The Future of Work is Tours of Duty

Let’s be honest, the idea of long-term loyalty between an employer and an employee is now a thing of the past. Organisations can no longer offer a job for life – and most employees don’t want one anyway.

Given the growing need for agility and flexibility, could we soon see permanent employment replaced with something that better reflects the ever-changing nature of modern work?

Changing expectations, new opportunities

Just a few years ago, leaving a job after a year was considered a major career risk. The advice was to stay put for a couple of years at least, even if you didn’t like the job.

Long tenures were the sign of a steady, reliable and professional individual, while job hopping meant the opposite. The more you moved about, the less employable you became.

Today, job hopping is no longer considered career suicide. Employees – and younger ones especially – move from opportunity to opportunity in search of new experiences and personal growth.

Meanwhile, the rise of the gig economy and the cultural shift towards remote working gives us options like never before. You no longer have to be ‘stuck’ in a 9-to-5 job.

From the employer side, technological disruption has created a world in constant flux, forcing organisations to adopt an agile, change-ready attitude. Having a large staff of full-time employees makes it increasingly difficult to adapt to rapidly changing business needs.

To meet the demands of modern organisations and a free-spirited workforce, what’s needed is a new approach to employment that allows both parties to thrive in the future of work.

The rise of project work

One such idea is replacing static, permanent employment with short-term, project-based arrangements – known as tours of duty.

Instead of committing their futures to each other, organisations and individuals collaborate with specific goals in mind. This could last weeks, months, or even years. Once the project is complete, the individual is free to pursue other such opportunities, which could be within the company or outside of it.

This way, organisations can quickly assemble and disassemble expert teams for specific goals. Instead of being weighed down by a hefty staff of full-timers, they can adapt fluidly to changing business needs.

Take the example of a film crew. A range of different experts – camera operators, actors, makeup artists, stunt doubles, etc. – come together for a finite amount of time to work on the project of making a film. Each person has their own role to play, but all are working towards the same goal.

Once the project is complete, these experts move on to their next challenge. Along the way, everyone gains experience, hones their skills, expands their professional networks, and promotes their own personal brands, all while helping their temporary employer – the production company, in this case – to achieve its goals.

Tours of duty are the same, only in the world of business.

Everyone’s a winner

As well as being a practical necessity in the future of work, this shift towards project-based employment could bring a wide range of benefits for those involved.

For the employee, it’s a chance to realise a career of flexibility, autonomy, and personal growth – all benefits that modern employees crave.

Rather than performing the same job in the same place year after year, their careers become varied and interesting. They get to approach their work with an entrepreneurial spirit, and enhance their personal brands through the projects they take on. Moreover, they get to leverage their skills and experience for maximum reward.

The finite, goal-based nature of this work makes it naturally more engaging, motivating, and rewarding than the never-ending routine that many of us are accustomed to. Looking at it this way, project work could even address the twin issues of low productivity and a disengaged workforce.

For organisations, the project-based approach supports a truly agile mindset, allowing them to dip into an expanding pool of unattached talent to meet business demands. And thanks to modern technology, recruitment needn’t be restricted by location or time zone.

As a consequence, organisations will be forced to say goodbye to outdated modes of performance management, such as the much-hated annual appraisal, and replace them with modern alternatives, such as real-time feedback and performance check-ins.

Potential challenges

Despite the benefits, this new approach may not be welcomed by everyone. Some employees like the familiarity and safety of routine. The longer they can stay in one job the better. For these people, project work may represent uncertainty, stress, and even financial insecurity.

On top of this, an individual’s success in this new employment landscape could come down to their ability to self-promote, network, build a website, and maintain an active online presence – skills that will come naturally to some but not others.

There will be plenty of challenges for the organisation as well. How do you ensure that a team of disparate individuals is equipped, motivated, and on track? How do you get temporary project workers to buy into your brand mission and vision? How do you get a group of relative strangers working together without friction or miscommunication?

Final thoughts

In the future of work, offering permanent employment could become unfeasible for many organisations. This makes the move towards project-based arrangements seem inevitable – not for everyone, of course, but for an increasing number of us.

We would then see the rise of the hybrid workforce, comprising a mixture of full-timers, project workers, and freelancers. This will allow businesses to strike a balance between the need for flexibility and continuity.

While this dismantling of job stability will make work more unpredictable, it could also provide many of us with the type of career we dream about – one filled with new opportunities, new experiences, and self-direction.


Nicholas Edwards - http://www.praguecopywriter.com

Nicholas Edwards is a freelance writer and editor based in Prague, the Czech Republic. When he's not helping local businesses master the English language, he loves writing about the future of work for People First. 

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