The individual’s responsibility for continuous learning. Keep Up. #KeepLearning.

“People make decisions today based on their understanding of what the future holds. If we change their visions of the future, we change the way they make decisions today.”
— Thomas Frey, The DaVinci Institute

Understanding what the Future of Work holds in store is the premise behind a series of events being run by the organisers of OMN London, a community for digital professionals based in London, over the next few months. Attendees will be hearing from experts and visionaries and exploring their expectations around how technology and cultural changes are affecting the basic model for how we provide for ourselves financially and live our lives.

Why is it important to understand The Future of Work?

A personal context:

In 2002, just 13 or so years ago, when I moved to London from Glasgow as a fresh-faced-ish arts graduate, life as an employee was very different from what it is today.

Getting up early on Wednesdays to get a copy of Loot and apply for the few decent jobs and flats was par for the course in 2002

I had to use an offline newspaper to find a flat and a job. My CV was photocopied rather than printed. It was a happy day when I got my first job in advertising, but I didn't have, or expect, a computer. The fax machine was how businesses communicated in writing. I could smoke at my desk. The work week was 9–6, Mon-Fri, an immutable fact carved in stone. And there was absolutely no concept of “working from home”, which would have sounded totally paradoxical. Personal and Professional lives were completely separate… Even taking a personal call during the day was a rushed, whispered affair, clearly frowned upon by management.

How things have changed!

These days I work to a model that more and more people are adopting, and it is one which, in my opinion, represents a clear sign as to the direction of the Future of Work.

I work for myself on multiple projects rather than having a single full-time job. These come to me through various digital channels and I can pick and choose the ones that I find the most interesting; I do everything on a computer or smartphone; I work from a home office seven days a week — I work harder AND smarter. Based on my workload I choose when I take days off and what hours I work. It’s got to the point where a 9–6 work day seems insanely unproductive, and a very poor way to live!

Don’t you just hate it when work colleagues start messing with your stuff!

I collaborate with cosiderably more people, but actually see many fewer, face-to-face, on a daily basis.

I do, however, see my cat much more often — he loves the future of work!

When I do meet people in real life, it’s in places like hotels with meeting rooms, cafés with decent WiFi and other spaces created to be attractive and inspirational rather than stuffy, boring office meeting rooms. I eat better, I exercise more often and get far fewer coughs and colds through spending almost no time at all in the disease factory that’s the London Underground. I live better, and I’ll probably live longer.

Financially, there are significant benefits. No commute, and cheaper food cost savings all add up, but the main one is that earning hours are greatly increased.

I estimate that, on average, I save around 2.5 hours a day (including travelling time, saying hello to colleagues, etc.) from not having to commute. That is 12.5 hours a week, 625 hours in a 50 week work year. 625 divided by an 8 hour work day is 78.125 additional work days per year!

The average day rate for a mid-level role, such as a project manager is £450. With an additional 2.5 work hours a day, that’s an additional annual earning potential for the average freelancer of £35,156 a year. Not bad… Over the course of a career, if you invested even a quarter of that wisely it could provide a comfortable pension. And, if you count the additional earning potential of working weekends…

Work versus Life?

The traditional work/life divide, in my opinion, comes down to a perceived lack of autonomy over how time is spent. This perceived lack of freedom over one’s time goes beyond the hours spent in the office, dictating a huge portion of a person’s activities from the time they wake up, to when they go to bed. No matter how much someone enjoys their job, if they feel that they’re being forced to be there, then there’s a degree of claustrophobic friction. It’s a common sentiment among freelancers I've spoken with that having the freedom to work on what they want, when they want means that they don’t really differentiate between their personal and professional lives as much as they did when in full-time employment. For me personally, there’s no divide, it’s all just life. I see myself as the CEO of my own existence… and I love it.

This freedom is balanced, however, with a total, and often terrifying, responsibility for my own success or failure:

I have no paid holiday.

I have no sick days.

I have no guaranteed pay check each month.

I have to supply all my own office and computer equipment.

I often work 7 days a week, and very often late into the evening.

No one sorts out mind-numbing admin like tax returns for me.

Freedom can feel very precarious at times!

A new element to work — personal branding.

I rely completely on my personal brand to win projects, which adds in a whole new element to working that just isn’t as important if you’re merely a cog in someone else’s business. I have to be on the radar. It’s 100% my responsibility to attain mastery in my field and remain valuable to my clients; it’s also 100% my responsibility to ensure that those needing my services know about me.

And it’s not just me…

“Throw away the briefcase; you’re not going to the office. You can kiss your benefits goodbye too. And your new boss won’t look much like your old one. There’s no longer a ladder, and you may never get to retire, but there’s a world of opportunity if you figure out a new path.” TIME MAGAZINE

This model of working isn't uncommon any more. The number of people working from home has risen to its highest level since records began, according to the Office for National Statistics.

