It wasn’t that long ago when the “side hustle” was primarily the domain of stay-at-home moms selling kitchenware or jewelry to help bolster the budget. And then came the gig economy. Work for remote freelance writers, graphic designers, and content strategists became a normal resource to call upon for new projects. However, I recently chatted with freelance economy expert Matthew Mottola, co-founder and CEO of Venture L, and it sounds like this “human cloud,” as he calls it, may actually be the epicenter of the future for work. Here are a few of the key takeaways from our discussion:
Mutual benefits of freelancing
This pandemic has deeply affected both sides of the employer/employee relationship. Some individuals are realizing that there is more stability and protection in having multiple employers rather than relying on just one. Employers are also waking up to the idea that business needs are changing so rapidly. Bringing on full-time employees that they might not be needed in a few months is clearly not the best option. Instead, for them it is better to lean into a flexible, elastic bench of freelancers.
As it has become more commonplace to integrate the human cloud into the workplace, it is not just a matter of saying, “Bring 10 freelancers on to assist with this project.” Instead, businesses are well acquainted with their freelancers and have formed strong relationships. They know everyone’s strengths and what they bring to the table — helping the employer determine who will serve best in each project. This can be a long-term relationship of multiple contracts, built on quality work and trust, if handled properly.
Freelancing fast tracks innovation
Matthew also said, “Innovation requires getting the right people at the right time working on the right problem statement. Because when seeking innovation, it will often fail.” Although it’s surprising to talk about failing, that is a common domain for innovation or trying anything new, as there will be multiple failures along the way. Matthew explained that this is why freelancers are a great asset to businesses. Freelancers often feel more comfortable doing more with less and failing faster. In the very nature of their work, freelancers can tend to be more entrepreneurial in their practices than regular employees, and can see this level of risk/reward is just another aspect of the work. In this way, freelancers bring in with them their own set of hyper-relevant skills, and their integration into the teams allows employees to stay focused on the primary tasks of the business.
Scaling work with collective freelancers
While freelancers are great to bring in on small projects, what about those big initiatives that require a fast turnaround? It is the sort of thing that one person couldn’t pull off alone, so it has remained in the domain of larger agencies in the past. Well, now some freelancers are stepping up their game by being part of a collective. Instead of always working as an individual, a freelancer might pick up a contract and reach out to fellow freelancers to bring them onboard to scale their work. One example of this could be using the accumulated data to write three slightly different white papers customized for different audiences with varying purposes in less than two weeks. A solo freelancer may not be able to meet this goal. An agency could complete the task, but it is completed by nameless employees who may or may not be invested. However, in freelancing collectives, individuals are picked for their specific skill set, and future contracts depend on the positive completion of this one. The end result is the highest quality of work, to scale.
So from side hustles to the gig economy and now the future of work, the freelance industry has been reshaping the employment landscape. It serves as another example of a technological surge forward brought on the pandemic — and there is no going back. As innovation is set on the fast track, and collective freelancers are tackling previously unattainable projects, it only begs the question: what does the human cloud have waiting over the next horizon?
Jacquelyn Adams is a storyteller and an award-winning CEO. She lives in a world of constant exploration, whether it’s summiting Mount Kilimanjaro, vlogging about the future of work… or discovering how she’d do in a chocolate eating contest (answer: last place). Find more of her Lessons on Leadership articles here or connect with her on LinkedIn here.