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Bye-Bye, 9 to 5: The 'Renaissance Career' is Here!

Posted by Alex Pearlman  September 20, 2011 05:04 PM

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working_from_home.jpgMillennials are the workforce generation partially to blame for the consumerization of IT and the spread of everyday products into the once-sealed-but-never-safe business world. We demand our iPads, our Android phones, and our own laptops. We know that real time is the only time and that news hits, trends, and disappears in the span of 140 characters and a few seconds.

Fortunately, from startups to publicly traded Fortune 500 companies, the working world is keeping up. With employees able to connect from home, the library, and the hotel room -- or, if you live in Inman Square, from The Druid, where the WiFi is free and the accents are Irish -- via a virtual private network (VPN), IT departments are scrambling to keep these connections secure.

Millennials, however, are figuring out how to use this new structure to our advantage. Since the economy tanked, we’re entering a “new normal” workplace, one in which companies are looking to save every penny and employees are looking to save every second. The working world is becoming increasingly unrecognizable to our parents and grandparents, but we have the tools to build and shape that environment.

Enter “The Renaissance Career.” Our generation doesn’t define ourselves by our day jobs. The term “9 to 5” no longer applies. Now, we freelance, volunteer our time, and build a business based on our passions all while attending college, working at Important Stuff, Inc., and raising families.

“I have a girlfriend, I have a family, I have friends, and these are all things that are very important because we work to live, not the other way around,” said Greg Housser, a Gen Y employee at Euro RSCG Worldwide PR, in a CNN story on the workplace response to Millennials’ requests.

Michael Morisy, 27, is the editorial director of technology community TechTarget by day and, also by day, a volunteer at Spare Change News and business owner. His ability to be -- and the luxury of being able to be -- a jack-of-several-trades comes directly from his employment at TechTarget, whose open-door policy puts trust in its employees instead of enforcing the title of a Dolly Parton song, and after time spent in the corporate trenches.

“One of my first jobs was at a place that was very big on time cards: You punched in, you punched out, and it was all tracked very carefully,” said Morisy.

Those early experiences revealed the backwardness of strict timelines, which often discouraged the productivity they’re intended to enforce. “After punching in, employees just spent the first two or three hours of the day reading the newspaper and drinking coffee and the rest of the day drawing out as little work as possible to stretch to five [hours],” Morisy said.

But those types of companies and schedules haven’t entirely died out just yet. Ron Adams, 31, a Cambridge-based web developer -- an occupation that might suggest a reliance on remote working capabilities -- said that his last three companies required that he be in the office between the “core hours” of 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.

“I find that these businesses are still very old-school and reluctant about using the web to collaborate,” Adams said. “My typical workday allows me to work independently throughout the whole day without face-to-face interaction. Less than three times a week do I require face-to-face meetings, and those could almost always be accomplished with Skype or even IM [or] email.

“If I had my choice, I’d work remotely,” he said, admitting that remote capabilities would make it much simpler to launch a side business or “kick off a new web project.” And Adams said he understands that is probably reason enough for employers to be hesitant.

But just because employees are working on outside interests or projects during traditional working hours doesn’t mean they’re not being productive. Morisy found that more flexibility meant a transformed mindset that concrete office hours can’t promote. Working at a company with flexible hours and remote capabilities means that he’s “a lot more invested in making sure things work at the end of the day, whether that takes five hours or 10 hours,” he said.

“It also means that I have the flexibility to plan my day around the way I want to live,” Morisy said, which can range from a mid-day run to a non-work-related phone call. (Full disclosure: I also work at TechTarget and wrote parts of this article during “normal” work hours.)

But there are dangers in granting such flexibility to recent grads. “When I started at TechTarget, I actually kept the worst hours imaginable because that’s what I had done in college,” Morisy said. “It took me a few months and some baggy eyes to realize that just because you could do something one way, it doesn’t mean you should.”

Photo by thinkspace

By Melanie Yarbrough -- I write, but mostly I read. I love bakeries, school supplies, comfortable shoes, short fiction, and really good sentences. Watch me make some mediocre sentences at @myarbrough.

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