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The end of the ‘office job’

The future of work is about so much more than returning to the office, but a generational reset with significant implications for decades to come.

Paul McEntee, Here be Dragons

Founder

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The Future of Work debate often gets marginalised into being about the physical environment that you work in, aka ‘the office’. That is, of course, an important factor, and one that has sent shockwaves through the perennial considerations of commuting, connectivity and talent recruitment/retention. The pandemic has accelerated the evolution of all these factors, mostly for good. Presenteeism has diminished in favour of efficiency,  technology has brought people together remotely in a way that is now normalised and talent can now be recruited from anywhere in the world; it is totally normal to have a creative team in London, a developer team in Brazil and an account team in Asia. This means you can hire real expertise from anywhere globally, not having to rely on the pedigree on your own doorstep.  

I remember cringing slightly while listening to some agency leaders at the start of lockdown espousing the return to the office and how creativity could never happen remotely. I also remember being fascinated by the debate amongst business leaders, property developers and psychiatrists about how the future of work was decentralised, with no permanent office hub. It turns out that the argument was not binary and that both were sort of right. 

Presenteeism has diminished in favour of efficiency, technology has brought people together remotely in a way that is now normalised and talent can now be recruited from anywhere in the world

Paul McEntee, CEO, Here Be Dragons

Our own agency experience at Here Be Dragons has been that people wanted the flexibility and savings of working from home, while also having agreed days they could come into the office for moments of serendipitous human connection and collaboration. We jettisoned our office and took over an old art gallery which we turned into a multidisciplinary space, with no permanent desks, only modular furniture that could be moved around for events, talks, and creative gatherings. 

So far, so good. 

But, the tectonic movements affecting the Future of Work are less about the bricks & mortar that surround us and more about how whole generations of ‘workers’ have changed their perceptions on what ‘work’ is. Those Gen Zers entering the job market now and the Alpha’s behind them have radically changed their behaviours, the implications of which we will witness for years to come. 

As employers in the creative industries, we have our work cut out to convince the next generation that we can best serve their needs at our agencies and brands. Flexibility, empathy and fair pay are the best ways we can entice them in, then make them stay.

Paul McEntee, CEO, Here Be Dragons

If we go back to look at the pipeline to the job market - education - the disruption starts here. A cohort of teens and those in higher education have learnt how to study online. They’ve also witnessed the government fail their peers by cancelling A-Level exams and locking students in their halls of residence at university. As a result, this digital-native legion has sought academic fulfilment elsewhere. The evidence is there to see; Sora, a new ‘virtual high school’ had huge pick up over lockdown; 20-year-old YouTuber James Scholz spends 12 hours a day streaming himself studying online, as his half a million subscribers study with him across 10 different digital classrooms; a Minecraft University has sprung up on Discord allowing Minecraft fans to study together in tandem with taking entertainment breaks to play their favourite game.

All of these examples galvanise a belief that things can be done differently. Legacy learning is starting to peel away because digital technology is so improved and traditional higher education is so expensive and elitist. Gen Zers, often famed for their disruption, are also shunning the traditional ladders to success. Much has been said of the Great Resignation but, in fact, it is the ‘Great Pause’ that is most clearly evident. Gen Z has used lockdown to pause and reassess. They are not jumping into jobs. 

Much has been said of the Great Resignation but, in fact, it is the ‘Great Pause’ that is most clearly evident. Gen Z has used lockdown to pause and reassess. They are not jumping into jobs.

Paul McEntee, CEO, Here Be Dragons

 

In 2020, according to the Office of National Statistics, a record number of new businesses were started and in the same year, there was a 72% increase in 16-20-year-olds registering as sole traders. Gen Z have turned to their side-hustles and taken their own destiny into their own hands. No longer are they dependent on the traditional infrastructure of employment to make their way in the world. They are using their own Gen Z communities to validate and activate their ambitions, replacing ‘co-workers’ with invested community members who have shared goals; the growing trend for ‘Exit to Community’ instead of IPO and the proliferation of DAOs (decentralised autonomous organisations) are evidence of this. 

And so where do this group end up, if not in the workplace? What is ‘Work’ for them? Well, ‘work’ is something that advances their own progress while also maintaining control and wellbeing. This group is rewriting the rule book to education, fame and fulfilment, following a multifaceted, resourceful and brilliantly unorganised route into creative roles. Niko Omilano, the YouTuber who ran for Mayor of London, typifies this. With a two word manifesto and a budget of nearly zero, he came 5th in the mayoral race (out of 20), pranking the media and relying on his social media following to give oxygen to his campaign. This is ‘work’ to Gen Z.

As employers in the creative industries, we have our work cut out to convince the next Generation that we can best serve their needs at our agencies and brands. Flexibility, empathy and fair pay are the best ways we can entice them in, then make them stay. Just don’t call it an ‘office job’. 

Guest Author

Paul McEntee, Here be Dragons

Founder

About

Paul founded Here be Dragons in 2015 (then known as Mc&T) after over 10 years at big agencies. The agency’s clients lead or disrupt their industries and Here be Dragons devise strategies and creative campaigns to keep them punching through the industry chatter, connecting them with audiences via a mutual understanding of the real relationship between brands and public - mutuality, respect, value-exchange.

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