Tag Archives: free agents

International Women’s Day and the Gig Economy

On this International Women's Day, I thought a good post would be to talk about women in the Gig Economy. In the recent McKinsey Global Institute Report, "Independent Work: Choice Necessity and the Gig Economy", http://www.mckinsey.com/global-themes/employment-and-growth/independent-work-choice-necessity-and-the-gig-economy, they report that women comprise 51% of the alternative work force in the United States.  In fact in the six developed economies profiled in the report, women were  not the majority in only Germany and France, where they represented 48% and 45% respectively.

As someone who was in the gig economy before anyone ever called it that, it has always been clear that women were a major component of the alternative workforce.  When I started M Squared Consulting in 1988 one of my prime observations were that credentialed women were leaving traditional corporate  environments in droves.  Whether it was the management consulting world where I was, advertising, consumer products or financial services,  the need to balance competing demands in life trumped for many women the need to break the glass ceiling.

I am dating myself here, but before the advent of email and the internet, balancing family obligations was much harder. I remember several nights at Booz Allen where I would leave at 5:30 pm to the incredulity of my ( male)  peers, head home to feed and bathe my newborn baby, put her to bed and then drive back to the office at 9 to work until midnight or 1 a.m., and roll into bed an hour later.  I'd get up again at 6a.m. to feed the baby and spend some time with her before heading back to the office that morning.  That grueling schedule was not sustainable and helped awaken my entrepreneurial streak to figure out a better way to work.

Over the years, I discovered that so many people, not just women wanted more control over time.  Whether it was to write the great American novel, support an aging parent, or salsa dance competitively, consultants chose  the independent path to make their entire  life work, not just the career part. Don't get me wrong, many also chose this path because they felt that could make more money on an independent basis and have greater intellectual challenges. But flexibility for many is a key factor.

MBO Partners has done a study on independent workers in America for the past six years and notes, as McKinsey did, the roughly equivalent level of male and female participation.  In  their most recent  study, The State of Independence in America, https://www.mbopartners.com/state-of-independence, MBO Partners noted that men and women have different concerns and goals. For women, flexibility is more important than money.  For men, control by virtue of being your own boss was more important.

But women are not just a part of  the gig economy as workers, they are also part of the eco-system that supports the participants. From apps that provide effective time reporting, to platforms for liability insurance, entrepreneurs are seeing that this is a trend that is not going to sunset anytime soon.  One part of the eco system is co-working space.  WeWork, the giant in the segment is now the 4th largest real estate firm in the country.  But in their shadow, some women in The Bay Area decided they wanted to figure out a new way to co-work.  The Hivery, https://www.thehivery.com, a co-working space in Mill Valley,  a suburb of San Francisco, is a specialized networking space just for women. They offer all sorts of events to members, like writer’s workshops, entrepreneur circles and meditation Mondays, all intended to build a sense of community, the kind of community designed for women.

So on this International Women's Day, I salute all the independent women and entrepreneurs who have been able to design their work to support their life and their spirit rather than the other way around.

 

A Merger in the Gig Economy…Or Not

As part of my research for my new book, Thriving in the Gig Economy, which will be coming out next spring, I had the opportunity to interview Stephen DeWitt, the  CEO of WorkMarket. http://www.workmarket.com

Although it sounds banal to say it, Stephen is a visionary about the future of work and how technology will enable on-demand access to skilled workers globally  in a marketplace that many will find hard to _dsc5674imagine or even anticipate.  As I explain in my book, in today's environment, the immediacy of access to resources is highly conditioned by the skill set sought; I want my Uber driver right away, but I may be a bit disconcerted if my interim CFO showed up on my doorstep in 5 minutes.  Our mental models are not quite set at the right speed  now, for the way Stephen sees the future. Stephen sees that CFO, or chemical engineer or strategist arriving seamlessly when a company needs it  thanks to custom talent pools and the algorithms that will continue to evolve and load balance expertise levels.

As he shared with me as well as John Battelle in his great newco piece, A Total Rethink of How Work Should Work  https://shift.newco.co/a-total-rethink-of-how-work-should-work-5dc3980ea52#.76ychzmxi , to imagine the future you need to think of the futures you know.  Think Star Trek, for example, if Captain Kirk is in need of new expertise to make the next voyage, do you think he is just going to list it on LinkedIn?

