What Ben & Jerry’s Can Tell Us About the Future of Work
Ben and Jerry know the future.
It’s at home. Not necessarily with a pint of Chunky Monkey in your paws, but, more likely, sitting in front of your laptop managing your workday.
What I’m getting at here are comments made earlier this month by the head of London-based Unilever, one of the world’s largest consumer-product companies and the parent behind the Ben & Jerry’s brand. Speaking at a conference, Unilever CEO Alan Jope said that his office workers will never return to their desks five days a week.
This is a trend I’ve been writing about since the early weeks of the ongoing COVID crisis. Our workaday world has radically changed because of the pandemic, and it continues changing. I read a lot of commentary scoffing at the notion that cubicle farms are dinosaurs. There’s a persistent insistence that workers will all return to their cubicles once vaccinations are widespread, and this experiment in home-work will pass into history.
Maybe that’s true. But I’m sticking with my original assessment.
That’s not me being bull-headed. I’m just listening to what global CEOs are saying. And they’re saying a lot of the same things Mr. Jope said while speaking at that conference: “We anticipate never going back to five days a week in the office. That seems very old-fashioned now.”
He added that Unilever learned during the pandemic (again, as I expressed early on would be the case) that workers were productive at home and that Unilever was quickly able to adapt to this changing reality in creative ways.
And that’s our big takeaway today: Adapting to change through creativity.
Ostensibly, this is a story about working from home and all the opportunities we have today, and they are legion. But there’s a deeper level here. Our world—and I mean the world of boomers and Gen Xers—is changing as fast as it ever has, and adapting to those changes is an exercise in creativity.
I see a plentitude of stats fly by my desk electronically.
• Long-term unemployment is rising and is now a near-permanent, endemic truth in the American workforce; the over-50s are most impacted.
• At least a quarter of unemployed over-50s are expected to never again be hired.
• Americans earning $100,000 a year fear they will never retire (my topic for tomorrow, by the way).
• Retirement security has flown the coop, even for Americans who consider themselves middle class.
I could keep going, but you get the point.
There are two ways to see this: You either bend the knee and accept this reality as your daddy…or you tap into your own well of creativity and you find ways to bend reality to your will.
You know my take on this.
I am always looking to the creative side. I refuse to bow when I am confident I can shape my future to my desires.
I look at what has transpired in the past year, and frankly 2020 was pretty good to me, all things considered. Yes, the pandemic screwed up my travel plans to Oman, Albania, and the Philippines. And it has kept me and my fiancé-now-wife apart because of border closures in the Czech Republic, where I live, and Russia, where she’s a professor. Still, I saw in the pandemic the opportunity to attack freelancing from different perspectives.
As I’ve noted previously, I overhauled my Fiverr freelance account early in the pandemic to concentrate on what I love—scriptwriting—with the idea that buyers were increasingly going to look for experts in a particular field rather than generalists. I took the opportunity to tackle two e-books, the subjects of which are au courant, as the French say.
And I’ve been happy with the results. Here at the end of January, I can tell you this was a $1,144 month for me on Fiverr. To be clear, that’s part time—in all, right at 17 hours, so $67.29 per hour. I’m quite happy with that. That’s money flowing into a separate savings account I only really touch for investment purposes. And it’s money I’m earning in idle hours in the dead of winter in Prague, when I’d have nothing else to do but veg in front of Netflix.
Everyone has these opportunities. I see all kinds of people pop up in TikTok who have used the past year to build creative, at-home businesses—everything from candle-making to tie-died T-shirts to lithographic printing to…well, I can’t list all the money-making ventures I’ve seen TikTokers successfully pursue.
That’s what this new era is all about. That’s what Unilever’s Jope is talking about when he says his workers will never return to the office full-time. He and other CEOs have seen that there’s too much creativity in the human brain. No matter whether we’re in a cubicle or sitting at a kitchen table, we can create new opportunities and new realities, particularly in a world that’s online 24 hours a day.
So, time to get creative…
By Jeff D. Opdyke