Overall, we estimate that the independent workforce is larger than previously recognized: some 20 to 30 percent of the working-age population in the United States and the EU-15 countries are engaged in some form of independent earning today. More than half of them use independent work to supplement their income rather than earning their primary living from it. The majority of independent workers, both supplemental and primary earners, pursue this path out of preference rather than necessity—and they report being highly satisfied with their work lives.
This from the executive summary of a just issued survey by McKinsey Global Research illustrates the erosion of the traditional concept of employment, anchored by what author Dave Rolston described in his 2013 eBook Four Dead Kings at Work as the crumbling pillars of the traditional notion of working for a living: holding one job, located at one place, being there at the same time every day and reporting to a single manager.
As I wrote in my own eBook Last Rush Hour: The Decentralization of Knowledge Work in the Twenty-First Century, a driving factor is the decentralization of knowledge work due to the proliferation and maturation of information and communications technology. Before, knowledge workers had to work in a single location – a commute-in office – because that’s where the tools they needed to do their work – typewriters, telephones, photocopiers, in-house central computer systems – were. Even though obsoleted, this outdated model remains in place and continues to define employment. If you don’t commute to an office to work 8-5, Monday through Friday, you’re not in the traditional employment arrangement. Or “trapped in a cubicle” as the McKinsey Global Research report put it in the introduction.
We’re currently in a transition between this Industrial Age model of knowledge work that pays for time worked to one based on work projects and milestones completed. Time worked is fundamental to the legal definition of employment in the United States that keeps the Industrial Age model largely in place. It’s one of Rolston’s dying kings: one timeframe (8 hours a day, 40 hours a week) along with working in set office location for a single manager. But it won’t go away quickly as the tension between the old and the emerging models plays out.