Could the Gig Economy Make Your Office Obsolete?
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Episode 164 Transcript:
Chris Curran: Growth Igniters Radio with Pam Harper and Scott Harper, episode 164: “Could the Gig Economy Make Your Office Obsolete?” This episode is brought to you by Business Advancement Incorporated — enabling successful leaders and companies to accelerate to their next level of success. On the web at businessadvance.com. Now, here’s Pam and Scott.
Pam Harper: Thanks, Chris. I’m Pam Harper, Founding Partner and CEO of Business Advancement Incorporated, and sitting right across from me as always is my business partner and husband, Scott Harper. Hi, Scott.
Scott Harper: Good morning, Pam. It’s great to join you again for another episode of Growth Igniters Radio. As always, our purpose is to spark new insights, inspiration, and immediately useful ideas, for visionary leaders to accelerate themselves and their companies to their next level of game-changing innovation, growth, and success.
Now, Pam, as you know, and many of our listeners know, there’s an uptick in the number of independent people who are engaged in gig work, and it’s common for startups to hire gig workers. But now, visionary leaders of established companies are still not doing quite as much of this as they could.
Pam Harper: Well, they’re doing it in different ways. We’re seeing more on this trend recently. We think about gig workers in all kinds of roles – for instance, the Uber driver — but now you see gig workers in a lot of different professional roles. Now, the big question is, “How do you lead an organization that is increasingly moving towards gig work?” In fact, it’s time to even think about, “Could it be that the established traditional office that we think about today could actually go to the gig economy?”
Scott Harper: That’s something to think about, but how do we get our hands around that?
Pam Harper: Well, as a matter of fact, we have an expert on this issue who’s joining us today. She is Diane Mulcahy, author of the bestselling book, The Gig Economy. Diane created the first course in the country on the gig economy, and teaches it in the MBA program at Babson College. The course gained immediate traction, and was named by Forbes as one of the Top 10 Most Innovative Business School Courses in the country. She speaks about the gig economy at industry conferences and corporate events, and she herself works independently, remotely and flexibly in a variety of roles, working with clients.
Pam Harper: She’s an adjunct professor, and she’s a frequent contributor to a variety of journals, including The Harvard Business Review. There is so much more about Diane that we don’t have time to go to right now, but we will have a full bio on growthignitersradio.com, episode 164.
Diane, welcome to Growth Igniters Radio.
Diane Mulcahy: Thank you. I’m happy to be here. Thanks for having me.
Pam Harper: Let’s just start out by saying that there are a lot of definitions about the gig economy. Let’s have you define it officially.
Diane Mulcahy: That’s a great place to start. There are a lot of varying definitions and also misperceptions. I think when people hear the term gig economy, they immediately think we’re going to talk about Uber drivers, and so let’s just clear that myth right up.
The way that I define and talk about the gig economy is if you’re not a full-time employee in a full-time job. So, it includes people who are consultants and advisors, independent contractors, freelancers, and on-demand workers. I also include people who do have full-time jobs but are participating in the gig economy by holding a side gig. It’s a very broad definition, and it really crosses all income levels and education levels, as well as industries and sectors.
Pam Harper: So what’s very clear is that it’s much larger than any one type of job. It seems like it’s growing faster than ever. What are the statistics today?
Diane Mulcahy: Well, the best way to think about it, there are a lot of different statistics out there that are confounded by varying definitions and various methodologies, but if you sort of aggregate them all together and look at where do they all coalesce, there’s a clear range. What I would say is it’s very safe to think about 20 to 30% of the workforce is currently working in the gig economy, and it’s growing rapidly. When I started my MBA class, when I created it and started teaching it six years ago, nobody even really knew what the gig economy was. I mean, I would tell people about the course, and they would say, “The gig economy, do you mean like gigabytes? Is that like a computer science course?”
I mean, nobody even understood what it was, and five or six years later, it’s a hot topic and everybody is talking about it. That’s how quickly it has grown. If you look at estimates about the growth rate, they really vary. I mean, some people say, “50% of the workforce is going to be working in the gig economy by 2020.” That seems aggressive to me, but I do think it is safe to say that 40 to 50% of the workforce is probably going to be working in the gig economy by 2025, so the growth is going to continue, and it’s going to continue at a rapid rate.
Pam Harper: Scott and I both came from corporate backgrounds before we became business advisors. How is this different? There were freelancers that we would hire, or temporary workers. What’s the difference?
