In his groundbreaking book about the future of work, The Age of Unreason, the writer and social philosopher Charles Handy told of the breakdown of the organisation. More people in the future, he said, would be self-employed, work from home and – ultimately – carry out a “portfolio” of jobs.
Handy was writing back in 1989 but his predictions have proved remarkably prescient. Although he was not to have known about the emerging roles of the world wide web and email, he predicted, for example, that consumers would shop at home using “electronic catalogues”. He also anticipated the current pensions crisis.
Handy’s concept of the portfolio worker has also come good – at least in my case. At the moment, I find myself dividing my working life between several fields including SEO, writing, running my own websites and training.
In my view, this is a great way to work. When I became self-employed almost 15 years ago I was able to work whenever I liked. Later, the advent of broadband meant that I could choose from where I worked (I could be on a beach in Thailand as you read this).
Now, however, I can skip between a portfolio of working roles. When one gets tiring or I reach a dead end, I can put it down and pick up another.
And, as Handy points out, the relationship between employers and employees is changing fast. As it does, so should our definition of work. Taking care of children, gardening, decorating the house can all be considered to be, in the broadest sense, work. They are all part of our work portfolio.
When we redefine work in this way, we change our relationship to it. We learn to embrace it and recognise its profound importance to our lives. It’s not just about money. Indeed, the “dream” of early retirement or winning the lottery looks more shallow then ever.