Talent [R]evolution

How to make the ‘flexeteriat’ work for you

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Every year, various pundits and experts will publish an article or two arguing the wheres and why-fors of their predicted shake ups for the year. Generally, these pieces will contain their projections for year-defining buzzwords, which may or may not set the tone for the coming months. In this year’s offering of 2024 forecasts, one term sticks out: flexeteriat.  

Fortune magazine has predicted that ‘flexeteriat’ will define 2024. Coined by Julia Hobsbawm, author and Bloomberg Workshift columnist, the flexeteriat is an emerging subgroup of workers that prioritise “flexible working” above all else. But who are the flexeteriat? And how does their way of working differ from those that have gone before? The flexeteriat are, for all intents and purposes, gig workers. However, they eschew the low-paid, insecure nature of what was generally recognised as gigging – food delivery couriers, rideshare drivers, etc. Instead, the flexeteriat is a high-paid, high-powered and highly skilled breed of gig worker.

However, as last year saw many major companies roll out return-to-the-office mandates, it could be argued that dubbing 2024 “the year of the flexeteriat” is slightly optimistic. One notable example was Google, which now compels employees to attend the office at least three days a week. Despite this, I would argue that Hobsbawm is right on the money. This is because a storm was brewing long before the pandemic, which since has crystalised the power of the highly mobile independent worker.  

Who are the flexeteriat? 

Before continuing, it’s important to clearly distinguish between the flexeteriat and the average remote worker. We’ve already made the distinction between the flexeteriat and gig workers; whereas the average gig worker remains at the mercy of supply, demand and customers’ tipping habits, the flexeteriat calls the shots. 

“Remote work” is a term that captures many working arrangements but primarily refers to workers in traditional contracts working outside of the office. In recent years, such arrangements are increasingly the norm; according to data from Gallup, just 20% of employees spend their entire week working on-site, down from 60% in 2019. Indeed, Gallup’s data indicates that trends in work locations have remained steady since mid-2022.

While return-to-the-office mandates grabbed the headlines, these calls were met with resistance. Many employers met workers in the middle with hybrid work packages. Indeed, Gallup’s data indicates that trends in work locations have remained steady since mid-2022. But for the flexeteriat, this offer hasn’t been good enough. 

This is why the flexeteriat is a cut above the average teleworker. Instead of being tied to one employer, they take on multiple projects to maximise freedom. They work when they want, where they want, on what they want. 

They’ve been around longer than you think 

Although the term was first used in Scoop Technologies’ Scoop Flex Report 2024, the flexeteriat existed long before the buzzword came into being. The pandemic – which, as we all know too well, set the tone for the future of work – demonstrated to knowledge workers that they needn’t be tethered to their desks. 

However, the evolution of the flexeteriat began long before. As Hobsbawm herself noted, the gig economy has been on the up for some time. According to the Upwork Research Institute, an average of 1 million people in the United States go freelance per year, since their records began in 2014. Hobsbawm highlights that the condition is reflected in the developing world, where data from the World Bank shows that demand for gig work ballooned 100% from 2016 to 2020.

This was likely due to continuing economic hardship and younger generations’ subsequent wariness of the corporate world. Today, 52% of all Generation Z and 44% of millennials are freelance. Equally, Nomadlist estimates that the majority of digital nomads are in their mid-thirties.

With this in mind, we are now reflecting on a decade-long rise of the flexeteriat. Pandemic or not, the flexeteriat movement has gained significant traction and is here to stay. So how will companies respond to this new, empowered breed of worker?

Indeed, forward-thinking companies are embracing this demand and switching their offering from hybrid work to “flexible work”.

What does a flexible working style mean?

So, what is this offering exactly? Flexible work typically refers to arrangements where employees have greater autonomy over when and where they work. This could include telecommuting, flexible hours, or compressed workweeks. In contrast, hybrid work involves a combination of remote and in-person work, where employees split their time between working from home and in a physical office or other designated workspace. 

Hybrid work arrangements often allow employees to choose when to work remotely and when to work onsite. While flexible and hybrid work arrangements offer some degree of flexibility, the key distinction lies in the balance between remote and in-person work components. In a flexible working arrangement, employees can work 100% off-site, should they wish.

