The latest workplace term has dropped just before the ball does: flexetariat. And no, it doesn’t refer to that famous horse.
So projects Julia Hobsbawm, a workplace author and Bloomberg Work Shift columnist, in Scoop’s Flex Report 2024 Predictions. The hybrid work planning platform asked a dozen future of work experts what they think 2024 holds for the workplace. Hobsbawm’s answer was that the pandemic created a new type of worker for which flexibility reigns supreme: “Flexibility and freedom to choose is a permanent shift for workers.” She anticipates that this flexetariat—who are essentially gig workers—will continue to rise and thrive in 2024.
Hobsbawm explored the concept of the flexetariat in her book The Nowhere Office: Reinventing Work and the Workplace of the Future. Now writing a new book titled Working Assumptions: What We Thought We Knew Before COVID and Generative AI—and What We Know Now, she explains to Fortune that her comments for Scoop “are in the wider context of the continuing trend towards flexibility as a desire in the labor market, despite the working assumption that perhaps a more rigid norm would return.”
It’s a surprisingly optimistic stance after a year in which executives continued to roll out return-to-office mandates. During the Great Resignation, flexibility was the name of the game to recruit and retain employees. But the tides have shifted slightly back to employers as hybrid work became a compromise. That might leave many workers turning to the gig economy to uphold and fuel their dreams for a flexible future.
While hybrid work is the norm, Hobsbawm thinks that might not be the case in the coming years. More people will become more focused on flexibility than hybrid work as gig work continues to rise in demand to create “economic opportunity for workers globally,” she says. That’s all to say, employees might give up on petitioning for flexibility from their employers and simply start working for themselves.
Demand for gig work in developing countries skyrocketed by 100% from 2016 to 2020, Hobsbawm points out, citing data from the World Bank. In the U.S., the gig economy has been on the up and up for some time now. More than 64 million workers in the nation freelanced this past year, per Upwork Research Institute’s latest study of 3,000 professionals. Since 2014, when it began running such reports, an average 1 million Americans became freelancers annually. Likely owing in part to economic strain and wary of the metaphorical corporate man, younger generations had the greatest proportion of freelancers this year (52% of all Gen Zers and 44% of all millennials).
“The increase in the number of people freelancing we’ve seen over the past 12 months is really just a snapshot of the much larger growth trend we’ve seen over the past decade, as professionals seek alternatives to the rigidity of the traditional nine-to-five,” Margaret Lilani, VP of talent solutions at Upwork, told Fortune. “They are finding in freelancing what they really desire for their careers: greater flexibility, autonomy, and earning power.”
But more companies might be offering flexibility than it seems. It’s one of the top considerations for prospective hires, cofounder and CEO of Scoop Rob Sadow tells Fortune, leaving the majority (62%) of U.S. companies offering work location flexibility. Despite the narrative of waning employee power, that’s up from 51% at the start of the year. The “decoupling of work and place” was a “silver lining” from the pandemic, he says.
For now, not dissimilar from the Secretariat, the race for flexible work is still on.
This story was originally featured on Fortune.com