Workplace Flexibility: The New Normal

By Kristen Harris

We keep hearing the phrase “the new normal,” and wondered what exactly that means for the world of work and jobs. With that phrase, essentially experts are saying “don’t expect things to return to exactly how they were pre-recession, what you’re seeing now is about what your expectations should be.” Certain areas have experienced profound changes and are settling at a level where they’re likely stay for a while—often it’s used in reference to higher unemployment rates, a lower number of manufacturing and construction jobs, or lower housing prices and sales levels.

But the recession affected many facets of employment as well, creating a “new normal” for work expectations.  What is the “new normal” for work? What will work look like in the near future?

We’re seeing a few trends that seem to be here to stay:

Flexibility Workforces.

During the recession many companies reduced their workforce. Now they need to increase productivity, but are not necessarily looking to re-hire all of the positions eliminated. Flexibility is the name of the game—businesses are seeking options for keeping their workforce agile, with the ability to grow and shrink as needed. These options, including temporary employees, project-oriented freelance assignments, flexible or reduced schedules, and outsourced functions, can also be great opportunities for potential employees. If you’re seeking flexibility, there are many ways to engage with a company beyond the typical 40- (or 50- to 60-) hour salaried position. If you are looking for stability and consistency, it’s still wise to consider all of the options available. Working with a company you really care about, in a capacity that works for them, can lead to other opportunities once you’ve proven your value.

Knowledge-based jobs.

Many of the positions eliminated during recessionary downsizings were skill-based or physical roles. As our economy becomes more knowledge-based, positions that are now being added use more knowledge technologies (engineering, design and concept, computer science, mathematics, chemistry and physics, psychology and sociology). These are “thinking roles” rather than “building roles”--our economy is becoming one where we develop ideas or create new products, which are then manufactured elsewhere. Many of these knowledge roles are difficult for employers to fill, meaning there is plenty of opportunity for those who have or are willing to gain the required skills and experiences.

Higher skill requirements.

Even skill-based or physical roles that employers are looking to fill tend to have higher technology requirements than in the past. Manufacturing is a highly technical industry, and nearly every business or entity functions off of a computer-based system. To succeed in future roles, it will be nearly mandatory that employees have strong computer and communication skills. Workers will be expected to stay current with the ever-changing world of technology, and much of that expected continuous learning will not be provided by their employer.

Mobility between jobs.

No one stays anywhere anymore. Thirty years with the same company, wrapped up with retirement, a pension and a gold watch are myths of a very distant past. We’re a mobile workforce, moving between jobs when the time is right for us and our employers. The commitment is there for as long as it’s right for both sides, and when it isn’t right anymore, we go our separate ways with no hard feelings. As mobile as we all are, there’s a good chance you’ll work with the same people at a new company in the near future, or the same company with all new people.

Cities becoming activity hubs.

Because we’re such a mobile workforce, people are more willing to go where the most work or best opportunities are available. Cities have always been activity hubs, but now we’re seeing a select group of metro areas that are growing much more quickly than their counterparts. Generally these are locations with a lot of excitement and energy around new technology, educational, creativity and ideas. Interesting people like to be around other interesting people, and younger generations are much more likely to simply move to a city that represents the type of place they want to live, then find employment. Cities will continue to compete for the best talent, and some will certainly rise to the top.