• Guest Author

The Flexible Future of Work and Accounting

Odds are, you’ve heard plenty about the “gig economy” in the context of Uber, Airbnb, and other companies disrupting traditional industries. These emerging giants, however, are really just the tip of the iceberg in terms of the way the gig economy is transforming the workforce. Even employees in traditional careers are working from home more often, adding side hustles more regularly, and job hopping more frequently. There are many reasons for the growing popularity of freelance and contract work, but technology is the enabling factor that makes it all possible. In a world where there’s very few barriers to working from anywhere, it’s hard to justify the traditional 9-to-5, tethered-to-a-desk workflow of decades past.

Understanding and adapting to the gig economy presents a massive opportunity for those working in accounting. Employers who understand the value of flexibility and mobility stand to acquire top talent; serving clients with multiple sources of income will become the norm. It’s not hyperbole to say that the gig economy will radically alter major aspects of the way we think about work, and accounting, at large.

The gigs are coming

I recently read a great book by Taylor Pearson called “The End of Jobs: Money, Meaning, and Freedom Without the 9-to-5.” In it, Pearson looks to sweeping economic trends to pinpoint why younger workers favor flexibility over traditional working arrangements. “Jobs were safe in a world where more and more were being created and wages were increasing—which they were for most of the 20th century. Since around 1980, that hasn’t been the case,” he writes.

Pearson goes on to speculate that an ever-changing approach isn’t just more economically viable for many people; it’s also more rewarding. “By harnessing freedom and meaning earlier in our careers and putting it into our work, we can now live freer, more meaningful lives that help others, and get rich doing it,” he notes.

I enjoyed “The End of Jobs” because it analyzes the appeal of the gig economy from multiple angles from technological to emotional. After reading it, it’s hard not to see why people are rejecting the ideas about work that were taken as conventional wisdom for generations.

Traditional companies are catching up

Of course, long-established companies aren’t about to allow themselves to wither up and die in the face of the changing workplace. Instead, they are figuring out ways to adapt flexible practices to their company. According to Global Workplace Analytics, between 20 and 25 percent of Americans already work from outside the office with some frequency. That number is only poised to grow.

All you have to do is look to the leading companies to see how prized flexibility has become. Netflix, General Electric, Hubspot, and more all offer unlimited vacation. Deloitte allows its employees to take a one-month, unpaid sabbatical for any reason they’d like. With both “flexible hours” and “work-from-home options” ranking in the top five of Harvard Business Review’s Most Desirable Benefits survey, it’s not hard to see why perks like these have become a trend.

Accountants are in position to benefit

In the talent battleground effecting firms of all shapes and sizes, you’ve probably reckoned with the importance of flexibility already, but the gig economy will also affect how you deal with your clients. In some sense, cloud accounting has already primed the profession to adapt to the changing nature of work. Your clients already expect that you can provide them actionable, up-to-the-minute data anywhere on any device. But is that going far enough?

The nature of the gig economy allows you to provide powerful insights to business owners. More likely than not, some of your clients are already paying varying rates to different contractors working on specific projects. Alerting them to which practices resulted in the lowest costs makes you a trusted advisor helping your client navigate the changing economy.

And these insights will prove only more valuable over time. Whether the 9-to-5 is really going away for good is anyone’s guess, but it’s safe to say that both freelance and flexible work opportunities will continue to rise in the coming years. Understanding the nature of the gig economy from an employer and employee perspective will serve you well both within your organization and with your clients. Ensure your firm is armed with tools that support the new workplace framework.