By Akosua K. Albritton
In 1993, Michael Douglas starred in Falling Down a movie with strong social commentary. One short scene involved an African-American man dressed in slacks, white shirt with rolled sleeves, top two buttons opened, and loosened neck tie. He carried a placard in his hands and cried out to the gathering crowd about how he lost his job because “I am not economically viable.” He wasn’t sure what it was that made him “not viable” in that economy. It is now 2016. There are millions of Americans who make themselves not viable for the present economy by not adjusting to changes in market demands, needed skills, and not thinking like a company of one.
On April 6, 2016, the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce and Liquid Talent held the 2016 Future of Work Summit, Exploring What the Next Generation of Work Looks Like in Brooklyn at Brooklyn Law School. What was discussed is how a significant minority of Brooklynites have been earning income for many years. It is the reality of the W-2 (employee) vis a vis the 1099 (independent contractor) tax status. For many people, it is the merging of these two statuses to design one’s particular lifestyle.
The summit examined the changing attitudes about work, craft, growth, productivity, and self-esteem for the business manager and worker. Isaac Oates Founder and CEO of Justworks in his keynote address posited “Rather than achieving the work-life balance, workers [or craftspeople] seek work-life harmony. This harmony comes when workers have a sense of project ownership.”
Because more people choose a challenging project with good compensation over a full time permanent job, Oates contends “people seek learning opportunities; want to enjoy benefits and perks; and need flexibility in when and where they work.”
The “Moving Towards a Project-Based Economy: Is 1099 the Future?” breakout session was moderated by Liquid Talent Co-Founder Alex Abelin. He queried Caitlin Pearce, Freelancers Union’s Member Engagement Director; Chad Sanders, Dev Bootcamp’s New Products Director; and Chris Sojka, Madwell’s Co-Founder and Creative Director about the realities of the independent contractor’s lifestyle; i. e, being the company of one.
Caitlin Pearce perked many ears when she stated “34% of the country identifies as 1099ers.” This means millions of American households have staked a claim in their own talent and ingenuity rather than the standard 9 to 5 job. Pierce said “There are a lot of benefits to being a freelancer…You have choices in jobs and skills.” The counterbalance is “a freelancer must be great at doing taxes, getting clients, and using one’s skills set.”
Nonpayment is the quintessential issue. Chris Sojka plainly said, “Getting stiffed is common.” Pearce revealed 70% of her membership has dealt with nonpayment or partial payment. In fact, businesses are willing to go through suing.” Freelancers Union educates its membership on contract negotiations to reduce these incidents.
If a person surfs the web and other media, one may come away with the idea that the future of work as an agile independent contractor is open to only coders, web designers, writers, graphic artists, and webmasters. Caterers, custodians, transcribers, database managers, customer service representatives, and the construction trades are in this world too. Pearce contends “We need to be mindful about the whole subcontractor sphere.” Unfortunately, the caterer and janitor are held in lower regard than the chemist and coder. The Freelancers Union is righting the situation of treating these subcontractors as a subclass. In fact,” safe work environments, discrimination, inequality, and business support are continuing pressing issues for this organization.”
The future and present require people skilled in current technologies—be it culinary arts, business services, or construction trade–and willing to learn process modifications or totally new processes. The skills set and willingness to learn something new is what keeps anyone viable.
Dev Bootcamp’s Chad Sanders explained “Most of our students are career changers forfeiting current skills to come over to Dev Bootcamp to gain leverage by learning code. Dev Bootcamp is a 19-week program that combines technical skills training with learning how to stay adaptive in the market.” This adaptiveness ought to be long term, having a 20 year trajectory. Madwell’s Chris Sojka encourages everyone to expect “you can learn something new. Fluidly moving through other disciplines and evolving within their own career and within the organization.” Sanders posited “The nature of the economy requires having colleges that orient students to this thinking.”
In the interest of revealing the panel’s depth of commitment to the new work place, the moderator Alex Abelin asked whether any of the panelists accept their employees freelancing elsewhere. Sojka said “I encourage my employees to freelance. This results in getting fulfilled and expanding the skills set and deepening experience.” Sanders remarked “I know of businesses that warn against freelance.” He encouraged freelancers to “have an agency to support contractors in project sourcing, payroll, accounting, and insurances.”
The Group Panel Discussion, “The Way We’ll Work: The Future of Work Panel” was moderated by Tami Reiss, Cyrus Innovation’s CEO and panel members David Ehrenberg, Brooklyn Navy Yard’s President & CEO; Katie Hunt-Morr, Neutralized’s CEO; Arthur Woods, Imperative’s Co-Founder; and Toby Moskovits, Heritage Equity Partners’ Founder and CEO.
The questions and responses etched a new American workplace characterized by collaboration, partnering, and trust that grows loyalty. The 40-hour week is replaced by focusing on meeting deadlines. David Ehrenberg who had taken an extended maternity leave said, “The bottom line is as long as the work is getting done there is work hour and location flexibility. Similarly, Arthur Woods promoted “job tailoring” examples of which include working from home and coming in earlier or later which give “creative agency to make decisions that are right for you.”
Kate Hunt-Morr contended “Getting Americans to be mindful of time zone differences is necessary to transact business [given one’s business partners may be in different parts of the globe].” Hunt-Morr asked “How to bring purpose-driven work [ethic] to lower income households in Brooklyn and in other nations.”
The future of work in Brooklyn is looking up. Not only do business managers want team-thinking and collaboration within their organizations, they desire better communication and touch points with other local businesses. Toby Moskovits “believes the various work spaces in Brooklyn that lead to bumping into other businesses is one reason businesses are coming to Brooklyn.”