Which brings me to the point of this post.  A major acquisition was finally approved last week to remarkably little fan fair, especially when compared to the press when the deal was announced. LinkedIn is now officially owned by Microsoft, an organization not known for successfully integrating acquisitions. LinkedIn is of course the largest talent marketplace  in the world, even if it doesn't operate like a digital talent platform. (With apologies, of course, to LinkedIn Profinder, which is trying. )

It has a significant role in the Gig Economy, though, since it is a key element of an independent worker's digital brand. Look at me -- I am posting this on LinkedIn in addition to my own blog as part of my own branding strategy. I even have a section in my book on how to optimize your digital image on LinkedIn. So will this primacy as a venue for independent experts to showcase expertise change in the new Microsoft world?

It is hard to say. An article on this topic by Dina Bass on Bloomberg yesterday https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2016-12-13/how-microsoft-and-linkedin-can-make-this-expensive-deal-work said a key to the deal is to "let LinkedIn be LinkedIn." The public plan is to keep the two companies separate and develop those ever popular "synergies" to enable skilled professionals to be more productive.  As an Apple fan who has always thought apple design far superior to Microsoft and other platforms,  that didn't seem like a natural outcome to me.  (Let's face it the Microsoft stuff never works quite as well on a mac...)

But my bigger concern came from the video conference the day they announced the deal. Microsoft CEO , Satya Nadella, said he wanted to help make the LinkedIn members more successful in their "jobs".  https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/linkedin-microsoft-changing-way-world-works-jeff-weiner In the new world of work, the one that I see and the one Stephen DeWitt sees, it isn't about "jobs" it is about the work and skill sets and managing independent careers. Hopefully the new combined Microsoft and LinkedIn leadership will see that and plan accordingly.

Work, Jobs and the Gig Economy

As I work on my book, Thriving in the Gig Economy , I have had the opportunity to talk to many experts, from CEOs to futurists about the future of work.  I was thrilled last week when one of them shared my pet peeve, one that is all the more acute in an election year --  the fact that so many Americans equate work and jobs.  Work is so much more than a job, or more precisely a "regular full-time job".  work encompasses all sorts of pursuits, from part-time work, to self-employment to gigs to volunteering.

If you look at the definition, http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/work, it is "an activity in which one exerts strength or faculties to do or perform something:"  In fact in all 11 definitions cited, the word "employment" never appears.

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None the less, we constantly hear our politicians talking about how important it is to create jobs.Yes that is important, but as the world is changing with technology and new work models.  What is unfortunate about this focus on jobs and not work is the attachment of social infrastructure to employment. Employer provided  health and retirement benefits are great for current employees, but leave all of the other workers, from part-timers to gig workers potentially at a disadvantage.  Moreover, the employment oriented fringes may constrain an individual's entrepreneurial path; it will be tougher to become an independent consultant if the Affordable Care Act is repealed.

That said, the government has a vested interest in bolstering traditional  employment structures, and that interest is not in benefits but in taxes.  It is a lot easier to collect employment taxes from companies than from a myriad of individuals. As such, the argument that we need to revise our vision of employment, can fall on deaf ears.

Charles Handy, an Irish economist and expert in the world of work, said in his new book, The Second Curve, writes, “The strange truth is, if you have a so-called proper full-time job today, you are in the minority.  The world has changed and few have noticed.”  We need to take notice and enable opportunity accordingly.

Curt Flood and the Gig Economy

As a San Francisco Giant fan, I am sad to say that the baseball season is over for me.  (And of course, as a Giants fan, I must now root for the Cubs against the Dodgers, But I digress...) But none the less it is October, when the baseball season reaches its inevitable climax.  So as I work on my book about the gig economy, I thought it was fitting to do a shout out to Curt Flood, a man who changed baseball and the world of work in a major league way, pardon the pun.

Curtis Charles Flood played 15 years in major league baseball  from 1956-1971, playing for the Cincinnati Reds ( or Redlegs, as they were known at the time) the St. Louis Cardinals and the Washington Senators.  He had a solid career, with three all star

St. Louis Cardinals outfielder Curt Flood is shown, March 1968. (AP Photo)

St. Louis Cardinals outfielder Curt Flood is shown, March 1968. (AP Photo)

team appearances and seven  golden glove awards. He won two different hitting titles and still today is ranked third behind Willie Mays ( a Giant , of course) and Richie Ashburn for most games played in center field.  However, his impact is not what he did on the field., rather it was what he refused to do off the field, namely accept employment terms that no longer seemed appropriate to him.

