The Way We Work

As a consultant dedicated to helping people discover meaningful careers, Terri Maxwell found many of her clients were facing an even more basic problem: The jobs they’d held in the past were suddenly not around anymore.

These individuals were frustrated by their inability to find work, let alone a meaningful career. But the more she tried to help her clients, the more she recognized that these vanishing jobs were heralding a foundational shift in the way companies hired.

Maxwell noted, “I realized that what I was seeing was not just springing from an economic recession or an employment recession. This wasn’t just about lost jobs. It was about something bigger than that.”

This realization prompted Maxwell to team up with her friend Tim Houlne, CEO of a company that specializes in virtual work platforms for call centers. He was seeing similar trends in his industry, so they decided to co-author a book on their discoveries. During their research, they uncovered two startling facts: The jobs her clients had once held were indeed gone, and the reason they were disappearing was a change so seismic, it was akin to the Industrial Revolution.

Based on their research, they recently published The New World of Work: From the Cubicle to the Cloud. In this interview with oDesk, Maxwell tells us more about how the workplace and the economy are being transformed by what she and Houlne have termed “the work revolution.”

Through your work, you realized that jobs were changing. What gives this time a “revolutionary” feel?

Terri Maxwell, CEO of Succeed on PurposeThe work is still there, it’s just that the jobs have changed and they’re not going to change back. More and more work is moving into the cloud; jobs are being fractionalized and virtualized. This isn’t a little shift. It’s a new way of work.

The reason for this is twofold. First, work skills are changing faster than we can keep track of. A business doesn’t know what skills they are going to need in six months, so it’s better to hire a freelancer.

Second, having good talent on-hand is a way to effectively compete. But the talent needed might not live within 50 miles of the office, so companies have started to hire virtually in order to win the talent wars.

Why should people care about this brave new world?

What’s happening is the creation of a new breed of worker, a new business model and a new job marketplace. If people don’t understand this new world of work, they’re going to be left behind!

Another reason to care is because if you are passionate about what you do and accomplish great work, you can make just as much money or more by avoiding the long commute and working virtually instead.

What’s your advice for people who want to make the leap from the cubicle to the cloud?

Figure out who you really are and what you love. Instead of trying to “fit” a job, find a job that fits who you are. That’s the key. At the end of the day, you have to find a job that is based on what you love to do. In the book, we give a decision tree that walks people through how to make that switch. Some of the things we suggest include:

  • Finding the work platform that fits you, whether that’s with an established business or as a freelancer
  • Learning how to monetize your passions and skills
  • Learning how to market yourself by creating a personal brand

How do you think the work revolution impacts businesses?

Our current work model is inefficient. If you really think the people inside an office are working the entire time they are in the office, put some cameras around and you’ll see that’s not the case. You have to approach your work model differently and not just think, “Oh, I see you. Therefore you must be working.”

Instead, put key metrics in place and you’ll get much better productivity per hour than if your team was physically in your building. There are numerous studies we’ve cited in the book that validate that approach.

How can businesses use fractionalization to their advantage?

Technology is changing so fast that generalists don’t help a business unless they are in a key management position. What is needed are specialists in small areas. Let’s say I’m a small business and I can hire a full-time marketer for 40 hours a week. In this new world of work, I could take the same number of hours and give:

  • 10 hours to a social media person
  • 10 hours to a content person
  • 10 hours to a researcher
  • 10 hours to a communications expert

I’d get a much better result than if I had hired someone who is a generalist and not highly skilled in all four of those areas. It just makes sense to break projects into smaller pieces and then hire people who are really passionate and truly skilled in those specialty areas.

How would you suggest that a business transition into this mindset?

It really starts with businesses defining their culture as being less about the location and more about performance and goals. Second, companies need to build a culture based on freedom – the freedom to work where you want, how you want and when you want – as long as you are meeting those goals. Culture is the hardest thing to change. Rewarding performance with freedom is paramount at this stage.

How has your professional life been shaped by the work revolution? What do you think the future will hold? Share your perspective in the comments section below.

Julia Camenisch

Contributing Author

Julia Camenisch is a freelance technology and business journalist. She also works as an editor and copywriter for a wide range of clients, including national magazines, small businesses and nonprofit organizations. Julia brings to Upwork a passion for empowering small businesses through the innovative use of technology.