The American workforce or rather the workforce around the world is seeing trends of independent workers increasing in numbers, Millennials with strong entrepreneurial spirits wanting to take matters of financial stability into their own hands, increased virtualization of association offices, increased technology-enabled efficiencies and time savings, etc. I think this is a natural evolution of work in our society as we look at these trends in the same way we’ve seen through the Industrial Revolution all the way up to present day. The bottom line is the full impact, potential, and opportunity of technology which we call disruption is taking root.
My prediction is that half or more of the association workforces over the next decade or two will be comprised of highly specialized freelance talent wanting a more flexible life, and associations wanting a more cost-effective and flexible workforce. I think in many ways these trends that we’re seeing are a win-win for both sides and that has not always been the case in the history of work.
WHEN DO WE HIRE FREELANCERS?
I think there are strategy-based and necessity-based reasons we hire freelancers.
From a strategy-based standpoint, it is to:
- Access a national pool of highly specialized talent at a fraction of the cost and overhead of hiring them full time.
- Provide for seasonal based association activities that may not necessarily require a full time employee year-round such as conferences, marketing, IT projects, etc.
- Deliver upon the operations that are promised to our boards.
From a necessity-based standpoint, it is to:
- Fill in the gaps by vacancies when we need interim talent.
- Find highly specialized talent that is tough to source locally.
- Provide for needs in certain moments or projects with budgetary or bandwidth limitations.
I’ve been on the management side working with boards, understanding what are the staffing implications of the things that our boards would like to accomplish, and it’s important that we have as many flexible tools in our tool box as we can in order to get that done.
I think one of the greatest flaws in the full time employment work model is we hire people with strengths and specialized skills for roles where they are applied to 40 to 60 percent of their job and then we fill the rest of their work plan with “other duties as assigned”. Meanwhile, freelancers are able to just focus on the things they not only love but the things that they do best 100 percent of the time, so that we’re really leveraging their talents and strengths.
WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO BE A VIRTUAL TEAM?
Virtualization of the association space is something I’ve encountered firsthand in my career: I was a CEO of the National Barbecue & Grilling Association for three years and came in to sort of retool the organization after twenty five years. We basically ended up turning ourselves into a wholly virtual organization and largely a virtual team in order to be agile, leverage the budget that we had to work with, and move the association forward.
With the virtual communication and collaboration technologies that we have today, I think the term “remote work” is outdated as it sends the wrong perception of what it means to not be in an office but still serve an association or an organization. The perceptions are that when we’re remote, we’re distant and somehow inaccessible. I don’t think that’s any longer true because we’re moving from a site-based culture to a virtual culture, truly creating the ongoing ability to easily be in front of each other visually at any given moment in the day, despite not being in the same conference room. The barriers that once existed in the early days of telecommuting and remote work are no longer the same. We’re no longer bound to a geographic location or a bricks and mortar building. The advantages quite honestly far outweigh whatever perceived limitations or reluctance to embrace the fact that we are no longer truly remote when it comes to this work.
Disruption is such a scary word, but within disruption resides immense opportunity.