Diane Mulcahy: In many ways, the gig economy is nothing new under the sun. People have been working this way for a long time. If you look at the creative professions or you look at the trades, it’s common to work independently for a variety of clients on your own. It’s not like this is a groundbreaking way of working. I think what’s different is a couple of things. One is it’s expanded into almost every profession, so whereas before, you would see certain types of workers working independently. Now, almost every type of worker can and does work independently, so it’s gone from creatives and the trades into professional work, to knowledge work and technical work.
It’s become very broad-based. Secondly, it’s become much easier for both companies and workers to match, and to find this type of work, and to get this type of work thanks to technology-based platforms. It’s removed a lot of the friction out of the system and made it seamless and efficient to find these types of workers, and that’s been a huge leap forward because if you think about companies, even five or 10 years ago, if they wanted to hire somebody independently or part-time, or on a contract basis, it was much more difficult to find those people. By the way, there weren’t even that many people like that because the majority of the workforce was working in a full-time job. All of that has changed since then.
Scott Harper: What’s the biggest misconception now that executives of office-based companies have about gig workers versus traditional approach to work?
Diane Mulcahy: I think the biggest misconception among senior leadership teams of traditional companies is that traditional work is working, that it works for everybody. I would take the opposite point of view, and this is based on data from both employees and from independent workers. My assertion and conclusion from looking at the data would be that traditional work is not working for a lot of people. If you look at surveys of traditional employees, what you find is they are not satisfied, they’re not happy, they’re not engaged with their work, they’re not productive when they’re at the office, they waste a lot of time, and they are stressed out. They have long, unhealthy commutes, and they struggle to balance their personal and professional life, and they sit in expensive real estate, so from a company’s point of view and from a worker point of view, there are a lot of pain points in traditional work.
Pam Harper: Why do they keep doing it if it’s that bad?
Diane Mulcahy: Well, there are a couple of reasons. One is, it’s still the predominant way of working, so if you want to work, the most opportunities are going to be full-time jobs, and secondly, there are still people who are willing to trade off all of those things that I mentioned in exchange for the perception that they have stability and security in their lives. Now, what we know is they don’t because there is no job security, but they enjoy the perception that they do.
Pam Harper: Yes. Perceptions are tough things, so let’s switch it around and say, what have you seen as the benefits of the gig economy for both the established growth-oriented companies that we work with the most and for workers?
Diane Mulcahy: Yeah. For companies, the benefits are incredibly wide-ranging. I think one of the most significant benefits is if you talk to any company and ask them, “What are the positions that you have a persistent problem-filling?”, first of all, everybody has an answer to that because they have positions they have trouble filling, but if they’re willing to enter the gig economy and to build a workforce that includes independent workers, they’re able to fill those positions because they can expand beyond their local talent pool.
Scott Harper: Yeah. I know.
Diane Mulcahy: They can look nationwide. They can find people who have the specific experience and expertise that they need when they need it, and if they’re willing to work with people who are independent, who are remote, they can actually fill those positions. They can get the talent that they need. That’s probably the biggest benefit, is they get the talent, the expertise, and the experience they need when they need it for the work that they need to get accomplished. Number one benefit.
Scott Harper: It sounds like if you’re looking for a “needle in the haystack” worker, gig work can increase the number of needles that you can look for in the haystack. Is that right?
Diane Mulcahy: That’s absolutely true, and it also gives you the flexibility to find that specific worker when your business needs it, when you’re entering a new market, introducing a new product, pivoting, whatever the reason is. Companies really appreciate the ability to staff up and down or differently, depending on what’s going on in their business.
Pam Harper: Well, we’re going to talk more about that in the next segment, but first, we’re going to take a quick break, and when we come back, we’ll speak more with Diane Mulcahy, author of The Gig Economy, about the best types of roles for gig workers, and how to effectively lead an organization with gig workers. Stay with us.
Scott Harper: This is Growth Igniters Radio with Pam Harper and Scott Harper. We’re brought to you by Business Advancement Incorporated, where we focus on enabling visionary leaders to ignite, sustain, and boost the momentum it takes for game-changing results. We’re on the web at businessadvance.com.
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Scott Harper: It’s also the only place where you can find the unique show notes, bios, and resource links, specifically related to each of our podcasts. We feature award-winning CEOs, thought leaders, and bestselling authors. You can explore more by going to growthignitersradio.com today.
Pam Harper: Welcome back to Growth Igniters Radio with Pam Harper. That’s me, and Scott Harper. Today, Scott and I are speaking with Diane Mulcahy, author of The Gig Economy, about the advantages and challenges of the growing gig economy from the perspective of business leaders. Diane, how can people find out more about you and your book and everything else?