Before 1969, players were bound by the reserve clause in baseball, which made players beholden to the first team with whom they signed.  The had no say about their  futures once the contracts were signed.  Team management could make the decision to trade or release a player without so much as a "how do you do" to the athlete.

When the team wanted to trade him after 12 years to Philadelphia, Flood refused, saying,"I do not regard myself as a piece of property to be bought or sold."

Floods case went all the way to the Supreme Court, and due to the fact that Justice Powell had to recuse himself because of his ties to the Busch family, the owners of the Cardinals, he did not win.  However his action and the attention it garnered paved the way for change and ultimately led to free agency in baseball.

So what does this have to do with the gig economy?

What Flood wanted was control over his professional life.  After all that time in the league, he felt he was owed that. Various studies have shown that when professionals decide to start consulting independently it is for that same motive -- control over their life. MBO Partners  2016 State of Independence in America Report says that over 60% of consultants cited control of their time as a key factor in going out on their own. Similarly, the McKinsey Global Institute's  recent report entitled Independent Work: Choice Necessity and the Gig Economy noted that the independent workforce is larger than previously thought and that most participants choose independent work for its flexibility and autonomy.

What Flood did, by challenging the reserve clause, was to create a new notion of how employment relationships can work, a mental model that could be extrapolated to other businesses. Many people may only think about the free agency in sports, but it has its analogues in all sorts of other professional fields now as well.   In fact, in the aforementioned McKinsey report, they cite different categories of gig workers, and the high end consultants who pursue the independent work option by choice are dubbed in the study as free agents.  So thank you Curtis Flood for making your stand so that you could get the gig you wanted.  The gig economy is in your debt.

 

Hollywood and the Future of Work

Stephen Kasriel the CEO of Upwork just wrote an article in Fast Company called "Why the Future of Work will Look a lot like Hollywood."   I agree wholeheartedly and in fact wrote a similar piece years ago on the movie model. I pointed out that It is no surprise, that  in the business analog, the first players  to become independent were the stars,  just like in the movie model. Back in 1988  ( before the internet...ouch!) it took me no time to build up a strong network of consultants numbering in the 1000s.  Independent expertise of the most credentialed sort  has been around for decades, well before the advent of what people typically think of as the gig economy,  i.e. the uber drivers or free-lance workers on the  Upwork platform. It's the stars, the highly accomplished independent consultants and interim managers,  who wanted to to take control of their careers and make choices about how they would use their talents.

 

But there are two salient  but potentially related differences  between the movie world and the high end of the gig economy.  The first is that no one seems to take issue with the movie model.  The fact that talents of all sorts, from cinematographers to actors to musicians, come together for a one year gig  to make a movie and then disband is not derided as a dangerous model. This gig economy is accepted for what it is - the best way to complete a large scale cinematic project. However the other key difference is the fact that  Hollywood is a land of unions. The  writers, composers, actors and directors are all in a union or guild.  Additionally, the agents who represent them are also union members.  Is it this labor affiliation that spares the movie model from criticism?

Just today, the AFL CIO declared that gig workers should be employees.  They implied but did not suggest outright that therefore they should be union employees.

I can't speak to the low level roles in the gig economy, but I can speak to those who represent the most skilled, the consultants who have gone independent by choice.  One once told me she never wanted to be an employee ever again.  I will extrapolate that she wouldn't want a union card either...

 

The Freelance Marketplace Platform Race

Now that I have embarked on my research for the next book on the high-end of the on demand expertise marketplace, I am having a lot of deja vu moments.  Certainly, there is the fact, that though I have been gone from my old firm for several years, things have not changed that much. Tremendous, credentialed  expertise of just about any type is available on demand. Companies continue to avail themselves of this resource in new ways, and new competitors continue to arrive touting different points of differentiation.

It is this last area where the deja vu comes in, because the new platform competitors appear to be cropping up everywhere.  My twitter feed is cluttered with entreaties from one firm to beta test a new platform that "won't suck." (I couldn't help but wonder if they shouldn't get a free

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The Pets.com sock puppet

lance copy writer to come up with a better ask...) Quite frankly, I am reminded a bit of the frothy days of the internet when pets .com  became the 4th ( yes 4th) online pet supply store.  Despite the fact that dog food is not a high value shipping product, the firm had an amazing IPO valuing it at close to $100 million  in 2000 and was out of business 9 months later.

