Hey there, Justin here. Tonight (February 8th) at 7pm SAST/6pm WAT, I’ll be participating in a Twitter Space on the business of podcasting in Africa alongside Osagie Alonge, a co-founder of the Nigerian podcast network Visual Audio Times, and “a few other guests” 😉 . Hosted by newsletter writer and Nestcoin’s Head of Comms David I. Adeleke. Join us!
The Flip Notes is sponsored by Flutterwave.
Flutterwave recently published its 2021 year in review, and it was quite a year. Partnerships with the likes of PayPal, mobile money providers like MTN and Airtel, and banking institutions like Standard Bank. Their continued expansion initiatives pushed their country tally to over 30 markets globally. They acquired the creator platform Disha, and closed their $170 million Series C. And, they launched a few big products, including Flutterwave Market and the remittance platform Send.
What is a job?
A few weeks ago, I wrote about the future of work. It explored this question of work through a wide spectrum – from the platforms that help offline, analog businesses grow to the possible new job types that don’t exist yet. What wasn’t talked about as much in that piece is the nature of work in the tech ecosystem and white-collar knowledge worker jobs, in general.
In the west, The Great Resignation saw millions of Americans quitting their job. The COVID-induced rise in remote work has changed employee expectations regarding flexibility, while many employers are either unwilling or unable to put improved processes in place to make work from home a better experience. The average tenure of the workforce is decreasing, and that number decreases even further for younger workers. The younger you are, the less likely you are to stay at one job for very long.
At the same time, the competition for tech talent in major African cities is at an all-time high – and coming at an all-time high cost.
But it’s not just that employees want more flexibility and more money. The nature of a job itself is changing, as well.
Last week, Paga’s Tayo Oviosu tweeted this:
To which software engineer Ayomide Oyekanmi responded:
It’s worth pointing out that Ayomide graduated from university in 2018, per his LinkedIn. He is firmly Gen Z, and what we are witnessing is a generational disagreement about the nature of work. Do better work, and then dip if it’s best for you – and why not?
How can you gain valuable experience working in a job for only 3 months?, the old guard asks.
How can you gain valuable experience working only with the same people on the same problem?, the new guard replies.
In economic theory, firms exist primarily because of transaction costs – it is more affordable and sensible to hire an employee than to contract out work on an as-needed basis. Firms then offer services to attract and retain – benefits, bonuses, a computer, etc. – as well as the perception of security.
However, as digital tools reduce these transaction costs, work is being unbundled from traditional employment. It has become easier and more commonplace to have flexible work. As the number of flexible employees increases, the market size for products and services for this consumer segment increases, which has led to the development of newer products and services that further drive down these transaction costs.
Pre-COVID, there was already an increasing trend toward flexible work, and a proliferation of collaboration and coordination tools – Slack, Zoom, no-code tools, the enterprization of the consumer – only accelerated this trend. Then COVID blew the doors off.
If you can earn the same amount of money (or more!) with flexibility and autonomy and all of the benefits and services that the firm provides with none of the BS, and none of the risk of getting fired with all your eggs in one basket – it’s no wonder people are leaving firms in droves.
Work has never been as fluid as it has before. We’re in the era of what Not Boring’s Packy McCormick calls liquid employment:
Maybe because I’m a full-time newsletter writer and don’t work for a company anymore, but I can’t shake the idea that careers will become a lot more fluid in the years to come.
Pre-COVID, showing up to the same office every day made it hard to work for a second employer. But when another job is just a Slack workspace away, it becomes much easier to work multiple part-time jobs.
This flexibility will significantly increase the opportunity cost of choosing an exclusive employer. Every decision to spend four years vesting at one company will mean shutting off hundreds of other opportunities.
Investors would never choose to invest in just one company; the risk is too concentrated. Instead, they build portfolios. Over time, workers will invest their time in a similar way.
As the power shifts from the firm to the individual – and especially if we’re talking about scarce talent like software engineers – perhaps a portfolio construction of work is not only acceptable but most sensible.
And while employers may read this with disdain, an embrace of this fluidity can have positive implications. Liquid employment will give rise to what Packy calls liquid super teams: “collections of individuals, each with their own strengths, powers, and network, who combine forces to achieve goals.” He writes,
Liquid Super Teams are powerful because they increase talent density by lowering the commitment required of each participant. People who would never work for another person again happily join Liquid Super Teams from time to time.
This could have positive implications for the African tech ecosystem. Right now talent is fragmented across a number of companies, many of which are largely building the same thing. Meanwhile, others are choosing to leave local startups altogether to get paid by and/or gain global experience in Big Tech. In the (near) future, we will have better coordination and incentive mechanisms – and it will be more normal – for these people to work together on projects. What will be built when the talent density increases considerably?
But that’s for tomorrow. For today, I recognize that employers might not like that employees may work multiple jobs and they might not like that they don’t stay very long. But that is what’s happening and what is going to continue to happen. So employers ultimately have a choice – fight the inevitable, or embrace it.