They’re young, tech-savvy, and they embrace a mobile culture. They’re okay with their ‘traveling work spaces’— working cross timezones, anywhere in the world. Their social productivity is innate in the workflow—this new breed of uncollared workforce, mostly comprising of millennials, is about to disrupt Asia’s working class in the future.

The shift to uncollared economy is inevitable and it’s expected to affect the incumbent institutions and regulators’ implementation of policies in labor, taxation, and consumer protection, especially in Asia’s top outsourcing destinations such as Singapore, India, China, Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand, and Philippines.

Undressing the collars of an 8-hour day work day

Meet the millennials. They’re born between 1980 and 2000—the generation that went through a crucial transition when technology itself was morphing into digital mobile era. And because of mobile computing, Internet, and sprouting on-demand services (like oDesk, Elance, Airbnb, Uber, and Lyft), it’s easier for these digital literates to use these resources, undressing themselves from the collars of 8-hour day job and redefining the 21st century workplace.

Jumping into the bandwagon of freedom and flexibility through individual entrepreneurship, freelancing, and crowd economy, they highly value personal development and empowerment in pursuit of success, significance, and security. Several reports and case studies conducted by various brands and agencies support the above-mentioned premise.

Let’s get the facts straight:

  • Millennials make up 25% of the population, the largest generation since Baby Boomers, whilst in China and India, there are 200 million and 500 million respectively says Visa study, Connecting with the Millennials;
  • By 2020, the millennials will account for 50% of the global workforce according to recent the PwC report;
  • Millennials at work are reshaping the financial services in Asia, whilst 59% said they made compromises when accepting their current role.
  • Telefonica’s survey on Millennials and Technology in Asia says that 74%, among the 12,171 participants commissioned online quantitative interview, believe they can make a global difference.
  • 83% of Asian millennials expect corporations to get involved and solve social issues that drive change according to MSL Group Asia report.
  • The uncollared economy is expected to grow to $10 billion according to a recent analysis by Greylock Partners.

YOLO-ing the uncollared work and life balance

So, meet the uncollared workforce that comprises millennials, driven to ameliorate working conditions that suit their lifestyle, personal development and empowerment.  Simon Rothman, a partner at Greylock Partners describes them as “the people who work independently, work when they want to work and do the job that they want to do.”

And as far as technology and mobile computing are concerned in improving our connectivity and productivity, the uncollared economy, which is dependent on Internet and mobile computing, is still in its formative stage. With Asia’s 1 billion population, and only 30% of them are connected online, a bright future awaits for these uncollared workforce. We are bracing for a phenomenon that will truly impact billions. So what are immediate trends to look for:

#1 Adoption of collaborative mindset will increase

Collaborative mindset? What does “collaborative” mean, anyway? In his column on Cisco Blogs, Carlos Dominguez, SVP- Office of the Chairman of the Board and CEO of Cisco Systems, nailed down a relevant definition, throwing his mix from various reputable sources and says, “Collaboration is highly diversified teams working together inside and outside a company with the purpose to create value by improving innovation, customer relationships and efficiency while leveraging technology for effective interactions in the virtual and physical space.”

What to expect: There will be an increase of adoption with collaborative mindset in the uncollared economy as the demands from work and lifestyle change. Beyond the walls are people connected, providing valuable services to one another to solve a problem.

#2 DIY approach to improve digital literacy skills

“The desire to excel in the field I’m in drives me to give it my best shot,” says a 24-year old employed female in Hong Kong to PwC Millennials at Work. In a nutshell, this new breed of workforce is hungry for learning and improvement.

To keep abreast with digital trends is a requisite in a collaborative mindset and environment. With a myriad of platforms and tools, the uncollared workforce is likely to invest more time in improving their digital literacy skills through e-learning tools like online courses, webinars, and trainings in the likes of Udemy and Coursera, from which people involved in providing services also acquire a share of revenue. In 2013, the e-learning industry was valued $56.2 billion, and is expected to double in 2015 says e-Learning Industry.

What to expect: The uncollared workforce in Asia will keep up with their western counterparts in improving digital literacy skills through these available online tools, not just for personal growth and development, but in the services their provide to one another.

#3 Secondary services to support the uncolored workforce will become commonplace

The structure of uncollared workforce is questionable to critics, because unlike the collared jobs that have stable income, fixed working hours, and defined benefits, they’re stripping these from the employers’ provisioning of long-term benefits like retirement and social security plans. Instead of working full-time, the uncollared workforce builds their standards of ideal working environment through on-demands platforms like oDesk, Freelancer, and Elance. But will we give up security for flexibility?

What to expect: We will soon seen parallel and tertiary markets and services develop that will cater to the new un-collared workforce, in the way of new insurance products, healthcare and support services that will provide the security blankets that we normally only see with traditional jobs. 

#4 Customisable working environment through on-demand services

From the perspective of start-ups, which are considered as part of the uncollared workforce through individual entrepreneurship, they’re also tapping the crowd economy to fulfill the needs of others, disrupting the traditional business work flow. Some examples of this include Kuaidi Dache, a China-based taxi-hailing app that automates taxi booking and dispatch, Airbnb-like TravelMob, a Singapore-based vacation rental platform, and Pandabus, a China-based bus-dispatching platform to locate the user’s location and show the available buses in the area.

What to expect: The list of Asian on-demand services is endless, which leads us to new ways of working, whilst the uncollared workforce will utilise these platforms, whether for personal consumption, co-creation of crowdsourcing apps, or flexible decentralised working environment.

#5 Empowerment on individual and collaborative entrepreneurship

The ability to control is one of the perks in joining the uncollared workforce—“they are able to control the ‘when’ and ‘what’ of their job” as Rothman puts it. Because millennials have their own way of working and mindset, it’s a requisite for corporations to understand their culture and perspective at work in an open technology-driven and collaborative digital era. It’s also a challenge for these corporations to mix both agile and traditional work practices.

A 24-year old female based in China—one of the respondents in PwC Millennials at Work—tells us, “My generation considers what is best suited to our development and empowerment as individuals, rather than looking for a stable position without any change.”

What to expect: Millennials have a different mindset at work; if they don’t enjoy or love what they do, they won’t stick long until retirement. They are driven by empowerment and significant contribution to society. If they don’t enjoy the company anymore, they leave it or become self-employed, which may increase individual and collaborative entrepreneurship in the future if corporations fail to nurture these aggressive thinkers and strategists.

What must policy makers and regulators do?

The uncollared workforce is still in its infancy in Asia, whilst the people are also in the experimental stages of collaborative work and entrepreneurship. Regulators must work closely with these new breeds of entrepreneurs, drawing the lines on ethical practices, and refrain from over-taxing or over regulating the process. They must empower them in creating innovations that can boost not just economic growth, but also creating awareness for social responsibility and individual entrepreneurship.

Asian crowds image via Flickr