Talented people don’t want to work for your company for decades. Simply put, the incentives to do so no longer exist.
“There’s no gold watch for anybody anymore,” says Zoe Harte, senior vice president of HR and talent innovation for Upwork, a Silicon Valley-based technology company that matches companies and freelance workers.
So why wouldn’t you consider freelancers when designing your learning and development programs? In this episode of the Chief Learning Officer Podcast, Zoe makes the case for crafting targeted programs to onboard and develop them as part of your learning strategy.
How do you do that? Here’s a hint: Freelancers are people, too. Just like everyone else, they need to understand the purpose and mission of your company in order to do their best work.
Plus, she and co-host Justin Lombardo talk about the value retired executives can bring to the company and how to make sure your internal team is ready to work with freelancers.
This episode of the Chief Learning Officer Podcast is brought to by Bridge, the makers of Practice. Practice can scale the competency and confidence of your teams to ensure your organization thrives in today’s fast changing, unpredictable world. Visit getbridge.com to learn more.
This episode is also sponsored by BetterUp. Help your organization cultivate a coaching culture with BetterUp, the industry’s first mobile platform that provides personalized coaching at scale. Learn more by visiting betterup.co.
Podcast Producer: Jesse McQuarters.
Note: This transcript has been edited for space and clarity.
Mike Prokopeak: Hello and welcome to the Chief Learning Officer podcast. As always, I’m Mike Prokopeak, editor in chief at Chief Learning Officer magazine. Glad to be your host today. I am joined by my cohost for today, Justin Lombardo. Welcome, Justin.
Justin Lombardo: Hey Mike, how you doing?
Mike: I’m good. So I am really excited about having this conversation today with our guest because we’re going be to talking about a topic that isn’t talked enough about in talent development circles and that is how do you work with freelancers – building in freelancers into your talent development philosophy and approach. So to talk about that we have our guest in-house today who is Zoe Harte. Who is Zoe? Zoe is the senior vice president of HR and talent innovation at Upwork. Welcome Zoe.
Zoe Harte: Thank you so much for having me. I’m happy to be here.
Mike: Let me just do a quick introduction before we dive in. So a little bit about Upwork. It’s a freelancing platform that connects businesses with freelance workers, formerly called Elance-oDesk.
Zoe: A horrible name, we all admit.
Justin: Who made that up?
Zoe: Well it was the result of Elance and oDesk merging and so for a while we all had the most horrific email addresses in the world because it was Elance-oDesk.com
Justin: Did anything get through the email? It was mostly lost.
Zoe: No. It was actually great. I mean it was a filtering system that worked.
Justin: Yeah. Typically when you have a merger like that you’ve made a five-legged camel but that’s OK.
Zoe: Yes, but we rebranded and it’s all OK.
Mike: I love it though because it sounds like a lost knight of the round table or something. Elance-oDesk, the junior knight, they didn’t allow to sit at the table.
Justin: He ran off with Guinevere and they’re … Yeah.
Zoe: Exactly, he came back.
Mike: But congratulations on the rebrand.
Zoe: Thank you.
Mike: Upwork, much more easy to say.
Zoe: Yes, much better.
Mike: So your job there, you run HR?
Zoe: I do. I look after all the people who work for us and that includes our almost 500 full-time employees. Then at any given time we’ve got from about a thousand to 1,600 freelancers back on the platform who work back directly for us which is us drinking our own champagne, like our French CEO says.
Mike: Yeah, right. Before you joined Upwork, you spent some time in HR at Yahoo! and Rovi.
Zoe: I did.
Mike: You have a master’s in theology from the University of Exeter. So, no, this is a whole different podcast. Justin, we can’t go that direction. It’s one of Justin’s-
Justin: We have a common background.
Zoe: Oh, my gosh, do we? This is amazing.
Justin: It is.
Zoe: All right.
Justin: It is. I’m going to work there now.
Zoe: Fantastic. We have openings.
Mike: So we’ll leave the theology conversation to a later podcast. We’re going to talk about freelancers now.
Mike: So let me start with this traditional idea we have about freelancers. It’s when you need a specialized skill set that you don’t have or you can’t build. You don’t want to employ somebody to do it full time. They’re kind of like consultants, but light consultants, you know?
Zoe: Oh, that’s interesting. Yeah, OK.
Mike: They’re not really brought in in a very thorough way.
Zoe: Right, they’re at arm’s length.
