, more selective about who it lets in. The egalitarianism of co-working spaces is their downfall. Cough up the members fee and your reward is the privilege of sitting next to a collective of delusional potentates of the never-to-be-realised future and catatonic Guardian readers who can’t understand why nobody wants to publish their novel based on the half chapter they’ve written in four years.

In fact the most productive part of my short tenure in a co-working space was leaving the venue and heading into the food market nearby to buy sausages. In the queue I was finally able to reply to some emails on my phone undistracted.

When you feel more motivated and attuned to working in a butcher’s than a co-working space, perhaps it’s time for these new offices to try a little harder.

About the writer: Crossan is a journalist and broadcaster who writes about lifestyle, travel and disability for titles including The Daily Telegraph and Esquire. He regularly appears on BBC Radio 4’s From Our Own Correspondent and the BBC World Service.


How to attract the talent that your business needs

Is the person with the skills your firm needs already an employee? Can your staff gain those skills? Is outside recruitment the only option? Here’s how to work it out.
By Cynthia Hansen

Talented, talentless, a rising talent. As the lines between industries and sectors blur, talent becomes fluid. A top coder will be pursued by both banks and technology firms. An engineer might be snapped up by a logistics firm. Where do you find them? From whom do you lure them away?

As companies go global they struggle to navigate the complexities of finding and attracting talent. Moving off your home turf into new markets means facing unfamiliar market conditions, new labour and tax regulations, different cultural norms and language barriers. Do you retreat to what you know by bringing your own staff and imposing your own methods (and possibly bias)? Or do you leave yourself at the mercy of the market? The answer is neither and both.

Tomorrow’s competitive company won’t be staffed with drag-and-drop talent. Instead it requires a dynamic mix that allows flexibility and quick scaling, builds bench depth, provides career paths and enriches communities. This is the Adecco Group’s Triple B talent framework: Bring, Buy and Build. Think of Triple B as a litmus test, a set of questions that help you determine the right mix whether you are a company, government or organisation. First, be clear what you are trying to achieve. Then define the kind of operations required and the timeframe. To ensure a strategic choice and not a knee-jerk response, try this simple approach.

If the skills are too specialised to exist in the local market and there isn’t a critical mass of possible trainees, consider bringing your own staff. Do you have a short timeline? Are labour costs prohibitive? Is there a lack of training capacity? Bring creates limited value for the local labour market, however.

The skills you need might already exist – but if they do you could face fierce competition. Why would candidates choose you over a competitor? Buy might offer more stability but comes with broader obligations.

If local candidates do not have what you need but are trainable or reskillable, you might consider Build. How quickly can they be skilled up? Do they have the propensity to learn the skills you need? Will they be valuable to you in the future? Build is a long-term investment and might require interim solutions. It adds the most enrichment to the labour pool.
So now you have your mix and the market shifts. With a dynamic workforce you can attract, develop and retain the talent you need.

About the writer: Hansen heads the Adecco Group Foundation, the social impact arm of the Adecco Group, the world’s leading HR-solutions firm. The foundation is dedicated to driving innovation in the future of work.


What workers want – and how to give it to them

Offices with slides and bean bags might look good on paper but it’s flexibility and technology that will keep your staff happy – and help them to be more productive.
By Jeremy Bates

In an age where we spend more waking hours than ever at work – 40.3 hours a week on average – the battle for savvy landlords to create the ideal office space has never been so fervent. Savills’ latest What Workers Want report, which surveys 11,000 office employees from 11 European countries, concludes that discerning people have a long checklist to tick off when deciding on where they work. From suitable commute times – two thirds would not be willing to add more than 15 minutes to their commute for their ideal workplace – to a quiet, comfortable office, there are many things to consider.

So what does 2019’s ideal office look like and how might it change over the next few years? The type that captured the zeitgeist in the 1990s – open-plan with nicely spaced-out desks and no amenities, bar a coffee machine in the kitchen – has been replaced with the new age of co-working and hotdesking to satisfy our reusable-cup-loving younger generation. Led by giants such as WeWork, Regus and The Office Group, the serviced-office sector has seen exponential growth in demand over the past decade.

The trend for flexibility, however, has already started to wane in some countries – 50 per cent of workers in the UK and 38 per cent of Swedes believe that hotdesking decreases productivity. But there is still appetite across Europe for a more flexible working approach; nearly a third of respondents were in favour of the idea.

