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Portfolio Careers: The Future of Work

There’s a subtle shift happening in the workplace. Actually, it’s not that subtle. I see it in my colleagues and my coaching clients. It has even happened to me. What am I talking about? Portfolio careers. It’s the future of work.

Portfolio careers explained

A portfolio career is one that is person-centered, not organization-centered. Gone are the days where you join a company and work up through the ranks, staying for most of your working life and retiring after many years of dedicated service. In fact, those days were gone long ago. They were replaced by graduates jumping between jobs every few years, both through the necessity of needing to stay in a job and a desire to find something meaningful to do. Employees wanted to use their skills, to make a contribution and to feel valued and they were prepared to jump ship to do it.

Today, leaving a stable job is still an option, but it’s also possible to get that overall feeling of career satisfaction by doing something else: taking on a side hustle.

The side hustle phenomenon

I don’t particularly like the term side hustle but I’ve seen it used online quite a lot recently. It means taking on another job, usually one that you enjoy and that taps into your need to use your skills in a fulfilling way. It’s something you can do in the evenings and on weekends. It often starts as a hobby that makes a little bit of money and turns into something you can do part-time alongside your “proper” job.

Let me give you some examples, starting with myself. I work as a project manager but I also coach other project managers and work as a copywriter. I also write books sometimes. I didn’t start those extra things because I didn’t enjoy project management work. I started them because I loved them too. Today’s employees don’t want to have to choose the one thing they love for their career. They want several options.

I know a project office manager who is also a videographer, producing video content for corporate clients and short science fiction films. I know a publisher who spends her summers running the crew of a superyacht. I know a project manager who works as a radiographer in her local hospital for a couple of days a week. An electrician who makes money restoring cars.

Ask your friends and colleagues. You’ll find people who run Etsy shops, trade on eBay, do the accounts part-time for their school or dedicate hours and hours unpaid to charities. A portfolio career is all about building a work life that reflects who you are, with all the strings to your bow that it entails.

portfolio careers and the workplace
The benefits of portfolio careers

When you do what you love and find ways to balance all your interests, you become a more rounded and satisfied individual. You are also more employable. If you own a bakery, the skills of selling your cakes translate well to selling products or customer service at work. You feel more in control of your career and freed from being tied down to one specialism.

You’ll also feel more secure because your income isn’t all generated from one source. Most side hustles don’t bring in lots of money but it might be enough to stop you from looking for another salaried job. I think this stems from the recent economic crisis, where we saw a lot of people look to diversify as a way of protecting themselves should the worse happen.

It all contributes to a healthy work and life balance, allowing people to be more engaged and committed at work. In turn, this drives employee productivity.

What it means for leaders

Leading a team of people who have portfolio careers has many advantages. They tend to be committed, happy and engaged with a healthy approach to balancing their work and personal lives. They are also very flexible, acknowledging that business needs require them to be available at differing hours and managing their own time.

Allowing people to freely pursue their alternative jobs is a way of creating a positive work environment to be more suitable for the style that is favored by millennials—although none of the examples I previously mentioned involved millennials, so it’s not a generation-specific thing.

However, there are some challenges. You risk walking past your employee’s desk and seeing them sending personal emails that aren’t related to your business. You might find that team members are less inclined to work late; or you might have more part-time staff, although I personally haven’t seen any evidence of that happening yet.

You can manage all these renaissance-careerist side-effects by encouraging openness and setting clear guidelines for what is acceptable during the hours that people are paid to work for you. Portfolio careers shouldn’t be a green light to work on pet projects or volunteer work during office hours. As a leader, it’s more about ensuring the flexibility of working time to allow your team to follow all their passions.

The tools to support portfolio careers

Another consideration for managers leading teams of people with portfolio careers is that there is a big grey area between work and non-work. In order to make it possible for your team to keep that blended approach, you’ll need to provide them with the tools to work effectively.

Generally, this means cloud-based, online project solutions that allow team members to access their project data wherever they are. As technology moves more towards the personal cloud, with workplace apps slotting inside this, granting your employees access to easy ways of keeping in touch with all of their jobs will make it easier for everyone to keep up to date with what’s happening.

Portfolio careers are here to stay, whether you like it or not. And yes, it can be disruptive for businesses, but only if you let it be. If you embrace the additional skills and diversity that this brings to your company, then you can tap into the benefits of an engaged, highly motivated and loyal staff. That’s a workforce that any leader could be proud of.


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