Mike: Is the way that we think about freelancers and we approach freelancers, based on what I just described, in need of an update and if so, how?
Zoe: Yeah, I think it is. I mean, I think it’s most likely in need of an expansion because it’s such a material part of the workforce. We’ve got over 57 million people freelancing in the US, that’s about a third of the workers. So it’s not just people who have unique skills that you bring in, though it is that.
So if you look at my human resources organization, we use freelancers for skills we don’t have. So if I’m doing a presentation, I can bullet the content but I’m never going to make a beautiful presentation. So I can work with a designer who does that. HR doesn’t need a full time designer but it’s a specialized skill I need in that instance. They make it amazing for me and everything is great. But then there’s also an element of doing a scale play with freelancers.
For example, we’re doing this in Chicago. Upwork’s headquarters have been in California for a long time but a few years ago we expanded to Chicago and we’re building out our sales presence here. Now, when we started doing that I’ve got a recruiting team – I’ve got corporate full-time recruiters and they’re amazing – but there’s only a couple of them and we were going to do a big push to hire in a sales force. So it didn’t make sense for me to hire full-time sales recruiters on an ongoing basis but I brought that in to scale it up. So I got sourcers on the platform, full-cycle recruiters on the platform and staffing assistance to coordinate all the logistics for us. Our team quadrupled in size for a period of time and then transitioned off and now we’re back to our standard-size recruiting programs.
Justin: So you hit on a key difference between freelancers and outboarding because talent … People always talk about outboarding functions and I liked what you said, it’s for a time, it’s scalable for a time. It’s time-bound.
Zoe: Well right, and the great talent doesn’t want to necessarily work for you for the next 25 years. There’s no gold watch at the end for anybody anymore, is there?
Justin: No, there isn’t and I think the cool thing that you’ve done too is … and Mike, I think this is something that the traditional people that have been in HR and talent for years don’t use the right words. I like how precise your language is and I think that’s because of your theology background.
Zoe: Thank you so much, yes.
Justin: The reality is you refer to them as freelancers as opposed to contract workers because I think there’s a huge difference. I mean, what do you think?
Zoe: I think there is, I mean it’s interesting when you talk to people who are in different organizations or have grown up in different industries or work in big enterprise companies versus those of us who have done most of our career growing up in the Valley, where people are going from small company to small company. We use different language and some of it’s interchangeable. So you will hear some people talk about contractors and freelancers in the same way but I think partially it’s a mind shift for people who are engaging that talent with the workforce.
You think of contractors, they’re often led by their procurement team. They’re managed the same way from an engagement perspective that you think about your paper for the photocopier or your coffee filters and that’s not how you want to engage with top talent, they’re people. So it makes a ton more sense to include them in a total talent management philosophy from an HR perspective, where you can be mindful about how you’re growing your workforce and how you’re being able to be a leader in the business versus a recipient of needs from other organizations.
Justin: Now I love the way you’re sourcing this – you’re thinking about it – because one of the things that’s always a concern is yes, you can have freelancers in to do things and particularly in smaller organizations that either can’t afford to keep the talent full time or isn’t going to need it full time but then you have the issue of the tipping point around the culture. What I’ve seen is the traditional CLO, chief learning officer, and whether or not they’re called chief learning officer or chief talent officer or prince of the realm, whatever they want to call them, they very often don’t look to say, “I have a responsibility to bring these people up to speed on our vision, our values-
Zoe: Yeah, 100%.
Justin: What we want to do, because otherwise I’m going to lose the tipping point that our executives need to have. Does that make any sense?
Zoe: Yes, all the sense. Because the thing is especially as the younger generation – I’m Generation X – and the generations that are coming up in the workforce is going to be 35% generation X and 35% millennials in like two years in the workforce. So millennials have all the buying power now, we can’t think of them as junior employees who are complaining about the kombucha. They’re executive vice presidents. They’re leading, they’re in charge of huge budgets. This is a group of people who are so driven by the impact and the mission of the work that they’re doing. Yes, the money needs to be good and yes, they need to be fulfilled intellectually, but more than anything else, that sense of purpose is what’s critical to them, to feel like I’m excited to do the work. So you can’t have that be a foundation for your corporate culture and not have it be part of how you engage with your extended workforce.
Zoe: Be that remote employees who are full-time for the corporate entity or freelancers that you bring on or vendors with whom you work. I don’t want a vendor who’s really working actively against something we believe as an institution.
