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Technology, insurance will catalyze change in world of work

      For the past four years I’ve been telling everyone who would stand still — and some who wouldn’t — that a change was coming in the American workplace. I think what you will see is a gradual shift away from our traditional office, employer-employee setting to a more free-wheeling, freelancing, entrepreneurism in which people will work from their homes providing services to a variety of clients scattered over a large landscape.
Al Ortbals    Why? Because they can! Two things are making it possible.
    One is technology. Today, communication is instantaneous. You can call across the hall or across the street, across town, across state or across the country; it doesn’t make any difference. You can do this from your home, your office, from your car or from the golf course. You’re able to access information anywhere any time and you are able to send and receive data, files, photographs, etc. A couple of years ago our cartoonist was vacationing in the Philippines. It didn’t matter if he was in Maryville or Manila. The cartoon came just the same.
    Technology is changing the way we recreate, the way we communicate, the way we live and the way we work. It is and will continue to liberate us from the 9 to 5 desk job. But it can’t do it alone.
    The key that unlocks the shackles to the desk is access to health insurance. About 60 percent of full-time workers in America get their health insurance via their employers and many employees are reluctant to change jobs for fear of losing that employer-sponsored health insurance. Going out on your own can be a scary business. In a 2004 survey by the Employee Benefit Research Institute, 27 percent of workers cited health insurance as the primary reason they would not change jobs or retire. They call this “job lock.”
    Prior to the passage of the Affordable Care Act, insurers could and did deny coverage based on pre-existing conditions or they’d sell you a policy that didn’t cover the conditions for which you needed it the most. People had to play health insurance hop scotch if they wanted to change jobs — either finding a job that provided health insurance, utilizing COBRA or piggybacking onto their spouse’s employer-based policy. You didn’t dare leave yourself exposed.  Without insurance, one accident or unexpected illness could cause you not only physical hardship but financial ruin.
    I’m not alone in predicting this workplace transformation. A May 2013 Urban Institute analysis estimated that, by breaking the job lock, the Affordable Care Act would increase self-employment by 11 percent nationwide.
    This isn’t just guesswork. Researchers at the Rand Corporation compared business ownership rates for male workers in the months just before and after they became eligible for Medicare at age 65. They found significant jumps in entrepreneurism at this milestone but not just before or after other transitional ages for men between 55 and 75.
    This shift toward a freelance labor market will benefit both business owners and workers. Business owners will be able to shop for services, deciding what they need, when they need it and who best can provide it. They won’t have to worry about whether or not they have sufficient work to keep an employee busy, nor will they have to concern themselves with payroll taxes, training or workforce management.
    The worker will be free. No more commutes. No more alarm clocks and no more working for or with people they don’t like. They’ll be able to work when they want. If they’re a night owl, they might be working at 3 a.m. and on the golf course at 3 p.m. Getting the job done will be the only factor that counts not what time they were at their desk or how many sick days they’ve taken. They’ll also be able to be selective as to whom they work for. If someone’s difficult to work with or pays slowly or insufficiently, they can turn down that job in favor of another one. The worker becomes an entrepreneur.
    Obviously, this doesn’t work for everyone but for those it does, technology and access to health insurance will open up a whole new world of work. C’est la vie!
    Alan J. Ortbals is president and publisher of the Illinois Business Journal. He can be reached at or (618) 659-1997

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