Keeping up with the demand for increased flexibility is no easy feat. Just over half of those we surveyed still value a city-centre location when it comes to their office. But for those frequently working remotely, technology is the vital ingredient to aid the transition between home, the coffee shop down the road and their company’s headquarters.

As a result, we concluded that quality technology infrastructure is important, whether that’s a building’s connectivity, the ability to implement fast wi-fi or even the provision of workplace smartphone apps.

We found that some 40 per cent of employees across Europe expected to leave their job in the next five years. That kind of churn means that there has never been a more important time for companies rethinking their workplaces to get this right.

About the writer: Bates is executive director of Savills UK and head of occupational markets in Europe, the Middle East and Africa. He has worked at the real-estate agent since 1988 and regularly speaks at industry events on trends in office workspaces, design and development.


Classifying the commute: which tribe do you belong to?

Do you read on your way to work? Perhaps you lose yourself in a podcast. Or maybe you just doze off? Fine. Just don’t forget that everyone else can see you.
By Robert Bound

Any well-meaning treatise exploring “the way to work” must look at the mechanics: the actual way to work. The boarding of the train and the starting of the ignition; the swinging of the pinstriped leg over the bike frame. How you get there matters, as do the people. The other bloody people. Here is a spotter’s guide to your fellow commuter.

The Headphones Guy
With more screens than Cape Canaveral and larger headphones than The Beatles at Abbey Road, this character embodies the age of media saturation. Switching between Netflix and the news, five podcasts (the gamut from “mindfulness” to comedy, natch) and the social slurry of a Facebook feed, here is a man for whom a newspaper just isn’t enough.

He is a stickler for comfort and is therefore “suited” only nominally: the jacket and tie await, hung on the back of the office chair, the smart black shoes beneath, while he slouches in trainers. There is another law at work here too: the smaller (and balder) the head, the larger the headphones. Squint a little and there’s a potato clamped between barbecue tongs, a peanut in a bulldog clip.

The Cadence Queen
Dressed from head to toe, helmet to cleat in a tight black bikesuit, like a manic sea lion, this girl has pedalled headlong into the urban-warrior-cum-renegade dressing-up box. The vibe: none-more-black with luminous stripes. It’s Darth Vader’s teenage bedroom with flashing lights; ruthless and humourless. Her helmet camera records every paranoid sortie with the trucks and taxis of the city. At traffic lights our Lycra-clad Guevara regards other cyclists – those wearing actual clothes or on normal bikes – with barely a glimmer of human recognition; anyone with an engine receives no such indulgence. Her personal best was once compromised by listening to birdsong. Birds? They’re just reptiles with feathers! Now she rides the non-scenic route.

The Skater
Culture wars between second-home-owning, gas-guzzling baby boomers and clothes-renting, cruelty-free millennials have largely left the be-mortgaged, boozily fretful denizens of Generation X to their own devices. That means, dudes, you can still skateboard to work and no-one’ll, like, judge. We could totally reclaim “skateboard” as a verb, man! There’s the odd actual kid who’s got the board and the skills to go with the baggy No Fear T-shirt but mostly it’s the big kids; 50 years young and on a board – woah! You won’t see these guys doing “darkslides” and “rocket airs” on the way to the station. But one thing’s for sure: they are not conforming. That said, that board and those Vans sure help them get to the marketing firm on time.

The Librarian
Newton’s Third Law is apparent even on the 07.32 from Scarsdale to Penn Station. For every Headphones Guy there is a Librarian. She is a lady of fearsome poise, intense outward-facing intellectual rigour and a very literary sort of snobbery. Books are things and she is not interested in things, she is interested in novels: Thackeray possibly, Melville maybe, Brontë certainly. In the carriage there are too many people in too small a space. When the Librarian deigns to peer over her pages she sees the terrible pall of humanity in all its forms. And also Russians: Kareninas, Rostovs, the Brothers Karamazov.

The Snorer
There’s always one. The dishevelled, zonked-out guy who looks like he’s on the 23.30 Pisshead Express stopping at all stations to the kebab van when in reality it’s 07.39 and he’s going to work. The crumpled suit, the untied tie, the sprawl across three seats. He might as well start mumbling with his thumb in his mouth. Oh, he is. The snoring, though, is his specialist subject. Loud, rough, troubled, it sounds like a drain gargling with bricks, like a cattle truck sinking in a lake, like the monster in Mulholland Drive. Drive? Perhaps I will next time.

About the writer: Bound is monocle’s senior editor. He likes to think of himself as a funky version of The Librarian. His fellow passengers probably think he’s The Snorer.

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