The basic principles of the scientific organization of work, aftermath of the industrial revolution, define every worker as a manageable and interchangeable resource that needs to be controlled to reach a high level of productivity and ensure the success of the company.
In 1960 Douglas McGregor was questioning the effectiveness of these principles by elaborating two Theories: X and Y. Almost 60 years later, the spread of the social scourge called burn out, the appearance of the bore out, and the explosion of the freelance works, prove that the corporate world haven’t managed to adapt to the new leverage of motivation of the workers. In 2017 the company ADECCO was highlighting the need of flexibility, the willingness to work on short term and interesting projects, and the fear of the routine as 3 of the main new leverages of motivation for the 18-26 years old.
As a consequence, 82% of this generation see the possibility of managing their own career as a freelancer as a concrete and serious option. This change combined with the willingness of the big group to attract the best talents will force the companies to adapt their organization to stay competitive and attractive.
How freelancers can help these companies to achieve organisational transformation?
The website Malt, through the article written by Laetitia Vitaud, highlighted the fact that a comeback to handicraft values within the organization will allow the corporate world to integrate the gig economy within their organizational structure. The corporate world is pushing employees to adapt more and more quickly to new situations, new environments, and new international contexts. The change management is a main challenge for any company trying to adapt to their stakeholders’ expectations. An effective change management strategy should smoothly push the employees to leave their comfort zone, changing their routines, in order to be more flexible and more in line with a lean organizational structure. Susanne Madsen highlights two factors leading the employees to not accept the change within their organization: fear and uncertainty.
To surpass these two factors, most of the managers proceed step-by-step by focusing on a series of short term goals that will finally lead to a change within the organization. This process leading to change is time consuming, and doesn’t allow the companies to adapt as quick as they would need to benefit from a lean organization. External workers can help the companies pushing the change management without paying the cost of a long step-by-step process.
A McKinsey report was summarizing freelancers situation by stating that « they claimed that their independence was a choice and that they would not give up the benefits that came with it. Although they worried about unpredictable schedules and finances, they also felt they had mustered more courage and were leading richer lives than their corporate counterparts. »
Most of the freelancers consider that the benefits of evolving in a more risky environment are bigger than the risk of being a freelance itself. A growing number of freelancers have learnt to feel at ease in uncertain environment while developing the ability to adapt quickly, the capability to learn by themselves, and by thinking out of the box. The « gig economy » has chosen to face uncertainty better than routine.
By definition, a freelancer must adapt quickly to new clients and context, and is used to scan a situation and play with the tools offered by a company in order to deliver a result in a given period of time. Freelancers are able to master their freedom, and are used to train themselves to always bring an added value and a noticeable result to their client. They have naturally extended their comfort zone and have learnt to deal with uncertainty and changes. The autonomy, the level of responsibility, the creativeness, and the need to have a clear impact, have pushed the external workers to develop a handicraft mindset. Their objective is not anymore to deliver a standardized solution to their clients, but to adapt to them delivering a customized approach adapting to the contexts and frames set by the organization and by the clients. Therefore, they could be seen as the living engine pushing the changes within the organization. By being flexible, reactive, and result oriented, freelancers can be seen as a living incarnation of the organizational mode targeted by all the companies trying to succeed on a competitive market.
Most of the companies are implementing change management process to be more lean, quicker to answer demands, and to have more ability to develop customized solutions (or products) for their clients. Step-by-step, corporate entities are coming back to lighter organizations and to the handicraft values that the freelancers have integrated and implemented for their own business for years.
A report published in the French newspaper Le Figaro highlights the growing number of freelancers in France which has been multiplied by 3 in 10 years, mainly to implement and push the change within organization by dusting off old management habits. Although it is established that freelancers can be helpful to implement structural changes, they can also enhance agility and flexibility on a more short term view.
The gig economy enhances flexibility and agility within corporate entities.