Despite the ultimatums set by Google et al, it seems that they’re not representative of every organisation or industry. According to Rod Sadow, Scoop CEO, top firms are responding to the demand for greater flexibility. Now, 62% of US companies offer location flexibility as part of their employment packages – up 51% from the beginning of last year. 

One notable case is Dropbox, a tech company known for its cloud storage and collaboration services. Dropbox transitioned to a permanent remote work model in October 2020, allowing employees to work from home indefinitely. This move represented a significant shift towards flexible work arrangements. Under Dropbox’s remote work policy, employees can choose where they work, whether from home, a co-working space, or any other location they prefer.

flexi work
Many forward-thinking companies are embracing the flexeteriat demand and switching their offering from hybrid work to “flexible work”.

How do you manage flexible workers?

For management, with these forward-thinking arrangements come questions. In a true flexeteriat style, some workers may exploit flexible working arrangements to work on multiple projects or side hustles. This status of perpetual over-employment puts the cards in the hands of the worker, throwing their loyalty into question. How, therefore, can managers and HR departments ensure they’re getting the best of the flexeteriat?

According to experts, the answer lies not in worrying about the employee but in engaging in a bit of self-reflection. After all, there is extensive research to prove that the more trust and autonomy employees have, the better they perform. This is because employees with better work-life balance are generally more satisfied with their jobs. According to a study by the Corporate Executive Board, employees who feel they have a good work-life balance work 21% harder than those who don’t. 

Research from Gallup echoes these findings, suggesting that employees who feel they have a good work-life balance are more engaged at work, which, in turn, makes them more productive. Their numbers suggest that engaged employees are 18% more productive than their less engaged counterparts.

Certainly, there are questions about how to get fully remote teams to collaborate at a high level. If a business is considering switching to a fully flexible working arrangement, the question, “How does flexible working affect employee relations?” will be on everyone’s lips. Indeed, flexible working arrangements can sometimes create challenges in team dynamics, particularly if team members have different schedules or work remotely. 

However, further investigation from Gallup indicates that the major factor that impacts employee performance isn’t their location, but how they’re managed. According to a further study published this year, they found that “how employees are managed has about four times as much influence on employee engagement and well-being as their work location”.

As such, the key to getting the most out of the flexeteriat is equipping managers with the confidence to trust their teams and the tools to nurture the bonds in their team, no matter where they’re based. Peter Aykens, Chief of Research at Gartner HR practice, told Unleash HR news: “Managers who can effectively navigate and manage interpersonal conflict among employees will have an outsize positive impact on their organisations; the question is how many really feel trained and prepared to do so.”

Those at the forefront are embracing the shift

The flexeteriat movement signals a broader shift towards autonomy and flexibility in the workplace. Flexible work offers employees greater control over their schedules and locations, contrasting with traditional remote or hybrid setups. Managing flexible workers presents challenges, but research indicates that trust and autonomy are key drivers of productivity and engagement.

As organisations navigate this evolving landscape, empowering managers to support and engage flexible teams will be crucial. Research emphasises that effective management has a significant impact on employee engagement and productivity, regardless of work location. Equipping managers with the tools and training to navigate interpersonal dynamics will be essential in harnessing the potential of the flexeteriat movement.

Despite the overarching narrative that the pandemic signalled the dawn of a flexible work culture, the trend far predates this seismic shift. In fact, we have seen the evolution of flexible work arrangements gaining traction over the past decade or more. Those at the vanguard are fully embracing the paradigm shift. Last year, it was reported that 32% of companies were turning to freelancers over full-time hires. Why? Because freelancers guaranteed quality while cutting costs. For companies trying to balance the books post-pandemic, it’s a no-brainer. 

The age of flexeteriat has arrived. For the last ten years, the most promising talent has turned away from the nine-to-five, and now, they’re snubbing hybrid work too. What they seek is full autonomy and for companies, agility should be the response. Plus, with recruitment partners like Outvise – who’ve been flying the flag for the flexeteriat from the outset – it’s easier than ever to access quality-controlled freelancers from all over the world. The time to embrace the flexeteriat is now.

Alex Collart, CFO & Co-founder at Outvise. Serial entrepreneur and management consultant, with a focus on strategy and marketing. Has co-founded and exited several companies. Former McKinsey&Co associate. Industrial Engineer + MBA (IESE/Kellogg).

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