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A New Generation of Workers Is Global, Remote, and Flexible

A New Generation of Workers Is Global, Remote, and Flexible

Younger workers are increasingly seeking freelance opportunities and remote work—a significant shift in workplace norms that could have a large-scale impact on individuals, businesses, and entire countries

Illustration by Arturo Magallanes
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By now, it’s well established: people prefer flexibility and remote work options. According to a recent McKinsey study,when employees are given an opportunity to work flexibly, 87 percent of them take it.

Younger workers are particularly likely to leap at the chance of flexible work. The same study by McKinsey noted that while 19 percent of older workers (ages fifty-five to sixty-four) did not accept a remote work opportunity when offered, just 12 percent of younger workers declined that offer.

But remote work is not the only trend that young workers are powering. Approximately 60 percent of both Gen Zers and millennials say they have a side hustle, compared to 35 percent of Gen Xers and 22 percent of baby boomers, according to a 2022 Zapier survey.  

And experts expect that both trends will continue in future. About four times as many Gen Zers as boomers say they have either recently started a side hustle or that they plan to start one by the end of the year, and it is widely acknowledged that flexible work will be “an enduring feature of the modern working world.”

We have already seen a paradigm shift in the business world because of the COVID-19 pandemic. But given these trends, it’s very possible that this era of seismic change is not over. We asked the experts about how individuals, businesses, economies, and even cultures might be impacted as the new generation of remote, flexible, side-hustling workers takes their place on the world stage.

Greater Flexibility and Meaning

Individual employees both in the United States and abroad will see a number of different benefits from this shift in workplace norms. 

Some of those benefits are obvious. People who work remotely, for example, will be better positioned to maintain a healthy work/life balance, while people who have a side hustle (and therefore have diversified streams of revenue) will be better positioned to weather economic difficulties. 

But that’s not the only area we might see an impact. Younger workers—the same demographic that has seen a recent surge in quiet quitting—are increasingly looking to their side hustles as a way to find meaning.

As Mujeres on the Rise Founder Melba Tellez notes, having a side hustle is “not just about what you do—it’s about why you do it.” When she first launched the platform, which is designed to connect Latina women and empower them with resources they need to grow their careers, it was a passion project. Today, it’s a community of more than fifty thousand women across TikTok, Facebook, and Instagram.

The rise in remote work, on the other hand, could have a significant impact on people working outside the United States—specifically, on international workers who might otherwise have needed to submit intensive, time-consuming visa applications (and wait for the immigrant visa backlog to be alleviated) to work in the United States.

“We have team members who are making six figures in remote locations in Mexico, and they don’t have the necessity [to emigrate],” confirms Carlos Escutia, CEO of GroWrk and a future of work expert.

Access to a Larger Talent Pool—and More Savings

Escutia works with remote workers (and businesses) every day. He has a team of forty people working across seven countries, and the company has no set offices. The majority of GroWrk employees are from the United States, although a substantial portion are from Latin America and Asia. Most of their work is done virtually and asynchronously. 

To Escutia, the benefits of a remote workforce are clear. “It’s been a really interesting shift over the last few years where companies have figured out that working remotely works for them, and realizing the efficiencies of it,” he says. “With remote work, you can tap into talent—billions of people worldwide.”

More and more of Escutia’s customers are understanding the advantages of a majority-remote workforce, he says. And he expects even more companies to get on board with the trend in future. Because it’s not just about accessing a broader pool of talent. It’s also about the numbers: hiring an engineer from abroad, he explains, is currently more affordable than hiring one domestically.

The increasing number of freelancers presents a similar savings opportunity, the CEO says. “It allows you to recruit people [in a limited way] or ongoing. That flexibility gives you control over your costs.” 

Shift in Average Retirement Age 

As more and more workers opt for the part- and full-time freelance life, we might see some important shifts in when and how people choose to retire. 

According to Business News Daily, freelancers aged fifty-five and older earn more than twice as much as younger freelancers, in large part due to their experience level. In the future, this could tempt freelance workers to continue working past the age they might have expected to retire.

Latinos’ average retirement age might change more than that of other groups: according to Zippia, Latinos are the most likely group out of all people of color to engage in freelance work.

Pressure to Safeguard Local Communities

One of the perks of remote work is that many employees can work from anywhere, not just their homes. In fact, there’s been a large-scale shift as more and more workers have moved (either temporarily or permanently) to areas with a lower cost of living. Some countries, including Barbados and Estonia, have issued special work visas to these digital nomad workers.

But not all countries are eager for an influx of remote workers. Mexico City, for instance, has become a go-to destination, which has created important discourse around gentrification, the displacement of native communities, and the colonial mindset behind it. This will be a critical issue to monitor as the remote, freelancer workforce continues to grow.

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