The agile methodology has become a norm for any industrial company aiming at working with more efficiency while answering the willingness of their employees to not suffer from the routine. Agile and other similar methologies have turned the workflow into a succession of projects composed of several tasks that will be completed on a short term view through sprints.
To fully benefit from such methodologies organizational structures must ensure that every worker is at the right place at the right time, and involved on the task where he/she will bring the most added value. Therefore, a rigid and traditional pyramidal corporate structure, splitting the competencies into department, (finance, engineering, Human resources) will not allow the company to get the benefit from these methodologies. At the opposite, the structure should give the possibility to people with different expertise to collaborate on a specific task during a limited period of time regardless the department they come from.
Naturally, this « project mode organization » is enhancing the level of responsibility, the creativeness, and the motivation of all the members of the group willing to achieve a given task. In such a context, every individual is seen as an expert in his domain (finance, engineering, Human resources, …) and will carry the weight of the decision making around this expertise.
The limited amount of time that is set by the management to complete the task forces the group to adapt quickly to the situation, and to the people they will work with. Although these methodologies are not THE solution to deal with any organizational issue, it is easy to notice that they are taking in account the main leverages of motivations of the new generation of employees (« the need of flexibility, the willingness to work on short term and interesting projects, and the fear of the routine»). Freelancers have already developed all the needed skills to feel at ease and to perform in such environments. These new methodologies have also provoked a new repartition of the workflow between employees where various and accurate expertise are needed. Hiring a freelance allows companies to fulfill their objectives by completing there tasks while eliminating the risk of hiring an employee on a long term basis.
Every company who has decided to embrace one of the project based organizational modes needs to be sure that all the skills needed to complete the project will be available within the organization. The real challenge is to deal with the short term objectives set up by the project based organizational modes and the need for specific skills on a structural basis. Is it relevant to hire (on a permanent basis) a HR expert that will bring his expertise to reach a problem deadline coming to an end in 6 months? Will this expert find a suitable and challenging project and position within the company after this deadline completion?
It is more and more common to use a freelance period as a trial. In countries where the trial period has been removed from long term contracts, as Belgium for instance, some companies use a freelance working period as a trial, and propose a contract to the external worker after a successful project of 1 year. The gig workers are then free to accept joining their client’s payroll, or to continue working as freelancers. Getting a freelancer on board with the ambition of hiring him/her after one year is more and more common and create a win-win situation. First, it minimize the risk of hiring an employee on payroll without being sure that he/she will master the needed skills to be good at his/her job. Secondly, the freelancer will have the possibility to picture himself working on a long term basis within the company before joining the company after one year.
The multiplication of freelancers in developed economies is a consequence of the implementations of non working corporate organizational structures who have ran out of gas for two main reasons. Firstly, because they are not in line with the expectations of the workers. This explains why there are more and more freelancers on the market. Secondly, because the corporate world itself is seeking for more reactiveness to answer their clients needs. Companies have started to understand that these changes are not only important but needed if they want to keep on satisfying their clients. innovative structure, smart change management strategies, and new way of working are implemented respecting the principles of « Liberated Management » to help the employees fit with more demanding project modes organizational structure. Freelancers have developed the values, the mindset, and the skills needed to complete this change on both structural and operational levels.
Laetitia Vitaud, Malt; Comment repenser l'organisation du travail à l'âge des freelances;
Gianpiero Petriglieri, Susan J. Ashford, Amy Wrzesniewski for Harvard Business Review; Thriving in the gig economy; https://hbr.org/2018/03/thriving-in-the-gig-economy; 2018
Susanne Madsen, Liquid Planner; Why is organizational change so hard; https://www.liquidplanner.com/blog/why-is-organizational-change-so-hard/; 2018
Quentin Périnel, Le Figaro; Les freelances s'intègrent durablement dans les grandes entreprises; http://www.lefigaro.fr/emploi/2018/03/07/09005-20180307ARTFIG00032-les-freelances-s-integrent-durablement-dans-les-grandes-entreprises.php; 2018