Like many components of our office, we probably take the windows for granted, but the lineage of the word is interesting and worth exploring for a moment. It comes to us from the Old Norse for wind and eye and was the name given to an unglazed hole in a building through which you could see and feel which way the wind was blowing, and in a seafaring culture this was pretty important information.

Perhaps this is why business folk have appropriated the idea of strategic windows.

For every window opening that an entrepreneur spots, there is usually another that has begun to close. For Netflix, think Blockbuster. For Flickr, Kodak. For Spotify, Sony Music.

Change usually ferments a curious mixture of problems and opportunities and nowhere is this truer than in the changing world of work.

Windows: closing and closed

There is little disagreement that traditional work seems to be dying a slow, lingering death. It was of course the serried ranks of middle managers who were first to succumb in the Great De-layering, brought about by global competition, and facilitated by new technologies, especially the mobile Internet which permitted businesses to gather data more efficiently and to respond quicker.

Also exiting stage left is the once sacred idea of ‘a job for life’. Sir Cary Cooper estimates that 20 or 30 years ago, most workers had two or at most three employers. Today, it’s more likely to be a dozen. The impact on a person’s values and attitudes of moving from the career equivalent of the long-form novel to a collection of un-linked short stories is profound. While it is easy to generalise about demographic groups, today’s Milennials see the employer covenant as irrelevant and today’s young mobile professionals are happy just to live in the moment.

It was the manufacturing sector of course that took the brunt of economic restructuring. In the 1970’s, manufacturing in the UK accounted for 30% of all jobs, today it’s more like 10%, and its pre-eminence has been by supplanted by service industries and their unstoppable ability to soak up consumer disposable income.

Dobbs, Manyika and Woetzel in the their recent book [1] quote figures that show the big winners in job archetypes have been those involving ‘interactions’. These demand the critical thinking skills required to navigate the complex customer journeys found in service industries. The windows for other archetypes, transactional and routine production jobs, seem to be closing.

Meanwhile, massive skill gaps are beginning to open up, especially for STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) qualified graduates and in the long term, the global war for talent is likely to become a little dirty.

Overall, we have a labor market double whammy: on the one hand, the world will have too few high skilled workers but not enough jobs for the low-skilled workers.

Windows: opening and open.

Just as the career ladders of the Fortune 500 and FTSE were being scrapped, a whole new approach to CV building has become the new normal. According to Edelman Beland, there are now 54m freelancers in the US who account for 34% of the total workforce. In the UK, the number of self-employed will soon be bigger than the number employed in the public sector.

This has been called The Entrepreneurial Economy [2] and it’s here we will meet its ambassador and icon, the Independent Professional.

The Independent Professional or iPro [3] is a new breed of worker who has chosen to live and work independently, and is thriving in a connected, disruptive world, happily undertaking mission critical projects for his clients. According to Eurostat there were already 8.5m iPros across the 27 Member states of the European Union in 2011 and they already represented more than 4% of the population; in the US, a recent forecast suggests there will be 24.5m iPros by 2019, and they will account for 15% of the total workforce.

As the number of iPros grows, so will all the functional and lifestyle support services that help them survive and prosper. Whether it’s trendy work hubs like We Work, outsourcing agencies for admin tasks or advanced mentoring and coaching consultants, there will be new many new opportunities flowing from the growth of the iPro population, especially in the megacities where iPros swarm.

Looking after this important but tiny strategic élite will become an increasingly important challenge and will provide the stimulus for a new range of ‘talent management’ offers.

Since its inception, a-connect has been helping companies to see and feel the winds of change in the world of work, and helping leading businesses to discover new ways of connecting with exceptional people, maintaining the core belief that access to talent is more important than its ownership.

As activists in the Open Talent Economy, we are proud to have partnered with the Wharton School to undertake a comprehensive, academic study on the changing face of work.

Please look out for other articles which deal with the themes that have emerged from this research, and a-connect hopes that wherever you call your office, you will be inspired by what you’ll see through these windows and what they reveal of the challenging future of work.


[1] No Ordinary Disruption, Public Affairs, New York, 2015

[2] Quoted by David Cameron

[3] Also referred to as “supertemp”