 

I am not suggesting that the online freelance marketplaces are headed for the same fate.  Indeed, I think technology is creating the platform to enable a market to be made in talent, in the true economic sense of the word market. I look forward to better understanding these business models to see how differentiated they really are.  Certainly, some are defined by the type of talent they seek to attract; the sites working with copy writer won't appeal to CFO's, but dancers will do... Interestingly, one in the UK, combines a totally automated service with consultant mixers, so freelancers can gather together.   I can't help but wonder if freelancers will subscribe to all that operate in their area of expertise, or if they will  choose just one.  If it were me, I'd definitely go for the one with the mixers...I am a sucker for cocktails...

 

 

The “Gig Economy” and the employment data problem

A recent news item little noticed apart from gig economy wonks like me was the fact that  the government is planning to get data on how many workers actually populate the "gig economy."  Labor Secretary, Thomas Perez, announced at the end of January that the department would team up with the Census Bureau and  restore the Contingent Worker's Supplement  as part of the May 2017 Current Population Survey.

It is being restored because in 2005, in the infinite wisdom of governmental agencies, the decision was made to discontinue data collection in this area. The Supplement had only been published 5 times and in fairness, it had its share of critics.  A major failing, was the fact that  it aggregated all contingent work arrangements, from  senior management consultants to security guards to cab drivers.  As such, drawing conclusions about income trends, potential wage and hour infractions or economic security was difficult.  Similarly, no attempt was made to try reconcile the differences between the self employed - a broad category which  consultants, architects and dry cleaners - and 1099 tax filers.

Now that the gig economy appears to be fundamentally redesigning work and income structures in the US economy, the Labor Department  wants to try to get a handle on the phenomenon in large part to better inform policy decisions. They do acknowledge that it will be difficult, since just the definition of what qualifies as contingent work is controversial. Additionally, one would hope that they will make strides to refine the data to be able to draw more meaningful conclusions.    That said, we should not get too excited, since this  there won't be data until early 2018 at best.

What is ironic to me, as someone who has been involved in the  high-end of the contingent work force for nearly 30 years,especially now in this political season is the constant emphasis on jobs creation as a metric of economic success.  When you consider 53 million people, according to The Solo Project, have chosen to define  themselves as  independent consultants , free agents or free lancers, the magnitude of the data problem becomes apparent.  These people do not want traditional jobs. What labor statistics are capturing this? Lets hope Perez can fix the data problems inherent in the Contingent Workforce Supplement, because the world of work is being redefined quickly and the government needs to catch up.

Expertise 15 years later

Expertise and the Independent Consultant

I recently reread my book, A New Brand of Expertise, published in 2001. It was a book about, as the tag line said, how ” free agents, independent consultants and interim managers are transforming the world of work.”

bookIt was an odd experience, after all of these years to read the words. Perhaps more prolific authors are used to it, but for me it was very strange. I was surprised at the passages I didn’t recall at all, (really, I wrote that?) including some rather remarkable anecdotes. I had to laugh at the few (and luckily there were only a few) references that didn’t hold up at all; for example, my advice to new consultants to build a personal brand offered Martha Stewart as the role model. Obviously this was written before her prison sentence. My opening chapter referenced the Donna Reed show, because her husband, ” the company man” was becoming an anachronism. My guess is there isn’t a millennial around who could relate to that TV reference. (Oops, I am dating myself, but I only saw the show in reruns as a very young child…)

What dismayed me was one aspect of the forecast I made 15 years ago about what would happen to this nascent independent marketplace in the years ahead. I had suggested that on the horizon there could be some simplification of the legal ambiguity that was a threat to the dynamic growth of an independent talent market. I offered hope that U.S. 344, the Independent Contractor Simplification Act, authored by then Senator Kit Bond of Missouri would pass. I was overly optimistic. Not only did it not pass, it never made it to the floor — It died in committee the following year.

And now, the independent contractor issue is in the limelight again as the “gig ” economy has been caught up in the ambiguous regulatory environment, as firms like Uber, Handy and Instacart try to maneuver in the anachronistic definition of employment today. . In the meantime, the free agent and interim management part of the gig economy has only continued to grow. Perhaps the sharing economy, led by the Uber driver lawsuit, will help bring much needed clarity to this issue. Isn’t it about time?

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