We really didn’t know what we were doing to start — still not absolutely sure now. All we had to go on was a folder full of research and some insight from a bunch of conversations. What we did know was that something had shifted, really talented people were leaving the “traditional” workplace.

The data point that stuck in our heads was that by 2027 more people will be working independently (for themselves) than for companies. Not surprisingly, Gallup found that 87% of employees are not engaged at work. I personally witnessed this migration in advertising with some of the best talent walking out the door to set up their own shops.

Millennials approach work, and view success, very differently than my generation. They have wholeheartedly embraced “gigging,” with 1 out of 2 engaged in some side hustle. The concept of “work” has changed but few companies have taken notice.

Armed with these observations and information, we launched Carbon Design, a talent platform aimed at providing individuals with an opportunity to work how they want, when they want, where they want, on projects of their choosing. On Halloween, we celebrated our first anniversary. It’s been an interesting and exciting year.

Although our organization is still evolving we’ve learned 3 important things about how work and workers have changed.

The Secret Economy

There is a tremendous amount of under utilized talent in the 9 am to 2 pm economy. In fact, more than 11 million Americans stay at home with their children. A Reach Advisors study found that found 57 percent of moms would like to go back to work at some point.

The people we’ve worked this year have left executive positions at Fortune 500 companies, partner positions at management consulting firms, and leadership roles at big network agencies to pursue their entrepreneur instincts, take care of a sick parent or nurture their children. They seek to work part-time, 20 hours a week and often put in 40 but it’s THEIR choice, and that makes all the difference.

Life-Work Balance

For years, I witnessed co-workers move to part-time after the birth of a child. Eventually, they would end up in my office feeling like they’re weren’t doing a good job being a parent and/or valuable contributor to the team. If fact, they felt they were failing at both, finding it difficult, if not impossible, to balance the demands of work and life.

After spending a year with people who’ve seemingly figured it out, there is a common thread they put the priority on life, and then work. Getting, or having their life in order by focusing on their most important priorities allows them to then use their time efficiently for things they want to do creating both a sense of control and peace of mind that results in happiness.

As Professor Daniel Sgrio of Warwick University found in his research on Happiness and Productivity,  “The driving force seems to be that happier workers use the time they have more effectively, increasing the pace at which they can work without sacrificing quality.”  In fact he found that happy people are more productive workers, 12% more according to the research.

Workspaces and Workstyles  

Last week a colleague and I were onsite with a client. They had just moved into a new location and spared no expense to make it a great work environment. Lots of natural light, adjustable workstations, a cafe, top of the line espresso machines, craft beer on tap, and game area, etc. On our way out my colleague, who I worked with in an open office space with similar amenities said; “I don’t think I could it.” To which I responded, “Do what?” and he said “Work in an office anymore.”

My colleague is not alone in his feelings. Recent research has shown that open office spaces have failed, but that’s not the real issue. Given how unique people are (and their work habits), it seems naive to think that one type of office could possibly make everyone happy and productive.

In fact, more than 14,000 people have taken the online test “Is Your Personality Suited To Working Remotely Or In The Office?”  The test revealed that only 24% of people who work in an office say they love their jobs, compared to 38% of mobile workers and 45% of telecommuting workers.

Additionally, Stanford economics professor Nicholas Bloom fascinating research (and entertaining TedX Talk) found employees working from home were more productive, more engaged and less likely to quit. He debunks the myth that remote workers are less productive. But as Dr Bloom points out in his research, not everyone was happy working that way.

The point is, working in an office, no matter how nice, will only fit the needs of a portion of the employee base. Our network of talent work from whichever location fits their life that day. It could be a shared workspace, a coffee shop or their child’s school cafeteria. Their office is “on demand” requiring no travel.  Now, compare that to the one hour commute (each way) I had last year to get my office. By that math, they’re already 20% more productive than I was as an office worker — and a lot less stressed out!

Pursuing Happiness

What the research and our experience this year has shown is that the tradition idea of work — the M-F workweek, 8 am to 6 pm office hours, in an office are increasingly at odds with creating a productive, engaged and happy workforce.

With the rise of video and cloud based collaboration tools, talent is finding ways to work that better align with their work styles. Instead of bending their schedules around work, they are finding way to flex work around their lives.

For years we have been trying separate our work and our personal life when in reality, they are one thing.The people we’ve work with this year seem to recognize that work, like health, family and happiness, are all intricately tied together.

Getting life right, whether it’s planning your schedule to attend your son’s baseball game on time, or working from home to care for a loved one who’s sick, is different for everyone. Whatever getting life right is, as long as it’s first, everything seems to fall into place.

As educator and author Bob Moawad states; “The best day of your life is the one on which you decide your life is your own. No apologies or excuses. No one to lean on, rely on, or blame. The gift is yours – it is an amazing journey – and you alone are responsible for the quality of it. This is the day your life really begins.”

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