The Future of Work and the Free Radical

The following introduction sketches the problem that this panel tried to address:

How we work is changing. But where we work isn’t. Over the last ten years a new way of working has emerged, along with some people who live it every day. They’re available 24/7. They network endlessly, and then plug their skills into others’ in surprising combinations. They choose when and how they do what they do, on their terms. They don’t want job security – they want career fluidity. We call them free radicals. And they’re creating the future of work. But when they look for a place to do all that, the options are weirdly outdated: office, home, or on the go – say, a café. Those are actually poor choices. Offices mean fixed cost and daily routine. Home is isolated and full of distractions. And cafés get old after the second latté.

The speakers at this panel were from Grind (beautiful concept and beautiful website, check it out!), the Freelancers Union, Coolhunting and Behance.


To connect somebody to the workspace now comes at the same costs and space requirements of a single laptop. This is happening in a time where there is a big amount of distrust towards big corporations. The space for free-radicals is growing fast (it will grow 25% in 2013). We seem to all become a little more selfish: we expect to be fully utilised, do what we love, work on our terms, we have little time for bureaucracy and want more meritocracy. If you are in a job that doesn’t give you these things, then because of the lack of fraction for doing something for yourself, you now have few excuses for going on working for large corporations. One excuse that is still there is the lack of economic security (things like health insurance). The infrastructure for creating that safety net is now being build around the power and resources of the group.

Scott Belsky talked about how we can create the feedback, refinement and discipline that comes with working in large organizations for free radicals too. Promotion doesn’t exist anymore as a way to gauge your progress. He expects to see meritocratic communities spring up to fulfil this need and co-working spaces to help this process.

It is now increasingly possible to be a free radical inside a company. It is possible to adopt this methodology of work within this corporate structure (to be honest: this is something that I am trying to do more and more myself). The more successful you are in doing this, the more likely you are to do your best work. There are two clear benefits for this for companies: the first one is the real estate costs going down, the second is the advantage to have a more fluid way of pulling together a bespoke team of expert free radicals and make proper use of talent. So it makes sense for organizations to try and reduce the friction to make free radicals succeed.

One problem is that our current education system doesn’t prepare us for this kind of life- and workstyle. High schools are trying to mimic the cubicle workplace (via Audrey Watters):

Highschool trying to mimic a cubicle farm
Highschool trying to mimic a cubicle farm

One thing that is enabling this free radical revolution is the democratization of professional tools. You used to have to “join the mothership” to be able to get access to the tools you need to do your job. Now you can get these tools for 99 bucks. The documentary PressPausePlay addresses this point:


Personal marketing is very important. There is a little bit of a taboo around self-marketing in the creative world, but you have to spend some time making sure people can see the work that you have done. This led to a little bit of a discussion on whether free radicals need some sort of collective brand. The panel was divided on this: some thought it was a bit contrary to the point of being your own (wo)man. Others thought it was important to popularize the notion and one panelist even thought it was very important for the movement to put a proper label on it and create a group identity.

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