The rise of the solitary worker

The world of work is changing. With the recent downturn, more people have set up their own businesses and are working on their own. More are taking to freelancing and telecommuting. We have entered the age of solitary work. That’s going to be a challenge for everyone.

It’s likely to become more of an issue here with the National Broadband Network. ITWire reports that the Department of Broadband Communications and the Digital Economy is looking at ways to encourage Australian businesses and government agencies to encourage more people to telecommute. That might be like turning around a battleship. As reported here, a survey by Macquarie Telecom has found that only 20 per cent of businesses said they saw the ability to offer a different employment model as a major potential benefit of the high-speed network. Indeed, only five per cent said they would definitely do it.

Still, the wheels are turning and with companies laying off staff, there are likely to be more people taking to solitary work. The NBN, when it’s up and running, will only encourage this trend. And it will be a big challenge. Academics at Wharton say that solitary workers need to do much more than buy a phone, lap top and good desk. They also have to take responsibility for their own professional image, networking opportunities, training and daily motivation, something that’s completely different when you are working in a company and the organisation does it all for you. Suddenly they have to balance the demands of work and non-work, and those lines can blur easily. Because you are paid by the hour or for each project, it’s easier to get into a flap when you are not working.  Again, this is not something you have to worry about when you are working in a job, it’s a completely different world. But it's different if you're freelancing.

Some solitary workers require more boundaries than others. For the past three years, all my work is done in my study, my only company is my one-eyed cat Yoda sleeping on the desk. But I know of others who have set up shared offices, and then some who seem to spend half their day sitting in a café with the laptop knocking out work. It’s a case of each to their own.  

And it cuts both ways too. Companies should recognize that despite the benefits of having people off their books and having smaller offices, the risks of miscommunication and messages not getting through can cause all sorts of problems with productivity, morale and just getting things done.

According to other research, our brains are actually wired up for us to work together.  A lot of us need face time to function more efficiently.

Still, there are advantages to the solitary work model. As reported here, it’s a model that can allow work to be done seven days a week, 24 hours a day if the company has remote workers located around the world. That’s why this trend is likely to gather momentum.

The growth however will depend on how well companies and solitary workers adapt.

Do you do solitary work? How do you cope?