Owning the future of work

posted in: Social innovation | 1

A lot is written about the millennial generation in the press. Maybe that they are narcissists and buy too much avocado on toast, or that they have the attention span of a goldfish and are addicted to social media. Invariably these opinions are put forward by people with a very selective knowledge of the issues we are facing and the solutions that we are creating ourselves.

Millennials looking at a computer screen.
Simon Ball, Filmmaker and member of the Blake House Filmmakers Cooperative
Simon Ball, Filmmaker and member of the Blake House Filmmakers Cooperative

There is nothing quite like the feeling of graduating from university and crash landing into the 21st century’s version of the job market. All the years studying the latest techniques and technologies only to have to search for jobs that do not reflect your skills and definitely do not reflect your values.

Ours is the first generation to have grown up online. Our formative experiences are unique to our generation and how we see the world is a reflection of those experiences. The mundanity of playing a video game online with partners from across the world or the ability to travel to another country for less than the cost of a train ticket up north translates to a generation who see borders as old fashioned and irrelevant. The way we relate to the world is changing.

Ownership is becoming obsolete

Ours is the generation where ownership is an outdated term. Music, entertainment and housing are now transient experiences that can change on demand. The concept of home ownership is alien to all but the privileged and lucky (see: the bank of mum and dad), and why spend money to go to the cinema or to buy a DVD when the cost of a ticket or a disc translates to a whole month of limitless streaming?

All of these new concepts of how life works, and yet work itself still remains the same as it has always been. You get in the door and you are presented with a ladder and your success is based on how fast and how quickly you can climb it, which usually means out-competing and replacing somebody on a higher rung. It is saying something that because work takes up such a huge proportion of our lives, we are led to believe that our job and career are probably some of the only things we will ever have ownership of.

Our employment is actually rental

Yet whilst our current system of employment exists, we own nothing. Our labour is rented by our bosses and our rights and power in the workplace are illusory. No matter how open our office or transparent our hierarchies, the fact remains that your boss has rented your services and it is at their discretion that your employment continues.

While our economy moves further into a service based model, the employment options of our generation are evolving. More and more people are choosing to become freelancers, eschewing the conformity of employment and going it alone.

It has to be said that self-employment works for a lot of people, removing the worst aspects of employment and granting autonomy and freedom. It also removes the best aspects of employment at the same time. A freelancer is not entitled to the same rights as an employee, such as sick pay and maternity leave, rights that have been fought for over the years and indeed this can lead to the exploitation that the likes of Deliveroo and Uber so gratefully partake in.

Co-operation, not competition

When we started Blake House Filmmakers Co-operative[1], we did not want to recreate the business models that were the root of our disillusionment with work. We wanted to be at the cutting edge of how society is evolving and reflect the values of our generation, using our skills to work on projects that we believe in. We formed our company as a workers co-operative, which means that if you are a member of Blake House, you own it. There are no shareholders and no control is ceded to anybody but the people providing the services that we offer and whose livelihoods depend on the job.

Our workplace is democratic. One member, one vote. If you have an opinion, you have the right to voice that opinion and shape how our business develops. In order to avoid a big logjam of consensus decision making, we work in an agile, in a mature way where responsibility is delegated based on people’s strengths and passions. We only take on work from clients that meet our ethical standards and align with our values and we are also a social enterprise (this comes naturally to us); there are no bosses and there never will be; pay is equal and our surplus is reinvested into the members’ education and creative practice.

The new wave

It all probably sounds unconventional and unworkable, but our co-op is just one of a growing wave of new co-operatives[2] formed in the last few years, working together to help shape the 21st century economy. We are taking an idea that has existed for over a century and re-purposing it for our economic reality.

People from our generation no longer accept sinking into meaningless jobs or worshiping a hero entrepreneur. We respect each other, value our talents and want to co-operate with each other instead of competing. We view the solutions of society’s problems as coming from all of us, collectively, working together to implement a deeper systemic change.

Co-operation goes beyond more conventional ethical business models like Social Enterprise and B-Corps by rejecting the dogma of our current systems and forging new languages and practices, crafting workplaces that offer meaning and satisfaction as well protection and equality. It shows that there is an alternative to conventions that are taken for granted, that there is a vibrant ecosystem of restless and passionate co-operators out there just waiting for you to join us and help evolve a more co-operative and sustainable future.


[1] Blake House Filmmakers Co-operative (https://blake.house)
[2] CoTech network (https://coops.tech), Cultural Co-operatives (http://cultural.coop/why), Worker Coop Solidarity Fund (http://solidfund.coop)

Simon Ball
Simon Ball is an award winning filmmaker and member of Blake House Filmmakers Cooperative, where he creates films to raise awareness and amplify impactful stories for progressive charities, academics, social enterprises and cooperatives.
Simon Ball

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  1. bob cannell

    Very inspiring. This is becoming the age of ‘we’ and ‘us’ after decades of ‘me’.

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