Diane Mulcahy: The best way is to go to my website, which is dianemulcahy.com. If you’re interested in tracking my work over time, sign up for my monthly newsletter, which is also on my website.
Pam Harper: Okay. And you can see Diane’s bio and other resources for this episode by going to growthignitersradio.com, episode 164.
Before the break, we were talking about the fact that there are so many benefits for companies to go in this direction of staffing with the gig economy. Now, I think it’s time to go a little bit deeper on this and talk about the types of companies and roles that are best suited for gig work. What are they?
Diane Mulcahy: It depends on the company, but I don’t think there are any roles that I would a priori identify as not suitable for gig work. I think if you’re in a company and you have a specific need or you’re interested in building a blended workforce, I think all bets are open, right? I mean, I think there’s any role that you could make an interim or a flexible or a remote job, and we’ve seen examples of that. I work a lot with startup companies in the venture capital financed world, and I have seen companies bring in interim, senior management all the time with great success, because they are at a particular phase of growth where they need specific skills. I think it’s easy to automatically say, “Oh, if you’re the senior management team, that’s not eligible.”
You shouldn’t think about that as an independent person or somebody who isn’t going to be part of the company for the long-term, but I think experience would suggest otherwise, and there are many examples of companies that have brought in interim leadership or leadership to guide them through a particular phase of growth with great success.
Pam Harper: Let’s give a concrete example. Scott, you used to lead labs…
Scott Harper: Yes I did.
Pam Harper: Let’s say you have a need. What would it be?
Scott Harper: Well, lits say I need somebody do some studies for me to prove the efficacy of a product.
Pam Harper: Could you actually go with a gig worker? I’m asking Diane now.
Diane Mulcahy: Yes, you absolutely could. I mean, in terms of outsourcing, let’s say competitive market mapping, outsourcing product research or pricing research, those are all functions that are available in the independent workforce.
Scott Harper: Okay. Are there roles that really aren’t well-suited for gig work? Are you saying anything is open for that?
Diane Mulcahy: I have not found roles that are automatically not suited for gig work. I mean, I think it’s easy to imagine what that knowledge or professional work is suited for gig work because you can be anywhere, working from anywhere, but even if you think about roles in which you physically have to be there. Look at the healthcare system, there’s a long history of locum tenens, per diems, having an independent, flexible workforce that fills in during periods where traditional staff might not be as available, or during times when you need additional staff where you have to staff up during busy periods. I don’t think there’s any position where right from the gate, it’s obvious that it’s not eligible for gig workers.
Scott Harper: Diane, you said that gig work is about results and not processing. We can buy that. Now, there are lots of companies, especially established mid-market companies and higher that still are very process-oriented, so how can a process-driven organization still benefit from hiring gig workers? Do you have a story about that?
Diane Mulcahy: Yeah, and that’s actually a really common issue because when you bring on independent workers, it does impact how you manage.
Scott Harper: Right.
Diane Mulcahy: Most traditional companies managed by what I call the clock in the chair. They look at our employees coming into the office, and are they here all day? It’s a very crude and ineffective way to manage employees, and that’s evident by the persistence of underperformance, right? Underperformance is an ongoing management challenge. For companies that are in that traditional space, what I suggest is bringing in an independent worker for a specific project because what that does is it forces you to start defining that person’s role by the results they’re going to deliver, not by the fact that they have to show up in the office for eight hours a day.
Diane Mulcahy: If you bring in even a junior person on a project team for a non-core function, it starts to get the teams and your managers into the habit, introduce them, and then get them into the habit of thinking about framing work around deliverables, and objectives, and results, rather than creating a full-time job spec and making it all about getting somebody into the office. You’re starting to change people’s mindsets and habits slowly by introducing one or two people as part of a team, and forcing them to structure the work around deliverables and specific, concrete results.
Scott Harper: It’s about roles and not jobs then?
Diane Mulcahy: Absolutely. Every company has work that they need to get done. Most traditional companies take that work, and they organize it into a full-time job. What the gig economy allows is for you to organize that work into projects, and assignments, and tasks. It frees you from the construct of a full-time job as the only way to think about getting work done.
Pam Harper: I think that’s so important, because one of the things that we’re seeing increasingly is how you get work done is changing dramatically. The equipment changes, the technology changes, and so if a job description says X, and in fact, to get the work done you now need to go to Y and Z, and things that weren’t even in the job description. I used to see this all the time. The job descriptions would become obsolete, but the role, the role stayed the same.
