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| May 24, 2022

What Does the Future of Work Look Like for Hourly Workers?

For years, salaried workers have been allowed to pop out to pick up their kids or take a day off if something comes up. Hourly workers often don't have these luxuries, and now they're looking toward solutions, like apps, to fix this discrepancy.
By Kira Caban |

4 minutes

Ever since the explosion of remote work in 2020, conversations around the future of work for salaried workers have dominated headlines. Companies are experimenting with four-day workweeks, offering more robust benefit packages, and making hybrid or fully remote work the norm. And while all of these conversations are worth having, there is a large piece of the puzzle we’re forgetting: hourly workers. 

Hourly workers make up over half of the entire workforce, yet they have been largely ignored in conversations around the future of work. It’s time we start paying attention to their needs, too. 

So, what does the future of work look like for hourly workers? 

It looks like flexibility; allowing workers the freedom of choice to not be tied down to a handful of businesses who aren’t willing to accommodate the hours the worker needs. Instead of working random hours that may not allow someone to care for their sick family, go on vacation, or attend their child’s performance in a school play, apps now exist to enable workers to choose shifts at varying businesses.

What hourly workers need

Hourly workers are tied to the timetable — they clock in and clock out depending on the needs of the business they work for, without much of a say in when or how they work. They cannot afford to simply ask their manager for an hour to pick up their sick child from school or the day off to take care of them. If they don’t show up, they don’t get paid. And in some cases, they may even be fired for missing a shift.

Those of us who work traditional office jobs have already received the benefits of flexible work arrangements. Hourly workers have not gotten the same opportunity, and they are starting to question why. Hourly workers deserve flexibility, and now, they are beginning to demand it

When the pandemic began, many hourly workers were suddenly without work. It was an incredibly stressful period, but it also allowed them to slow down and spend time with their families and contemplate what they want out of their personal and professional lives. It sparked a change that had been a long time coming and one that the past two years have only further cemented. 

I’ve seen firsthand how this change can positively affect people’s lives. Carrie is an hourly worker and single mom of four boys. When she lost her job at the beginning of the pandemic, it forced her to re-examine her approach to work. She found an app that offers flexible work solutions, which allowed her to create a work schedule that fit the needs of her family instead of the other way around. She has now found a way to adjust her schedule to double up on shifts when her children are at school and take time off to see her boys’ soccer games. She has more freedom and choice than ever before and is advancing financially without sacrificing her personal life. 

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Become a flexible business

Flexibility is good for workers and also beneficial to businesses themselves. Traditionally, businesses have had a team of workers scheduled to work on an as-needed basis. But what happens if one or more of those workers can’t make it to their scheduled shift? Or if your interviewees continually ghost you? Without coverage, a business may scramble to find a replacement and lose money. And when businesses are short-staffed, it is a fast track to poor service and burnout. It is a rigid system that doesn’t allow wiggle room for the curveballs that inevitably come when working in a people-powered business. 

It doesn’t have to be this way. When we give flexibility to our workers, we provide our business flexibility too. We’re no longer entirely reliant on a small group of staff to show up, never getting sick or having a personal crisis. Instead, we can build and utilize systems that help us quickly bring in outside help, find people who are available and willing to work the shifts we need to be covered and allow our business to move forward without delay. When we stop sweating the small stuff, we can instead focus on building our business to its fullest potential. 

The solution is in the App Store

So what does flexibility for hourly workers look like in practice? 

Businesses that want to embrace flexibility in their workforce need only to sign up for a flexible work platform. These platforms are being created to usher in the future of hourly work. Business owners can sign up, fill in their requirements, and post shifts they need covered. And for workers, it’s just as easy. They can download the app, create a profile, and have access to shifts in as little as 24 hours. 

Many workers and businesses have already begun to participate in this budding future — like Robert. Pre-pandemic, Robert was a lead waiter and trainer in Austin. When those jobs disappeared, he began looking at apps that would staff him temporarily in various locations. He was able to visit family in Minnesota for the first time in three years and not skip a beat, immediately finding work through the app as soon as he stepped off the plane. Now, two years later, he has no plan to return to his old way of work and instead will continue hopping back and forth between Austin and Minnesota, creating a work schedule uniquely fitted to his needs. 

These arrangements are a win-win for business owners and hourly workers alike —  enabling businesses to quickly fill shifts and workers to tailor their schedules to their lives — and it is as simple as signing in to the app store. 

Listen to workers

If business owners don’t start considering hourly workers’ need for flexibility and look toward the future, the staffing shortages we are seeing now will only continue.  

Furthermore, even when staffing shortages lessen, we cannot expect workers to return to the old status quo. Historically, the hourly workforce has been mistreated, with low wages and inconvenient, exhausting hours. The onset of the pandemic opened up a new conversation about what workers are willing to accept. As we continue to navigate the post-pandemic world, we will need to meet workers where they are, extending some of the same privileges salaried workers have been receiving for years. 

Many businesses are already doing so, and it is time for everyone to follow suit. Do not be left behind in the future of hourly work. Prioritize flexibility and utilize apps offering solutions. Flexibility is not only what workers want for the future — but what they need.

Kira Caban
Executive Author

Head of Strategic Communications, Instawork

Kira Caban is a flexible work expert and leads global communications for Instawork. view profile

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