For professionals who are part of a distributed workforce, there’s often a misconception that their job is just a “gig.” As the co-founder of a company that facilitates a distributed network of marketers and communication experts, I hear this often. But I believe it’s time for the distributed workforce to take a stand once and for all. Their job isn’t just a “gig” — it’s a career choice.
All around the world, there are seasoned experts who choose not to work for a large company. Instead, they choose flexibility. And there is an abundance of clients who value the ability to engage with those experts on topics regarding their businesses, and they receive quality work in return.
In my experience, these freelance network models are made up of seasoned, talented experts in their fields. The growing skills gap in many industries, combined with the cost of hiring traditional full-time employees, affords the opportunity to work on interesting projects and make a stable income as part of this trend.
Why do people choose freelance work?
A recent study by the ADP Research Institute, Illuminating the Shadow Workforce (registration required), found that more than 70% of 1099 employees choose to work independently by their own choice. That same study also found that more than half of those surveyed have worked for the same company for 12 consecutive months, and the difference in incomes between a traditional W-2 employee and a contract worker is “minimal.”
This isn’t to say that traditional work environments are dying. Some companies have even eliminated their work-from-home policies altogether; they’ve called individuals back to the traditional, day-to-day office environment.
But from my perspective, it’s not outside of the realm of possibility that in a two-income home, more professionals will opt to work as part of a distributed model thanks to the flexibility these opportunities offer. According to ADP’s report, “This may be a worthwhile trade off particularly for those who are able to enjoy some traditional benefits from another source, such as a spouse.”
Many millennials and Gen Zers value flexibility and schedule control over all else, which sets the stage for companies to adopt more flexibility in their working models, not less. The hidden gem in this distributed model are baby boomers approaching retirement. After long careers gaining massive amounts of skill and talents, many boomers are entering freelance work to earn extra money or transition into retirement.
What does this mean for your company?
For companies and individuals who want to adopt a productive distributed work environment, study freelance network participants. Much can be learned from these professionals who have made a concerted career choice to embrace the model and control their days from wherever they choose — all while keeping the creative juices flowing and having a very successful career.
Here are my tips for making the most of your remote work operation:
1. Clarify your expectations. It’s essential to be clear about the expectations of your remote workers or freelance team. You’ll need to understand when they are available and set clear boundaries with them, such as if they have a required work time or if they can set their own boundaries about when they will or won’t be available. In my experience, allowing network participants to set their own schedules could increase their loyalty.
It’s also critical to ensure participants understand response expectations. One of the biggest challenges is understanding the status of a project or deliverable when you can’t just pop into someone’s office. Be clear on deadlines and response times so no concerns around productivity pop up. If their work is getting done well and delivered on time, you won’t need to question where they are and what they’re up to.
2. Provide equipment and set-up. Remote workers must have the right tools and surroundings to be productive. Encourage network participants to designate a quiet location to focus on work, and ensure that you and your team have secured the right tools to stay connected when you need to be. Embrace video conferencing as a way to stay better connected with your team, and show that you’re focused and in a professional environment remotely just as you would be in the office.
3. Prioritize security. Make sure that you are reiterating your strong security policies to remote workers. Ensuring that their equipment and environment protects any potentially confidential information will be critical. You should also make it clear that if a remote worker wants to use a public space for working, they understand what your policy is around public Wi-Fi use.
I encourage you to embrace the remote worker and recognize that a career in a distributed network environment is a great choice for many people, not a last-resort job. And understanding how to make the most of this model can make a big difference in how you wage in the talent war.