Scott Harper: And the outcomes are really where it’s all about.
Pam Harper: I see exactly what you’re saying. Diane, I know that you’ve written articles about studies that are showing an emerging middle ground between office-based and remote work. Can you tell us a little bit about that?
Diane Mulcahy: Yes. What the recent data shows is that coworking spaces are emerging as kind of the perfect place for people to work, and the reason is, what people don’t like about the office is one, the commute, and two, the fact that they are exposed to office politics and things like FaceTime, they’re interrupted during the day by meetings, and just people wanting to chat. It’s a very inefficient way for most people to work. If you ask people, “Where do you go when you really need to get something done?”, very few people say they go to the office. It’s just not a productive place for most people.
On the other hand, for many people working at home is less than ideal. Either there are other people present in the household during the day, or it really strains their discipline to work from home. They feel like, “Wow, the kitchen is right there. There’s tasks and projects I like to do in my home.”
Pam Harper: Right.
Diane Mulcahy: “I’m distracted by other things I could be doing. The TV is right here. The stove is right here,” so working from home is not ideal for a lot of people. What coworking does is it takes the best parts of working from home, which is the freedom and the flexibility to set your own schedule, to come and go as you please, and also provides the best things that the office offers, which is a disciplined, structured environment with some ability to socialize. You don’t feel isolated.
Coworking spaces are emerging as this kind of perfect middle ground that allows people to access an office environment, which they need for structure and socialization, but also to work independently and flexibly in a way that suits their natural rhythms of productivity, and gives them the flexibility to get their work done while balancing their personal lives. It’s really no surprise when you look at the growth of coworking spaces in most cities, but that’s really turning out to be the preferred location to get work done for a lot of people.
Pam Harper: There are really a lot of possibilities for effectively leading the gig economy-based workforce. We’re going to take another break, and when we come back, Scott and I will speak more with Diane Mulcahy, author of The Gig Economy, about ideas that you can immediately use so you can start benefiting from the gig economy. Stay with us…
Scott Harper: You are listening to Growth Igniters Radio with Pam Harper and Scott Harper, brought to you by Business Advancement Incorporated. On the web at businessadvance.com. Pam, some of our listeners may know that we speak at a variety of company events, conferences, and offsites. Can you tell us why clients engage us as speakers?
Pam Harper: One of the most challenging aspects of leading a successful, game-changing company is answering the tough question of, “How can we be more than a one-hit wonder?” As growth igniters ourselves, we know how to spark the new thinking, new conversations, and new decisions that generate the momentum it takes to stay first, fast and foremost.
Scott Harper: If that sounds good to you, contact us today at businessadvance.com to schedule a brief call to discuss how we can help you and your company get even more game-changing results.
Pam Harper: Welcome back to Growth Igniters Radio with Pam Harper and Scott Harper. Over the last two segments, Scott and I have been speaking with Diane Mulcahy, author of The Gig Economy, about the advantages, and the challenges, and the benefits, and the opportunities of the growing gig economy from the perspective of business leaders. Diane, how can people find out more about you and your book?
Diane Mulcahy: The best way is to go to my website, which is dianemulcahy.com. You can click through to my book on Amazon or other independent bookstores, and also sign up for my monthly newsletter.
Pam Harper: Great, and of course, you can also find out more and hear this conversation by going to growthignitersradio.com, episode 164. Okay. Diane, let’s talk about some of these immediately useful next steps that leaders can apply as they’re considering ways that they can benefit from the gig economy. What would be the first idea for designing a role or function for gig work?
Diane Mulcahy: The best place to start for a company that wants to try this out is to pick something that is not core, but is difficult for them to keep persistently filled at the level they want, using traditional employees, because the … It’s sort of the low-hanging fruit. If they’re able to fill that position with somebody from the gig economy, they will recognize immediate benefits.
Pam Harper: Great idea.
Scott Harper: Okay, so given that, then what’s an immediately useful idea for leading gig workers and coordinating with the other employees that are full-time?
Diane Mulcahy: I think the easiest way to do that is to just set the expectation that you’re going to focus on results. Results are what matter, so you bring in an independent contractor or a gig economy worker, and everybody understands what that person is here to deliver, what the result is, what the deliverable or objective is. That way, it’s easy to assess, to monitor, to evaluate how that person is doing in a way that everybody can agree on.
Scott Harper: Okay, so you’re focusing on outcomes — our experience has shown that when you have a clearly defined outcome and you clearly defined what success looks like, what has to happen for that outcome to be successful, critical success factors, if you will, that really makes that a lot easier.
