Welcome to Rise’s Future of Work interview series! Throughout this series, we’ll be interviewing thought leaders and entrepreneurs who are passionate about the future of work, and more especially passionate about freelancers' impact on our economy. With the rise of remote work and independent workers globally, businesses have had to rethink their organizational structure and processes to adapt to this growing movement. We’re here to shed some light for businesses looking to embrace this movement.
It only made senses to start our series with Diane Mulcahy, renowned Gig Economy thought leader and author of the Bestselling book The Gig Economy. Without further ado, let’s jump into it!
Since my first job out of college, before I could even name it, I’ve wanted to work independently in the Gig Economy. I was never comfortable working a single traditional job for a single employer. I always wanted more flexibility in my schedule to decide when, where, and how to work, and I also always wanted more variety in the work I did. It took a while for me to get there, but now I work independently, when and where I want, and I have a portfolio of interesting and varied projects and clients.
I’ll take the second question first. There are so many benefits that companies can realize working with independent professionals, including:
The ability to access the precise expertise and experience they need, when they need it. For example, if the company is launching a new consumer product in Texas, it can find and hire a consumer product launch expert in Texas.
Accessing a much broader talent pool, beyond the local geographic area, which can be critical in filling the persistently open positions or finding in-demand skills or expertise.
More flexibility in scaling the workforce up and down based on business cycles, seasonality, or changes in the demands of the business.
Fostering a high-performance culture. Independent workers are hired and evaluated based on the results they can deliver. Adding that results-driven mindset and approach to teams and projects can help support a high-performance culture focused on results, rather than process or politics. In addition, working with independent workers can eliminate the persistent problem companies have with underperformance. Independent worker contracts can be structured with an initial short-term evaluation period, clear milestones and deliverable.
Fostering an entrepreneurial, innovative culture. Independent workers have no incentive to preserve the status quo. They can be brought in as forward-thinking change agents, to create new strategies and plans, or deliver on ambitious projects and goals.
Incorporating the latest thinking and perspectives. Companies that rely entirely on a full-time workforce can become complacent, blinkered in their views, and outdated. By consistently working with independent workers, companies can ensure that they are accessing current thinking, innovation, and fresh perspectives from workers that are actively out in the market and working for a variety of organizations.
What makes a freelancer unique is the specific skills, experience, and expertise that they bring to a company’s project, as well as their single-minded focus on delivering high quality results.
Fortunately, companies have already become comfortable and equipped to find, onboard, and manage remote workers. These same systems and tools can be leveraged to effectively work with independent workers. Centralized onboarding, established IT security protocols, and the ability to collaborate asynchronously and digitally will make it relatively seamless to add independent workers to corporate teams.
I think the biggest remaining challenge is to shift the managerial mindset even more to move away from micromanagement. These intrusive tendencies signal managerial insecurity or a lack of trust and manifest as constant meetings and check-ins, employee monitoring, and adherence to processes - like mandatory office time – that have no discernible or measurable impact on performance. Independent workers work independently to deliver a scope of work and defined results. Managers unable to prioritize results over process will have a challenging time recruiting and retaining high performing independent workers.
I absolutely think that increases in freelancer adoption and the rise of independent and remote workers is here to stay. I see already that independent and freelance workers are becoming more common, and more prevalent as part of the workforce. Companies are realizing the benefits of having a blend of both freelancers and employees.
I don’t believe that we’ll go to a 100% independent worker model, or that full-time employees will disappear. There will always be a need by companies to hire, and a desire by some workers to become, full-time employees, particularly for positions that are critical to the company’s success, or require a constant, dedicated focus. I think the long-term sustainable model is more of a blended workforce, with the precise percentages of employees vs independent workers determined by the needs of the business.
I predict that what we’ll see over time is an increasingly blended or hybrid workforce made up of an increasing percent of independent and freelance workers, and a decreasing percent of traditional full-time employees.
Before it was even a thing, Diane created the first course in the country on the Gig Economy and teaches it in the MBA program at Babson College. The course gained immediate traction and was named by Forbes as one of the Top Ten Most Innovative Business School Courses in the country. Out of that course grew a book. Diane is the author of The Gig Economy (Harper Collins), a bestselling book on Amazon that has been translated into five languages and featured widely in national media.