Welcome to the world of the “slashies” and the “multi-hyphenated”

In English we used to name people by their family role:

  • Taylor – tailored clothing
  • Smith – was the blacksmith
  • Fletcher – created arrows
  • Wright – a worker of wood such as a wheelwright
  • Fisher – was the local catcher of fish
  • Carpenter – made carriages

If you were born into a family of smiths the chances were you were going to be a smith, there was very little movement of people between jobs.

We don’t change our surnames to match our job role anymore because we started moving between the different skills, but we still define ourselves by our job:

  • John Smith the Engineer
  • Jane Fletcher the Scientist
  • Margaret Wright the Designer

These job titles changed so rarely that we had them printed on piece of card and gave the out to people that we met.

That system has worked quite well for us, but is starting to break down as new ways of working enable, and require, a blend and mix of skills.

Enter the slashie and the multi-hyphenated.

You’ve probably already met them:

  • Jane Fletcher the Scientist/Blogger/Developer
  • John Smith the Engineer-Hacker-Entrepreneur

In a recent article on the transformation at General Electric, in the MIT Technology Review, they highlighted the changing role of scientists and the use of “dual careers” and “hybrid employees.”

Microsoft have been running a set of adverts featuring Emma Gannon who describes herself as a “blogger, podcaster, author, creative, speaker.”

One of my children “works in video and audio.” I couldn’t give you a specific job title because it depends on what needs to be done each day.

What have people’s changing work habits got to do with technology? Technology enables different ways of working which, in turn, requires different technology, enabling yet more diverse working. It’s technology that is enabling people to be slashies, but it’s not the technology we’ve previously used. Providing people who are working across several different activities with a corporate laptop is probably not going to be the best use of their skills and talents. Expecting people to be permanently connected to a VPN is not going to work either.

Flexibility at work no longer means working in different offices; it means working on different projects for different employers. It also means working with the tools and techniques that you are most productive using, the choice of tools varying between individuals and changing rapidly. Those doing an activity and those needing an activity done have to be flexible in how they work, and that is where many corporate IT structures struggle.

Corporate IT has been built, for the most part, on the assumption that everyone is an employee but a growing number of organizations only employ contractors, a figure that may already be as high as 10 percent. Enabling contractors and other agencies to work alongside employees has huge benefits, but it also necessitates a different way of working and different tools. As an example, teams like to use Slack because it enables them to work across multiple teams in multiple organisations.

That is why we talk about Empowering Workforces with Invisible IT. If the technology is visible it’s probably in the way and all too often it’s visible because it’s a blocker. People used to have to stop when a blocker was encountered; now they have the choice to work around the blockage by using other tools freely available on the internet.

Much of the reporting I see on those who are multi-hyphenated associate the working practice with the younger generations (those much talked about Millennials), but I’m seeing just as much slashie work being done by those who have had one or two careers already and are now looking to do something interesting that fits in with their desired lifestyle:

  • Jane Fletcher the Scientist/Cake Decorator/Blogger (over 50)

What do you put on your business card? Do you still have a business card?

Graham Chastney

Graham Chastney is a senior principal technologist in DXC. He has worked in the arena of workplace technology for over 25 years, starting as a sysprog supporting IBM DISOSS and DEC All-in-1. Latterly Graham has been working with DXC’s customers to help them understand how they exploit the changing world of workplace technology. Graham lives with his family in the United Kingdom.

Twitter: @grahamchastney


  1. Ian Higg says:

    The comment about visible IT is so pertinent!


  2. alberttrotter says:

    One immediate issue common to all of these urban livelihoods – followed in significant part by women – is the fact that these livelihoods are seldom recognized and their value to the macroeconomy, social environment and the rest of the formal private sector is understated or ignored. Providing more organization and representation for women operating in these lines of work would help to at least bring their needs and challenges to the forefront.

    In addition, the workplace for many women operating in these informal urban economies is not appropriately serviced or is inadequately covered by basic legal rights and protections. As a result, the very pursuit of economic activity is putting women at risk and exposing them to very real threats and safety issues. Urban planning policy and practice needs to reconsider the role of public land and the delivery of basic public services in supporting livelihoods.

    Liked by 1 person

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