Discover why the virtual space may very well be the future of work.

In this new surreal world, where the new normal is mandatory temperature checks at your local cocktail bar and “elbowing” is the trendy way of greeting someone, it appears the ever-changing office space has also taken a larger-than-life shift. With alternative workplaces and the introduction of unique work schedules, it’s apparent that not every person in their 20s is experiencing the traditional full-time work model.

From buying a great number of pot plants to creating the perfect balance of feng shui in your new DIY “office” (such as the corner of your lounge room), to meal-prepping for the two days a week you’re required in the city office, every person has made some sort of adjustment to their new work situation. The real questions are, which work model is best? And are more virtual work models going to become the new norm?

It seems country music singer Dolly Parton was onto something. Working 9-5 has lost its sex appeal; Gen Zs and young millennials have found more important values in the workplace including freedom, flexibility and control. In a 2019 survey by Deloitte, 84 per cent of the millennial participants and 81 per cent of Gen Zs indicated they’d consider freelance or contract work over working as a full-time employee. With side-hustle culture at its peak and the effects of COVID-19 on workplaces, millennials are opting for new and creative ways to spice up their resumes by choosing “unconventional” career paths. We’re also realising office spaces are wildly expensive and therefore potentially unnecessary.

Soulful purpose

Brand and marketing coach and millennial expert, Dimity Edwards, expressed how side hustles provide flexibility to live with a greater sense of happiness and soulful purpose.

“More so than ever, millennials and Gen Zs have watched their parents and grandparents grind hard. Early mornings and late nights with very little downtime is the narrative us millennials and Gen Zs have grown up with as we have watched as our older role models did whatever they could just to get ahead. However, it’s different for us. Even with a global pandemic, we truly live in the most affluent time in history. Accessibility is at our fingertips. We have grown up with a new story, one where we’ve been shown we can be, do and have whatever we want, all while working smarter, not harder. I don’t believe it’s a matter of side-hustle versus a nine-to-five lifestyle, but rather an embedded understanding that life is short and you can get ahead without burning out.”

We’ve all fantasised about working in a lush office with city views (think The Devil Wears Prada), but we are quickly accepting the reality of how an office can also serve up a banquet of limitations. We’ve realised there can be a delicious taste to a flexible work-from-home (WFH) lifestyle.
Dimity said she’s been blessed to have experienced the office environment and side-hustle life for a number of years, however the main constraints of “office life” are that you feel an obligation to show up at a certain time, feel the need to be seen to be “always doing something”, and are often spending precious life hours commuting to and from work.

The hybrid work model

IT manager Amanda, who falls into generation X (born between 1965–1979), works full time at her Sydney-based office. Amanda has had the same job for almost 20 years and has loved her career, although she understands the desire of side-hustles and virtual workplaces and even admits she would prefer to do a split week of in-office and WFH — the hybrid work model.

“I think the reason millennials and Gen Zs gravitate towards the changing office space and alternative ways to earn an income is because it’s more fun. I think flexibility is the future work lifestyle; there’s a lot to learn in those roles. I think it’s just where the world is heading. Life is changing,” she says.

“Pre-COVID, Gen Zs were basically using physical distancing anyway — they live in the online space. Businesses have followed the Gen Z style during COVID and I imagine many will continue to do so and probably for as long as possible.”

Adds Dimity: “As we saw with the 2020 lockdown, people from all generations are extremely adaptable and scarily can almost live a life where they don’t need to ever physically interact with another human. In saying that, there are many pros of going digital. The flexibility, the limitless knowledge and accessibility to massive networks, connectivity with strangers who become your best friends, and the number of possibilities to make an income.

Millennials and Gen Zs just get digital. You don’t have to teach us how to adapt to it, we were brought up with it running through our blood every day.” Communications and careers manager at The Fashion Institute, Bryce McIntosh, expressed how running classes digitally during COVID didn’t have a completely detrimental effect on students’ learning. “With the transition in style of teaching online, we had our trainers invite guest speakers into their digital class times, which helped keep the students’ excitement levels up. We are very well known for our regular panels of guest speakers here in person at the college, so it was nice that we could continue to do this.

“I definitely see a huge transition of people studying online in comparison to face-to-face, which is why we launched our diploma nationally online during COVID. We all live busy lifestyles and a lot of us want to upskill. The online education landscape will continue to boom and COVID has made this more prominent.”

Former Married At First Sight star, Melissa Lucarelli, works from home and other locations as a freelance influencer. “When it comes to the brands and businesses I work with, they had to quickly adapt more digitally to survive and I’ve been blown away by how quickly a lot of them have done that. During lockdown, gyms transitioned to hosting virtual workout classes, restaurants and cafes were offering delivery, clothing stores pushed their marketing by promoting their loungewear ranges or ‘Zoom-worthy’ options — and they were all digital.

“As an influencer, I collaborate with fashion, lifestyle, health and beauty brands. Since COVID, I’ve had the same amount — if not more — partnerships. With the uprise of side-hustles (new brands and businesses) being birthed during this new world we’re all living in, social media is the best way to get business flowing.”

If you’re the type who is anxious about going digital or scared of “doing it wrong”, just know that there is a world of knowledge out there. Reach out to like-minded side-hustlers or brands you want to work with — after all, they’re only a click away.