July 22, 2013
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?