The freelance revolution: the end of organizational culture?

Matthew Bowering | January 30, 2017

Freelancing has increased over the years and will continue to be a big part of our working future. The McKinsey Global Institute has suggested that 161 million of 1.46 billion service jobs (around 11 percent) can be carried out remotely. And the trick will be using freelancers or international support offices efficiently.

It was once the case that you had to walk to the drafting office to review drawings – everyone in the company worked in the same building and everyone above you in the organization knew exactly how to do every aspect of your job. All of these things contributed to organizational culture and helped form the unofficial rules and guidelines at your company. Fast forward to the freelancing revolution in 2017 and the modern workplace looks a lot different. However, good organizational culture continues to be part of an efficient business.

At first it seems odd to expect culture to be important to efficiency when sending out work to a freelancer who might be working in a different office, company or country. After all, they just do their portion of the work and send it back, right? Wrong.

We all know that very few work tasks can be done simply by following instructions to the letter. For example, say you need a freelancing graphic designer and your design brief states ‘draw a cartoon picture of a horse to appeal to children and be used companywide’. While the brief contains a substantial description there still room for interpretation.  For instance, if you work at a zoo the graphic designer would know that the picture of the horse would need to be anatomically correct, in proportion, use the correct colors and should be instantly recognizable as a horse. This fits the zoo’s educational values. If you are a children’s book publisher, the graphic designer would know that the horse should have big eyes and use bright colors. This fits with the publisher’s values of intriguing storytelling.

Part of the reason the graphic designer, or any freelancer, knows how to interpret the client brief is in the client’s culture. Anytime there is ambiguity in a scope of work, culture can be used to fill the missing parts of knowledge or instructions. Values form an integral part of Edgar Schein’s widely accepted model of organizational culture. The graphic designer knows that the company values should play a part in their work and uses it to improve the cartoon of the horse in ways you might not have thought of.

The modern workplace has telecommuting, instant messaging, emails and the organizational culture isn’t soaked up like it once was. Now and into the future, it is more important than ever that you transfer and instill what the project or organizational culture is. This requires two things, first you must understand your own culture and then you must be able to express it to others. Neither of these are easy tasks.

How do we do this in practice? Before you engage with your freelancers, you need to brainstorm and identify the project or company values . Write them down, discuss with your co-workers and then pick the top four or five values. When you have your list of important values, make them visible to your team (e.g. posters, intranet sites etc.).  Then select a freelancer whose work also reflects these values and culture.

Often freelancers with the required skill set will not have the same cultural values. In this instance you will need to identify their values (typically these are reflected in their country of origin, education and previous work) and identify where the two sets of values do not agree. You then need to explicitly state how you would like them to operate while performing the work. For example, you could ask your freelancer to communicate specification conflicts rather than let them pick their own interpretation.

Since the freelancers don’t see the organizational culture functioning every day, you must also regularly remind them of the culture in a positive and friendly manner. Mastering this skill of culture transfer will remove a significant portion of re-work as your freelancers will already know what your expectations are. Other ways to instill a great culture includes using video calls over just voice, sending photos of the freelancer’s work being used and sharing ‘water-cooler talk’. There are many other benefits to sharing good culture too, like timely delivery, discounts on prices and increased satisfaction.

Thus, the future of organizational culture and the freelancing revolution is surprisingly more culture, not less! At Digital Enterprise, Advisian and WorleyParsons we’ve embraced the freelancing revolution. We utilize our international talent pool and combine it with local client relationships to deliver tremendous value. It means a smoother work load, access to more talent and reduced costs for clients.

2017-03-13T22:33:10+00:00 January 30th, 2017|Curious|

About the Author:

Matthew Bowering
Matthew Bowering is an internationally experienced mechanical engineer with a diverse history working the oil and gas drilling, construction and subsea installations industry.

One Comment

  1. Menno Eijgenhuijsen February 15, 2017 at 8:15 am - Reply

    agree fully, well written too!

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