Archives For freelance

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Bringing contractors into the fold at an IDEO food event

In April, I wrote a piece called “Designing a Freelance Life.” The post received nearly 200 comments. Reading over them, it’s clear that freelancing is a mixed bag. Even the language we use to describe those who work on a temporary basis—“temps,” “independent contractors”—feels wrongheaded.

Summing up my readers’ observations, I made a list of pros and cons. First, from the worker’s perspective:

Pros: Great for work/life balance, higher pay, and the ability to address diverse challenges across multiple industries

Cons: Few or no benefits, lack of community, erratic work and pay

A temporary workforce involves trade-offs for companies, too:

Pros: No expensive benefit packages, on-demand talent, and edge-pushing expertise when it’s needed

Cons: Conflicting timelines, a steep learning curve, and legal constraints that arise when companies need longterm help (especially in states like California)

The list helped define the problem, but it didn’t answer the question: How might we make the experience of freelancing better on both sides of the desk? For more insight, I turned to my colleagues Alicia Terkel and Heather Ferguson, who head up IDEO’s Bay Area contract talent.

Here are some of the ideas we came up with that I’m most excited about:

What if instead of calling people “independent contractors,” “temporary employees,” or “contingent workers,” we created more human-centered titles that celebrated the expertise they’re bringing to the table? Monikers like “Social Media Maven,” “Video Auteur,” or “UXpert.”

What if instead of throwing talent into the deep end in a new office, we invited them into the family through company programs like annual flu shots, office parties, and team-building exercises such as fitness challenges or community food drives?

What if companies relieved the pressure on individuals to provide for their own security by banding together to offer a robust package of benefits and financial services? Companies could share a flexible talent pool and offer workers discounted healthcare and retirement planning. And the network of businesses could pull from that pool in a more reliable way, saving them the time and expense of sifting through a slush pile of resumes or trawling LinkedIn.

If, as predicted, 40 percent of the workforce will be comprised of temporary workers by 2020, we don’t have much time to address this issue in a human-centered way. Companies need top-drawer talent to push the needle and progress. But if we don’t create inclusive, supportive environments, people won’t bring their best work to the table. Remember: Ideas don’t make companies great, people do.

What best practices have you experienced as a freelancer or organization that hires them?

(Posted also on my LinkedIn Thought Leader blog) 

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A recent article on the freelance workplace refers to an Intuit study that predicts 40% of the workforce will be freelance by 2020. To many, this is an exciting idea where talented and creative individuals get to leverage their skills free from the tyranny of the “boss.” To others, it is a scary proposition where individuals work crazy long hours with none of the traditional perks and protections of employment. What interests me is: How might we be intentional about the design of a freelance life such that we get more of the former and less of the latter?

What are the tools that we need to manage freelance careers? What are the new behaviors amongst individuals and corporations that might make freelancing sustainable? How might our social structures and education systems have to change to accommodate this shift in work style?

I would love to come back to this topic from time to time. What are the questions we should really be asking? Where might we look for insights and inspiration?

How have you designed your freelance life?

(Posted also on my LinkedIn Thought Leader blog)