OUT OF THE SHADOWS: THE WORLD OF THE INDEPENDENT CONTRACTOR
“Clare? – we don’t have anyone named Clare in our department”. As he
walked away, he turned and said “maybe she is one of the contractors in
the cubes by the wall?”
And so, welcome to the world of the independent contractor, the 1099,
temp worker, freelancer or whatever other name you wish to call the
people working within your company who are almost invisible. If you
outsource a service or product to another firm or agency, you may never
see the full team but only the client manager. All of those behind-the-scene
workers are also part of your success yet unknown to you.
They might be a nurse, graphic artist, application developer, software
engineer or a classroom trainer flying between cities on different days of
the week. We have entered the “gig economy” – even the name “gig”
connotes short term, in and out, when it’s over just move on type of a job
format. But this “gig economy” is anything but a pass through business
phase. People are using various recruiting and talent platforms to connect
with jobs around the world and around the corner. The “gig” has arrived on
Main Street throughout the world.
Corporations are making changes and precipitating product and service
design disruptions that require new technologies, process innovations and
rapid time to market. Sometimes, change cannot be fulfilled in a critical
timeframe with the existing workforce and their ingrained work design.
Hence, the need for the infusion of the shadow workforce of the
analysis shows that
platforms could add
$2.7 trillion, or 2% to
global GDP by 2025,
employment by 72
Institute, June 20151
Why do independent contractors use the gig approach? There are five
1. I select who I want to work with and where I want to work
2. Gigs give me maximum flexibility in my schedule
3. To gain new experience and improve my resume
4. Gigs permit me to contribute toward social endeavors that match
my purpose and interest
5. I complete an assignment, get paid and increase my rates over time
more easily than if fully employed
And when the same question is addressed to the corporate managers, their
reasons are very business focused: we need newer skills than what exists
today; we need those skills sooner than our workforce can ramp-up to; new
innovations precipitate resistance to change from our internal staff and, a
new perspective can be more easily absorbed by someone who does not
have the corporate memory of “the old ways”.
There are about 53 million Americans, or 34% of the US workforce, who
identify as: independent contractors (40%), moonlighters (27%), diversified
worker (18%), temp worker (10%) and freelance business owners (5%). This
workforce is adding $715 Billion annually to the economy through freelance
If there are so many people working this way, then why do they remain in
the shadows of American work life? How do they begin to become a better
fit in the everyday work flow?
Community and Communications
Corporations that hire the independent contractor are always concerned
about crossing the boundary between an employee and a contractor. This
divide is one of the contributing factors of why the independent contractor
lives within the shadows – no one wants to consider the independent
contractor as a member of the corporate talent pool. However, because of
this, 34% of the workforce is not recognized, their skills and ideas are not
consistently being considered, and their contributions to the process and
bottom line are rarely considered in the same manner as their employee
When you listen to the independent contractor, they will clearly state their
primary concerns, which if unaddressed, will eat away at the corporate
culture, the profits and the daily performance work life. Here are some of
• I am hired for a specific period of time but may never see the end
results of my effort.
• My skills are equal to or more advanced than my cube partner but I
do not get any credit for that extra knowledge.
• I can see how to improve the process or services that are delivered
but there is no channel that is available to accept my input or to
reward me for my innovations.
2. Freelancing in America: A national Survey of the New Workforce,
• I know that I am an outsider but the person I am working for doesn’t
know how to communicate with me in a respectful manner and I
have no place to turn to for help.
• It sounds crazy but I don’t even know if I am invited to an office
meeting or someone’s birthday party let alone an office holiday
Many of the work environments which surround the independent
contractor are not healthy or conducive to successful, shared
communications. The corporate work environment is missing out on
valuable talent, innovations and creativity that the contractor can
contribute. Making changes that would be more inclusive of the
independent contractor will require changes to the corporate culture;
workflow process changes and new communication channels.
A Window into a New Environment
Let’s suppose that a corporation and its independent contractors could
create an environment that addressed concerns from both sides. What
would it look like and how would it operate?
A more successful environment, which maintains the correct separation of
employee and contractor, might include:
• An external web and mobile based communications portal (available
to the employee and the contractor) that is distinct from the
corporation’s network but adheres to the same stringent safety and
privacy protections as the corporation.
• A portal that has both a personal view, e.g., birthday notices, areas
for shared interests or purpose, etc. and a business view, e.g.,
project updates, meeting notes, schedules and work dialogues that
can be private or shared openly.
• The means to form groups and affiliations with people or teams
associated with a common purpose such as the marketing,
advertising, sales, IT, Procurement and compliance people working
on a new product release. These affiliations could also include
external vendors and customers as appropriate so everyone hears a
• A visual map of these new affiliations that can illustrate the links of
communications between and across teams and members.
• With this improved ability to hear and communicate within the
corporation and with the independent contractors, we now have a
means to value, vote and recognize contributions for ideas, work
post solutions, instances of team support, mentoring and active
• If we combine the affiliation visual maps with the valued
contributions from all participants, it looks like we have the ideal
means to see talent and value from all parts of this new working
environment – “social network value analysis”.
When we lift the vale of shadows, we can create a corporate knowledge
repository, an enhanced talent resource directory, a superior means for
onboarding and a happier work environment for everyone.
Author:David E. Goodman, President, SoftAssist, Inc. which designs,
develops and delivers corporate learning and performance solutions.
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