Diane Mulcahy: Completely.
Pam Harper: Yeah, and we’re not talking about job descriptions here. I think it’s important to make that distinction. This is something that you don’t go and rewrite job descriptions for. Correct?
Diane Mulcahy: That’s absolutely correct. Think of it as you’re writing … Think of it as just a scope of work. You’re saying, “I want to bring in this person. What is it that I want them to do?”
Diane Mulcahy: “What is the scope of work that I’m bringing them in to do, and what are they supposed to deliver? What are the results, the objectives, or the deliverables?”
Pam Harper: So outcome, outcome, outcome.
Diane Mulcahy: Right. Outcome, outcome, outcome.
Pam Harper: Okay, and the third immediately useful idea. This one for measuring the right results from gig work, because I see people getting lost in the weeds here and looking at the wrong thing, and that could really … You could have a problem that way. How do you come up with the right metric?
Diane Mulcahy: That’s such a great question because I think it’s important to acknowledge that managing an independent worker is different from managing an employee, so if there’s no question that people do get lost in the weeds and maybe focus on the wrong things because they’re not practiced at managing someone who works independently or even remotely, so if you say, “Look, we need to bring somebody in to help us with the marketing for this new product,” hopefully you can find a template of a scope of work of what that might look like. That will help to lay it out, how to structure the project, and identify some good interim deliverables and final deliverables. I mean, one of the mistakes you definitely don’t want to make is leaving everything to the end of the project. You want to make sure you structure the scope of work with interim deliverables so that you can iterate, give feedback, and make sure that the person is on track. That’s something that you can maybe reach out to other colleagues in your industry and say, “Look, I want to bring in somebody to do social media, to do product marketing,” to do whatever it is you need done. Research on something, or market competition.
Pam Harper: Right. Right.
Diane Mulcahy: Hopefully, you can, through talking with others, put together a scope of work that makes sense for your particular project, but I do think going in with the expectation that, “I’m going to have to do some work on the front end to create a scope of work , that really makes sense for my project, and that is as clear and concrete as it can be, along with interim milestones or checkpoints,” that’s really important.
Pam Harper: I like what you’re saying, Diane about clarity, because that is where it’s all at. Of course, as you get into the higher levels of gig work where you’re talking about consultants, a lot of us out there already know what to recommend as outcomes the more expert you are, so I would guess that there is a distinction between, say the more entry-level gig work, whereas at a consulting level…
Scott Harper: We’re entirely outcome-driven. Yeah.
Pam Harper: I know that we certainly have recommendations, and I’m sure you do too. You know how to help and work with your clients that way.
Diane Mulcahy: I think that’s a great point. If you are working with a consultant, asking them to put forth a proposal, and then you can then modify to your particular company’s needs, or your particular team, or your particular need for interim deliverables.
Pam Harper: Exactly. Right.
Diane Mulcahy: I mean, that’s a benefit too.
Pam Harper: You need to have joint accountability here.
Diane Mulcahy: Absolutely. By the way, a good place to start is for independent workers to be people that used to work for your company, that might know your company, know your business, know people within it, and who are known to you. That can be also kind of an interim place to start. You’re not going with somebody completely unknown, and that can make it easier to take the first step into working with somebody independently.
Pam Harper: There are all kinds of ways that you can come up with successful outcomes, which is where it’s all at. Diane, this has been a great conversation. Any final thoughts that you want to leave us with here?
Diane Mulcahy: I mean, I would just say, I’m going to echo Nike on this one and say just do it. The gig economy is here. It’s here to stay. It’s growing, and adopt an experimental mindset, and see if you can just take the first step towards hiring and working with independent workers. Just start doing it, make it iterative, make it experimental, and I think for most companies, they’re going to find it to be an incredibly value-added addition to their workforce and their business.
Pam Harper: Definitely, especially as the economy keeps changing.
Diane, thanks again for being our guest today.
Diane Mulcahy: Thank you so much for having me.
Scott Harper: Thanks, Diane, and thanks to you out there for listening to Growth Igniters Radio with Pam Harper and Scott Harper. To get show notes and resource links for this week’s episode, go to growthignitersradio.com. Select episode 164.
Pam Harper: Until next time. This is Pam Harper…
Scott Harper: And Scott Harper…
Pam Harper: Wishing you continued success and leaving you with these questions to discuss with your top leadership team.
Scott Harper: What are the top three issues we need to discuss among ourselves about when and how we can make the best use of gig workers for our company’s greatest advantage?