Uncovering the New Face of the American Workforce: Part 4 of 12

11.26.2014, Written by Annie Wang

office-space-fn_v06The world of work is changing. The new face of the American workforce and an increasing portion of the international workforce is more independent, engaged and better able to deliver results, services, and products than the traditional monolithic corporation.

To get a better understanding of this shift, Field Nation conducted a comprehensive analysis of the three areas that have combined to form the nexus of this new reality of work: the shift away from traditional employment and towards contract expertise, the disruption of work as we used to know it, and the newly engaged workforce.

Last week, we discussed “The Evolution of Communication and Collaboration Technology” as the third shift that contributed to the changing dynamic in today’s workforce. Starting around the time of the Great Recession in the late 2000s, an evolution of mobile communication and collaboration technology occurred that played a key role in allowing organizations to bring their offshore, outsourced supply chain back home.


Chapter One: The Shift

The Fourth Shift: the Great Recession

The fourth shift we identified was the Great Recession that affected a sea of change in the U.S. labor market starting in 2007. As the global and U.S. economies suffered, many organizations experienced massive layoffs or stopped hiring altogether. The great recession stood as a catalyst for the sudden desirability and availability of freelancing and contract work with more professionals turning to freelancing. In the meantime, young, highly educated Millennials were also turning to entrepreneurship, often in the form of freelancing and contract work in order to work in their field.

One researcher described the perfect storm of trends that came together to spur the freelance economy in America: the technological trends mentioned in Part 3, concerns about Obamacare, more Baby-Boomers who sought supplemental income through contract work after retirement, and more Millennials who opted for entrepreneurship. Additionally, the national dialogue on the Affordable Care Act (i.e. Obamacare) brought the terms and concepts of marketplaces back into popular discourse, which established the context that brought these terms into different (non-healthcare related) discussions. Finally, Craigslist, Ebay, Airbnb (founded in 2008), and Uber (founded in 2009) also helped consumers and businesses become accustomed to searching for and finding specialized local services.

In the technology sector, cloud computing and the concept of “elastic computing” hit major milestones in 2006 with the launch of Amazon’s Elastic Compute Cloud, and then again in 2009 with the popularity of web-based applications and platform structures. The concept of elastic computing represented an important paradigm shift in business. The concept that compute power and throughput capacity was available on-demand and was only paid for as it was consumed, as well as the reality that it could be rapidly spun up for times of peak demand and then spun-down when additional power was no longer needed, contributed to a mass mindset shift amongst IT departments and CIO officers worldwide. Technology teams no longer needed to purchase and maintain enough hardware, bandwidth, and power for peak times; rather, they could tap into and pay for that power as needed. This computing paradigm shift also laid the groundwork in IT departments that allowed for the same application of the paradigm to the service and delivery technician teams that were in or next-to these IT departments.

In addition to this shift, full-time, traditional W2 employees were also growing increasingly disengaged and dissatisfied with their jobs. Due to economic pressures, competition for top performers, irregularity in schedules (furloughs, wage freezes, greater demand for coverage of unfilled spots), and expectation-resource imbalances, businesses found themselves with a disengagement dilemma.

Many employees discovered that freelancing and contract work not only offered more satisfaction, but was also more interesting, provided varied work and greater independence and control over their own destiny. By 2009, technology had evolved far enough to facilitate the courageous employee to try his or her hand at freelance moonlighting, and perhaps unsurprisingly, many found that they liked this.

Coming Up: We highlight how the popular acceptance and personal desire to blend work and passion created a culture of passion that contributed to people doing what they loved to do.