Why side-hustles shouldn’t be on the side.
There’s no shortage of conversation around side-hustles, slashes, 20% projects , passion projects, and flexibility in work currently. But perhaps they shouldn’t be the minority or on the side-line. Perhaps they should be the 80%.
There is a growing visibility in the benefit of people who don’t do the classic 9–5, 5 days a week, but we’re still a long way of the real heart of this new state — flexible working may be the method, but the end-goal is to be multimodal.
What’s the difference? Well — one is a means to the other.
Flexibility allows you to be multimodal. It allows you to do more than one thing. It enables you to switch between states and ideas and contexts and habits. It encourages you to not just turn up every day because you’re contracted to, but arrive at the times when you’re passionate and energised.
Side-hustles and 20% projects are the early signs of a shift towards the recognition that we’re not designed to be sat in the same place every day doing the same thing.
We need peaks and troughs, and the current working day is based upon old models of factory working, not new ideas of connectivity and creativity.
Therefore the aim should be for our people to be constantly WANTING to come to work, full of excitement and energy. No, I’m going to correct myself. The aim should be for our people constantly WANTING to go do what they are great at, and fulfils them, and creates value in the world, whether that is with us or somewhere else.
Answer me this — say I cost you £100,000 a year in salary. I come in every day, and force myself to demonstrate my value so you don’t fire me, and you pay me to come in every day so I can create value for you. Some days I’m on fire, other days, meh. Would you rather pay me £100,000 for 50% of my time with you being absolutely on it, or £50,000 for 100% of my days where I’m absolutely on it? In fact, £50,000 for 120%, because on the days i’m not with you, I’m still thinking about some of the projects I’m doing with you — I’m learning things from the other places I’m at, I’m making new connections and developing new ideas, and maybe I’ll have an idea when I’m not in your office, but you can be sure I’ll still write it down and tell you about it.
Side-hustles, as explored in this great article from my our sister-agency fortysix, come about for a number of reasons — necessity, passion, opportunity, but I’m looking towards a world where the side-hustles are your main-hustles, where the mindset is less about 80:20 rules, where you desperately wait for the free-time to work on something you love, but rather 25:25:25:25, where you have four things, all of which you love, or 50:50, or 50:25:25, or whatever ratio fits.
Imagine you loved every job, rather than a main job and stuff outside which you loved. Imagine you wanted to hire someone who is way too expensive, but you’re still able to get a proportion of their time. Imagine having a wider group of people who are part of your organisation, not just your full-time employees. Imagine the level of energy and motivation going into projects where your organisation is the passion project, rather than the ‘9–5’.
There’s a great deal of talk about the erosion of loyalty, and how younger generations are staying less time in the same organisations, keen to move on, to do other things, no sense of commitment to an employer, and equally employers having little sense of investment in employees as a result. But loyalty and commitment don’t have to be in the form of 9–5, 5 days a week. I’d rather have someone in my team who works with me for five years only one day a week, than someone who joins full-time and leaves within a year — the ability to invest in that individual, and for that individual to grow and develop is huge.
One of the wanderers I met recently expressed frustration with the question ‘What do you do?’, and how generally we’ll respond by telling them our job. What we ‘do’ as people is so much more than our job, we’re parents, we’re lovers, we’re rock-climbers and paper-makers, we’re musicians and swimmers, we’re readers, quilters, runners, food-lovers. What we do is so much more than work, yet when asked, we answer ‘I’m an accountant’.
We’re so much more than that. Side-Hustles are the natural evolution of the ‘Slash’ generation — I’m a actress/waitress. I’m a writer/actor. I’m a parent/chef.
Personally, I find the slashes more interesting than the work-bit. I love to hear about the total person, the father / coffee — lover / strategist / woodworker / photographer / lego-nerd (that’s me by the way), and don’t get me started on the power of tapping into the non-work-related segments of a person, something woefully underused in most organisations.
We do, however, need new labels and terms, that don’t stigmatise or feel like concessions.
I don’t like the word hustle, it has too many negative connotations around making cashmoney, or pulling a fast-one. Part-time sounds like you’re not ‘all in’. Flexible sounds like an employer is having to work around something.
Perhaps words like: hybrid, jigsaw, multifaceted, rich, T-shaped, horizontal, complex, nuanced, interesting, or plain and simple human, might be better.
So, if you’re wanting to have a conversation with your employer or potential employer about setting yourself up for more multimodal work, where do you start?
- Be clear on what you want — it’s essential to be open to the needs of both sides, but before you have a discussion, be clear in your own mind what you are aiming for, what your minimum requirements are, and what you’re willing to concede on. Flexibility has to work from both sides, but if you go in without having some sense of the ‘ask’, its going to be incredibly hard.
- Know your value — more and more businesses are moving to more flexible and agile working practises, so its worth exploring what other businesses are offering, to understand how your organisation stacks up in comparison, and how you might be able to work in another place in a way which suits you better for the same salary.
- Demonstrate the benefits — see if you’re able to trial for a couple of months, and show how you can bring extra benefits to your day-job from the outside, or how you can still hit your targets on a different model. Many organisations offer CSR days where you can spend time working with other businesses and charities — see if that’s an option to show how you can share your skills for the greater good, and bring benefits back.
- See how flexibility within the same organisation can work — even if you’re not going to change your working hours, see if there is the ability to be multimodal within the role — working from different offices, job-sharing, spending time in the client’s space, hot-desking and remote working.
- Recognise if it isn’t working — on both sides, if the multimodal style isn’t working for you, it shouldn’t be set in stone, have regular conversations about the best bits and worst bits, with your employers, but also with other people in similar jigsaw roles, and see how you can iterate the model until something is right for you and your colleagues, and share wildly — to help others who are looking to do the same.
- Be ready to be the first — you may well be the first person to do this in your organisation. This can be a good thing or a bad thing, but if your organisation is keen to make these things work, you’ll probably have the support of leadership and be a case study for how things can be better and smarter. Make the most of that, but also be open to things going wrong. You’re moving into a space which doesn’t have pre-defined examples and models.
As I look forward to having more concrete conversations now, with people who are interested in working with me, the roles I seem to be gravitating towards are about changing the established models, breaking away from inertia, escaping the status-quo, and helping people take supported and valuable steps into their future-unknown — whether that be clients or people — you could call that innovation, or coaching, or strategy, or development or futurology, or whatever, it doesn’t really matter. But it would be amiss of me to have a conversation about a job where my purpose is to challenge the status-quo, if then the contract and structure of that job is built around the standard models of employment.
Whatever I do, wherever I do it, I want to make sure that I’m part of one or more organisations which either embrace that, or want help to encourage it.
Once we start recognising that being multimodal: having more than one ‘job’; having multiple ‘roles’ in life, some which you get paid for, some which are for love or fun; having multiple things we ‘do’, is beneficial to not only us as individuals, but also the people we ‘do’ with, employers, charities, friends, families, makes us all richer and happier (however you describe those words) and has benefits far beyond simply ‘flexibility’.
I’m Matthew Knight, and I’m exploring the future of work. This article is part of an ongoing series around these themes, and the observations I’m making whilst looking for the next step in my career, as I work out a six-month notice period as Head of Strategy and Innovation. If you think someone might benefit from this article, please CLAP or SHARE, or leave a response to share your thoughts.