Article on New Trends in Remote Working Published in The Journal of Advertising Research
Head in the Clouds? Beyond Employment in the Creative Services industry
We all recognize the speed of change going on around us. Things seem to be converging more and more as our personal and work lives becoming ever entwined. Today, we think nothing of watching a fun viral video on YouTube at or answering business e-mails at This is the picture for some of us who work in service industries. For many people, “traditional” employment is fast becoming a thing of the past. The cloud and the digital tools we have come to take for granted offer us more independence than we ever could have imagined. As more of us become self-employed, in fact, we are discovering that we can take control of our own lives and futures, which is exciting. What, however, is driving this new movement away from traditional—and, presumably—successful business (and personal) models? The aftershocks of the 2008–2009 financial crisis profoundly are affecting the way employees are viewed by the enterprises that may have provided us with employment. If there is any sort of safety net, it has holes that are growing larger all the time. We are being encouraged to become more independent so that we do not cost governments so much money. Corporations are shedding us and outsourcing so that they can save money and make more for their shareholders. So, in short, in many cases, we have little choice over whether we become independent.
With recurring economic downturns and with employment patterns shifting dramatically in our flattened global world, we need new solutions. We need to find new ways to work—to meet the ever higher productivity needs and to meet employees’ growing demand for more balanced lives. Nowhere is this more evident than in the “traditional” communications-consulting sector. I have been in the marketing consultancy and advertising business for more than 20 years. For most of that time, I have spent at least 3 hours a day in a car, commuting about 70 miles a day to and from work, where 50 other people had made similar journeys to the office by one mode of transport or another. All had consumed energy in some form, pumped out CO2, and wasted a fair amount of time and effort doing so. On a typical day, I would truly interact with no more than four or five people, and even fewer on some days. Then I would have to face the commute back again, to arrive home late—tired and not particularly happy. Something needed to change personally in my own life. We now live in a world of digital opportunities that have had an impact on how we all live. We can buy books, music, and films, share photographs, and get news—all online. Interactivity also has affected how we stay in touch with friends (real and virtual). To date, however, so much of this has had little impact on the traditional world of employment. The majority of people still make the slog through a daily 9-to-5 grind. Does that make sense? My colleagues and I think not. In fact, we believe that digitally driven change is about to sweep away traditional (and failing) work norms and structures. The time has come to radically rethink employment practices in the advertising, design, market research, and media industries.
GOING IT ALONE
I have been self-employed and I can tell you, it is a famine-or-feast environment. Typically, you end up working around the clock, employed on a project basis by large organizations that use you and then shed you because you are, well…disposable. Freelancers need to find work and manage their own businesses. And, as such, they need to possess the skill set of a mini-CEO, overseeing all aspects of their business lives. It is the kind of 24/7 control that has an effect on our personal lives that need to exist around the all-out effort that goes into maintaining the business. We also are told that the consequences of failing to get work/life balance right can have disastrous effects on our well-being and that of our families. We also know we are in danger of becoming isolated and lonely without an office and a water cooler where we can gather with colleagues who have shared interests. And, with this insight, maybe being “free” does not sound quite so liberating. In addition, however, to the familiar 9-to-5 and the freelance patterns of work, we believe there is a third track. It is not employment as we ever have known it. And it is not freelancing. We call it E-Ployment.
NO EMPLOYEES. NO OFFICES. JUST PEOPLE
Running a creative, strategic, or research- services agency is weighed down by two major costs: people and offices. When times get tough—as they do in increasingly regular cycles in the marketing and research business—adjusting these two items is difficult and expensive.