Increasingly, people are challenging the idea of what it means to work. There are far-spanning implications from these shifting expectations for both employees and employers.

Collaborative tools like Trello, GDocs, Slack, Hip Chat, Google hangouts and Skype are making remote working not only attractive to employees, but also employers who are realising significant cost benefits from not having to subsidise employee downtime and office overheads. Buffer is a great example of a truly modern distributed team structure that uses a number of technologies to operate across the globe.

“Disruptive innovations are creating new industries and business models, and destroying old ones. New technologies, data analytics and social networks are having a huge impact on how people communicate, collaborate and work. As generations collide, workforces become more diverse and people work longer; traditional career models may soon be a thing of the past. Many of the roles and job titles of tomorrow will be ones we’ve not even thought of yet.”
— Michael Rendell Head of Human Capital Consulting, PwC

At this point I’ll add in an important caveat — this work style is only possible once one has learned the basics of one’s trade, and is therefore able to compete for projects.

For younger people who need to learn the core skill of being a marketer, a property agent, a designer, or whatever it is they do, there is still a requirement for mentorship. This on-the-job training has traditionally been part of the value exchange for low-paid, highly implementational junior staff whereby what they gain from their employer isn’t purely financial.

Best selling business author, Dan Pink, has famously stated “talented people need organizations less than organizations need talented people.” and I agree. I also think that the opposite is true: unskilled people need organisations more than organisations need unskilled people.

In a world where work is commissioned using online platforms, on a project-by-project basis (due to the fact that employees want the freedom of freelancing, and employers realise that there’s significant cost savings from zero down-time, ‘permanently temporary’ employees), there will no longer be the need, and in fact it will be ineffective, for employers to take on junior staff that require mentoring.

So how will young people gain the skills and acquire the experience they need to start being considered for employment projects?

The role of providing mentorship will be where organisations like Squared Online, a cutting-edge online digital marketing course developed with Google, step up. This type of online career learning brings in multiple industry experts to pass on real, practical and up-to-date insights on specific subjects. Crucially it allows students to study remotely in their own time, and it’s affordable for the individual, unlike many of the more traditional marketing qualifications, which are frankly out-of-date by the time they are taught.

Let’s face it. Universities are now prohibitively expensive, especially considering that they are pretty useless at teaching practical skills in the face of an exponential rate of change. At best, they are years out of date; at worst they are teaching how to set up a Twitter account as the entire digital module of a three year marketing degree (true story!). Most universities and employers still see online education as an addition to traditional degree courses, rather than a replacement. In the Future of Work, however, I see these institutions losing their relevance for most disciplines.

This shift to online education leads to another change. Universities are full time and require students to physically be in their buildings. This means that there has to be an outflow of students, to allow for an inflow of new ones. With online education however there’s no reason for the learning to ever stop as long as courses of increasing advancement can be created. The educational customer becomes a subscriber for life, rather than the relationship having the lifespan of an individual’s career as an on-campus student.

Forward thinking institutions are launching their own online curricula, such as edX, a non-profit provider run by Harvard and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and Google partnering with Squared Online to develop their course. This kind of clout behind online certification means that it cannot be long before employers will be looking for ongoing industry-recognised educational achievements to demonstrate a dedication to keeping up-to-date for all levels of employees and freelancers. And it will be this kind of performance indicator that they’ll be using to decide whom to award projects to.

What may take more seasoned employees by surprise is who will be paying for this education. Traditionally, the responsibility for training fell to employers. In the Future of Work world of permanently temporary employment and project work, this won’t be the case. It will be 100% a worker’s responsibility to be in control over their own path to mastery. Employers will not see it as being in their best interests to pay for someone to build their skill level as they’ll then charge more for the next project, and potentially take those skills to competitors. I’ll caveat this and say that it would probably form a perk for roles involving more long term projects where the employers would want to incentivise longer engagements.

Just a few of the huge number of new platforms putting project workers in communication with employers

As employers increasingly use platforms like Odesk,, YunoJuno and a whole raft of new services to put employers together with project workers, their dependence on full time staff will fall. There is already very little of the ‘job for life’ attitude of times-gone-by remaining, and both employee and employer loyalties are at all time lows.

“Employers’ attitude toward their employees has changed. They see them as short-term resources, and because employers have ended lifetime employment, job security depends now on continuing usefulness to the employer. Cuts in pay and increasing workloads happen when it is useful to the organization. As employees see their careers operating across many employers, they no longer focus their attention solely on the ones they work for now.”
— Peter Cappelli, Director of Wharton’s Center for Human Resources

This situation means that the project-based work model is coming for everyone, not only those that want it. You will be the CEO of your own life whether you choose to be or not. This has huge cultural and economic implications at a societal level.

