A New Perspective on Work

Written by Sharon Rice on June 11, 2019

Upwork’s 2018 study, Freelancing in America, finds that the number of contract workers in the United States has increased by 3.7 million since 2014. That impressive statistic has significant implications for associations. The expanding freelance economy is creating dramatic changes in the way that people think about work.

Are associations meeting this shift in the environment head on? As you might guess, our risk-averse community has yet to fully embrace this new phenomenon. In my own consulting experience, some groups are taking a proactive approach and others have yet to react. The organizations that are lagging behind are either unaware or unable to understand how this transformational change might impact their operations. As a management consultant, I learned a long time ago that in order to introduce innovation, it’s helpful to break it down in terms of the significance for people, processes and technology.

IMPACT ON PEOPLE

I’ve been a freelancer myself at different stages in my career. People—especially now—frequently approach me with comments like this, “I’m thinking about becoming a freelancer, but I’m worried about being isolated.” Not feeling like part of a team is certainly one of the dynamics freelancers must address, especially when they are working in a remote location.

This is a fascinating era in business. People around the globe can collaborate on projects. Virtual teams are on the rise, and they are the future of work. Organizations need to create a culture of acceptance for their remote workforce. Associations that cultivate a team perspective, focus on incorporating and communicating with their freelancers can build more cohesive workgroups, improve communication and boost enthusiasm.

Although the idea of freelance workers may seem new, in reality associations have years of experience incorporating volunteers into initiatives and projects. Making the leap to adding freelancers to the mix should be relatively smooth. Whatever effort is involved will be outweighed by the many advantages.

IMPACT ON PROCESSES

One of the current challenges is that our business systems aren’t structured to identify and recruit freelance talent. In the association community, there are not many platforms available for employers and workers to promote their availability. Associations need to be familiar with the resources that are online and understand how to search for the people and skills they need.

Onboarding and managing a remote team is more complex. Some associations, especially smaller groups where freelancers would be most welcome and needed, have not fully documented their administrative processes. Since remote workers don’t directly experience the office culture, providing them with written procedures and policies is pivotal to their success on the team. Of course, written guidance is also important for full-time staff and volunteer leaders.

IMPACT ON TECHNOLOGY

Freelancers typically are required to use their own computers, printers, phones and other hardware. However, employers need to be sure to have a stable cloud platform to accommodate this new workforce as well as software licensed to allow for expanding teams. Documented policies and procedures for online activity are critical. Employers need to ensure that they have proprietary rights to work products and that files are backed up and available to all staff who need them, especially after the freelance assignment is completed. For groups who will provide hardware to freelancers, the terms of use must be spelled out.

Training on AMS, LMS and other office systems should be available for freelance staff who will need to use that software. This is not a small issue. Valuable time can be wasted and data corrupted when freelancers are required to navigate complicated systems without adequate instruction.

Whether your group is just beginning to consider the freelance option, or you already are taking advantage of virtual teams, adequate preparation will ensure that you maximize the potential of this new opportunity for growth.