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5 New Trends in Work

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Lately, I've been struck by how much the nature of work seems to be changing right now.

Not just because of the seemingly endless recession that's sapping all of our jobs and igniting political and social change across the globe.

But also because the very definition of work -- what it means and how it's carried out -- seems to be in so much flux.

To wit, here are five new trends in the way we conduct work:

1. Offices are a thing of the past. These days, it's all about the virtual company. Abolishing most -- if not all -- of a company's physical space saves a ton of money. It's also ecologically friendly, productivity-enhancing (no commute!) and tends to make workers happier. As this fascinating case study of Inc. magazine details, there are some hurdles companies need to overcome as they transition to the virtual office (i.e. how to maintain a vibrant organizational culture.) And you definitely don't want to do it if you have children or other dependents at home while you're trying to work. But at least for certain jobs, telecommuting is emerging as an efficient business model, according to the latest research.

2. If you need to set up an office, shared work space is where it's at. With independent workers now comprising a full 30% of the workforce in the United States, shared office spaces -- the term of art is coffice -- are proliferating around the globe. (Why do I love this term so much? I think it's because it reminds me of coffee.) Apparently, coffices have become particularly attractive for female entrepreneurs, as a space in which to network and share ideas.

3. Think in terms of income streams, not jobs. This comes from career coach Ford R. Myers, author of Get The Job You Want, Even When No One's Hiring. Some 6.9 million Americans, or 4.8 percent of the U.S. workforce, hold multiple jobs, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. But Myers says that this doesn't necessarily mean that all of these people are working a double shift just to pay the bills. Rather, they are more likely doing part-time contract work, running a side business, or teaching a course -- in short, building flexibility into their work life -- by thinking in terms of multiple income streams, rather than multiple jobs. Or, as blogger and business communications guru Chris Brogan puts it, work will be more modular in nature. Sounds good to me.

4. Working fewer hours can make you more productive. Yeah, yeah. I know. We've heard it all before. The Four Hour Work Week and all that good stuff. But it turns out that it might be true. According to a recent study in published in Psychological Review, the key to great success is working harder in short bursts of time. Researchers found that across professions, productivity is enhanced when you work in short, highly-focused bursts with no distractions, rather than across long periods of time. As someone who's always put in long days, this is music to my ears.

5. Internships aren't just for college kids anymore. Rather, unpaid adult internships are the new normal. This is either exciting vis à vis the whole concept of "second acts" or just a horrifying sign of the dire economic straits in which we find ourselves. But it's a reality. In a country with an unemployment rate hovering steadily just below 10%, more and more college graduates and even middle-aged professionals are willing to work for free in hopes that it will help them land a paying gig. Yikes.