New Models Let Creatives Design How They Work

The way designers work is changing. From the physical environments we work in to the methodologies we use to keep ourselves motivated, how we work, and what it means to work, is drastically different today than it was 10 years ago. By 2020, it is estimated that 50% of the U.S. workforce will be freelancers in some capacity. Why? For better or worse, tools like Slack, Skype, and so many more have challenged the mindset of a new generation of workers to shift from work/life balance toward work/life integration.

For millennials in particular, gaining a deep level of expertise around a single area of study is not as satisfying as adopting several roles and activities simultaneously. I mean … who wouldn’t want to drive a few passengers to the airport before sitting down to write that blog post before tweaking some lines of code for that app you’ve been wanting to get off the ground?

To explore the ways work has changed, we can turn toward three distinct categories of change: space, time and competition.

Space: Where We Work

Office spaces have a simple purpose: to support the occupants in their ability to complete the tasks at hand. During the Middle Ages, the chancery emerged as an early precursor to the traditional office as we know it. Hundreds of years later, in the 18th Century, more complex organizations started to launch, leading to the development of something that looks a lot more like the office as we know it. In recent decades, office space continues to evolve—from corner offices and cubicles to team spaces and open floor plans to meditation rooms and Ping-Pong tables. For many managers, however, justifying the value of physical office space has become harder and harder to articulate. As the speed of connectivity has continued to advance, resources that were historically only available in physical spaces are now available in the palms of our hands.

These technological leaps have triggered a movement to decentralize teams and resources in order to fulfill a growing desire to lead a more flexible lifestyle. Websites like Working Nomads and Upwork connect freelancers with employers by curating job opportunities that allow people to work on projects from anywhere in the world. Increasingly, this nomadic lifestyle option isn’t just reserved for freelancers. In fact, many traditional and established organizations, like the American Heart Association, offer remote work opportunities in order to attract and retain fresh talent.

For those who find comfort in having a home base, the co-working movement can serve as a happy medium that rests somewhere in between these more nomadic and traditional lifestyles. According to Emergent Research, by 2020, 3.8 million people will be a member at one of 26,000 different co-working spaces. While spaces like Impact HUB aspire to provide members with access to a global network, spaces like Co+Hoots exist in order to support more localized economies.

When We Work

The amount of time we spend working is also changing. In the U.S., according to the Economic History Association and Ball State University, we have shifted from an average of 60 hours/week in the late 19th Century to an average of 33 hours/week in 2017. Each year, the OECD measures the amount of time we spend working. In the U.S., we worked an average of 1,783 hours in 2016. For comparison, the number of hours worked in 2015 was 1,790.

While the 9-to-5 tradition is alive and well, there are new models emerging that hope to enhance productivity in shorter sprints of time. The rise in nomadic working relationships has also lead many freelancers to feel disconnected. Funny enough, I’m writing this article at an all-day event called Cave Day. Originally launched in New York, Cave Day’s mission is to improve our relationship with work by providing “a day of heads-down, facilitated, distraction-free productivity so you can treat yourself to prioritize YOU and getting your personal work done.”

For agencies looking to use their skills for the greater good without compromising an already packed schedule, look no further than CreateAthon. CreateAthon, of which i’m on the advisory board, is a 24 hour, non-stop, pro-bono “marathon” in which teams work to develop as many materials as possible for non-profits. Launched 20 years ago by Riggs Partners in South Carolina, this volunteer-led program has served as the catalyst for over $24,000,000 in pro-bono services to benefit over 1,300 community organizations.

Competition: How We Work

Work is competitive. There’s nothing new there, but the ways in which we boost team morale and cultivate a sense of fulfillment through competition is evolving. Traditionally, competition in the workplace has been fueled by merit-based incentive programs. However, according to a Willis Towers Watson study, only 20% of employers in North America believe merit pay influences higher levels of performance. As a result, to better support the changing landscape of work, many managers are re-considering their approaches to managing performance.

All the while, many workers are beginning to look for opportunities outside of the traditional workplace environment in order to fulfill their competitive tendencies. Founded in 2007, Startup Weekend is a 54-hour weekend competition that brings together people from all kinds of disciplines and backgrounds to pitch concepts in the hopes of winning one of a series of prizes. Events like Startup Weekend provide workers with an extra outlet for accomplishment that mimics the setting of their day-to-day working environment.

As creatives, we often consider ourselves “makers” in the context of developing solutions for clients and for fun, but how can we also consider the way we work a design challenge? Space, time and competition are not only key factors in defining how we work, they are also designable. By framing “work” as a design challenge, we can begin to define the space and time in which we work in order to better define and understand the unique purpose we each aspire to fulfill. So, how will you design the way you work?

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