Future of work: Allegiance to a craft rather than company

Technological innovation and the growing importance of data have brought huge changes in the working world, altering the way people and companies interact in industries such as banking, telecommunications, e-commerce and hospitality. In the final instalment of a four-part series about the future of work, The Straits Times looks at how the work-leisure dynamic is changing

A willingness to work hard has long been seen as a virtue, but individuals and companies are increasingly reassessing their approach in a world where leisure and work are becoming indistinguishable.

The notion of when and where work is done will change as companies heed the call for greater flexibility, experts tell The Straits Times.

Technology lets people work outside the office and to engage in personal activities while at work.

But this has pros and cons, say Nanyang Business School associate professors Boh Wai Fong and Sia Siew Kien.

While individuals have more flexibility, this can lead to a lack of clear segregation of time. "The jury is still out on whether such trends improve work-life balance and productivity," the professors say.

Still, experts agree that these shifts will have profound implications for how organisations are structured and workplaces laid out.

Self-employed workers offering their expertise to anyone willing to pay for it will constitute a growing portion of the workforce, says Mr Paul Heng, managing director of NeXT Career Consulting Group.

These workers will have more control over their time, and hence be better able to balance their work and personal life, he adds.

Employers too will have to adapt.

Ms Miranda Lee, director of people and change management at KPMG in Singapore, says workers will increasingly demonstrate allegiance to their trade or craft, instead of to an organisation.

Human resource managers, who traditionally focus on looking after permanent employees, "should think about how they can better connect with this 'contingent' workforce", she adds.

Mr Heng notes: "In any one given organisation, there will exist more than one set of 'terms of engagement' rather than 'terms of employment'."

Assoc Profs Boh and Sia say workers who are not tied to a firm will have to take charge of their own careers and upgrade or broaden their own skills, to remain relevant in an increasingly competitive market where the rewards go to those who are the most employable.

Ms Lee says these trends mean that demand for co-working spaces - where companies can rent space cheaply and benefit from proximity to one another - will grow.

"Small and medium-sized enterprises are the fastest adopters because cost is a big concern for them...They might not use the same vocabulary - for instance, they might call these employees contract workers. But what they're practising is akin to that," she says.

Still, this group of workers is likely to remain a minority in the short to medium term, add Assoc Profs Boh and Sia.

"The institutionalisation of such a form of work, where employees and employers have figured out their respective roles and obligations, is still evolving.

"(The) regulatory and institutional norms and practices are not issues that can be easily resolved, and will likely take time."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 01, 2015, with the headline 'Future of work: Allegiance to a craft rather than company'. Print Edition | Subscribe