A recent, incredibly interesting PWC report describes one element of the Future of Work being that global businesses will fragment. Technology development will empower a low impact, high-tech business model where core managerial teams will operate, outsourcing everything non-core to trusted networks. They advise, that to succeed, companies should hire “a diverse mix of people on an affordable, ad hoc basis.”

Taken from PWC’s The future of work A journey to 2022 Report based on a survey of 10,000 professionals from UK, US, China, India and Germany

This forced change in working model leads to many big questions:

What if you don’t like working by yourself?

What if you can’t afford to install a home office?

What if you don’t have the confidence to build a strong personal brand?

And many more what ifs…

I think that an obvious solution will be people coming together and forming networks of project-based and on-demand workers that would work like unions, with annual fees paid by members in return for training, advice, insurance, co-working spaces and team pitching for larger projects. The most popular of these organisations have the potential to become powerful influencers within the economy representing the rights of the project worker at policy level.

UPDATE: This union-style organisation apparently already exists. IPSE is an association for independent professionals and the self employed — who have as their mission to turn the UK into ‘microbusiness utopia’.

What can you do to prepare for the future of work?

In the face of the current exponential rate of change this Chinese proverb is becoming very overused: “When the winds of change blow, some people build walls, and others build windmills.” But as with all clichés it is overused because its message is so relevant.

This change to how we work is happening. It is going to affect you. Seriously, start thinking about what your life might be like without a permanent job.

“When it comes to the Future of Work, “late adopter” is the same thing as “out of business.”
Jacob Morgan

YOU Ltd. will be operating in an uber-meritocratic world where the responsibility for your success or failure lies not in your company’s career progression plan, but in your own ability to continually learn, optimise your skills to attain mastery and win projects.

  1. Start thinking of yourself as a business and look at ways to make YOU Ltd. more marketable.
  2. Build your network — an important element in being on the radar and winning projects is who you know, and who knows you. Go to sites like Meetup, find relevant groups and events and get yourself out there. For all the wonders of the internet and social, meeting people face-to-face is still a deeper bond than one made online. That said, there are loads of next generation online communities forming at the moment like #TechLondon, which is a Slack-based group for London tech professional with loads of activity. Never miss an opportunity to get yourself known! I’ve found that the way I prefer to do this is help people connect with each other which is why I started the OMN London community in the first place.
  3. Begin building a visible personal brand — The traditional CV is dead. It’s boring, doesn’t communicate what really matters in an employee — who really cares that swimming is one of your interests?! Most importantly there’s very little demonstration of individualism or talent in a two-page summary. With a regularly maintained personal blog, however, a potential employer can see your dedication to your discipline, development over time and passion for what you do. With drag and drop CMSs like Squarespace, and the much anticipated AI-based site builder The Grid, coming online, anyone can now build a great looking site in a weekend.
  4. Take control over your online reputation management. Ensure a Google search for your name doesn’t throw up anything that’s going to damage your chances of winning work. If there is something bad there, speak with a professional (like me *shameless plug!*) who can sort it out for you.
  5. Create a personal training plan for yourself. Research the best places to get the knowledge you need to achieve mastery. Set yourself goals such as understanding canonical tags in SEO, or improving paid social media skills to an advanced level, and go out and find the best courses that will give you the knowledge you need to achieve them. Pro tip: Most companies still have training budgets allocated for staff that never get used. So, be quick — Go and get your employer to pay for your training now! Those budgets aren't going to be there for long!
  6. Focus on training courses that give industry recognised certification. And make sure every course you successfully complete is on your About Me pages across all your online presences (like your personal blog) so that when potential employers check you out, you instantly impress them with your qualifications.
  7. If you’re at a level within your field where you think that you have something to teach others, start speaking at events. It’s a hugely powerful way to build your personal brand. You have to speak well however or this strategy can back-fire. If you’re not 100% confident on stage, find a reasonably priced public speaking coaching programme.
  8. Educate yourself on basic financial management. At some stage you’ll need an accountant, but it helps hugely in managing corporation tax, VAT, cashflow, etc if you understand the basics. I use and recommend a software tool called Xero, which makes managing my business finances much less daunting. There are a few other tools out there that do the same thing, so go have a look.

This is by no means a comprehensive list, but if you can develop a mindset of You Ltd, are active in relevant communities, have a visible personal brand, a dedication to mastery and a continuous learning plan to achieve it, and you’re speaking at industry events about the right topics, then you’re marketing yourself like a pro, and you should ace The Future of Work!

Keep up. #KeepLearning

For more information and discussion around this topic, visit the OMN London presents The Future of Work event page and have a look at what’s coming up. I very much hope to see you there.

Cheers for reading,


Gus Ferguson is the Organiser of the OMN London events and Founder of The Tetrad Consultancy
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