Mike: Can we dive in a little bit then? We are talking to chief learning officers here. How? How do you actually do that? How do you onboard them in such a way that is effective but also time-sensitive because you’re paying in many cases by the hour.
Zoe: Yes, sometimes paying by the hour and sometimes you’re paying for milestones or ongoing work. Now the other big part of this too is how do you do it in a way that’s compliant because from an HR perspective we can’t muddy the waters around the legal ways that we’d classify employment, especially in the US where it’s really particular … and keeping them at arm’s reach as we were saying. There’s value to that from a legal perspective and it’s a challenge from a person-to-person perspective.
So the way we think about doing that at Upwork is being again really intentional about when we are bringing on talent of any kind. So when somebody at Upwork comes to us and says, “I need to hire somebody,” the question our team asks is, “What’s the work you’re trying to accomplish?” So OK, let’s talk about that. Is it somebody’s left and you immediately think you’re going to fill them one-to-one? Well that’s not very sensible and thinking about what are you actually trying to get done and how can you do that.
Then if we do go down the freelancer route, part of what we’re doing is we’re onboarding them onto our systems based on need. So it’s not default that the minute you join us in a freelance capacity, you get access to all the keys of the kingdom. There’s stratification of access and really strong partnership with your IT team and your legal team are critical for doing this in a way that’s successful and scalable for your organization.
Then we do really spend time sharing with them this is what Upwork’s about, this is what we believe in. Our mission is to create economic opportunities so people have better lives. If that is motivating to you, awesome. If you’re all about likes or cat videos or whatever, and I love a cat video, but if that’s your motivation, you probably don’t want to work with us because we’re going to talk about that all the time, every single day and we’re going to see how your work contributes to that.
So from that, because that’s such an anchor of how our company is run and how our business works at the executive level, to every part of our extended team, we’re able to connect the work that everybody’s doing to that mission and to the impact that it has. So, okay, you’re going to build out our sales team for us. OK, well here’s why that’s important to us. Every time we sign an enterprise client, they post more jobs on the platform. Right now we have more qualified freelancers on our platform than we have jobs.
There are exceptionally skilled people in 180 countries around the world who aren’t being employed because we don’t have enough jobs. So you miss a salesperson, what you’re doing is you’re changing somebody’s life by getting that job posted on the platform. So when you are hiring somebody in, when you’re helping source that talent, you have to sell that to them and you have to care about that. So we try and really tie it constantly back to that without saying, “And you’re one of the corporate employees and you’re going to be at every event and you have to attend every single meeting that our team has.” You don’t have to do that. We’ll tell you what we want and we’ll tell you why we care about it and then the how and the when is up to you.
Mike: So you have to be much more intentional then.
Mike: As an organization, it’s not just, “Hey, I’ve got a need right now. Bring somebody in.”
Zoe: Right, right, right.
Mike: You’re saying you’ve got to think this through a lot more clearly. It’s got to be part of a strategy versus that immediate tactic that fills a need.
Zoe: Yeah although I think it can be both over time. That’s a pretty elaborate conversation, it doesn’t always … it’s not that in-depth because it’s also a muscle you build. So the more frequently you do it, you know that part of the onboarding is talking about the mission and talking about here’s how the work that this team is doing and the piece that you’ll contribute, why it’s important to what we’re accomplishing this year. So it can get truncated and the better a team gets at it and the more they scale it, the easier it becomes.
Justin: So some brief, I’m hearing you, you really become the voice of your client to your freelancers to help bridge that gap so that they understand the mission of what the client is that’s hired them. Does that make sense?
Zoe: Absolutely, yeah, and we definitely try and do that as much as we’re able to.
Justin: So that’s the point I think for CLOs. Because if I was sitting listening to this and I’ve got a lot of experience in organizations to bring in folks because we’re constantly bringing in nursing staff and clinical staff as well as nonclinical staff in the hospital environments.
But the key thing that I always found was problematic is getting them to really sense, especially if they were going to be with us for a period of time. It’s still time-bound but it might be for a flu season, so you always have an uptick of you need staff, both have clinical or not for the flu season because it always gets out of hand and you always know you’re going to need that. So they’re going to be there for a while and so we have very, very clear expectations about how our patients would be treated, what the values are that led us to that.
You want that inculcated or at least made evident to the people who we’re bringing in. What I found in two of the three places I was at when I got there, they brought in temporary staff. They would talk to them about the clinical stuff, about how we did clinical processes, but very little about our mission and who we are. It was almost as if, well that’s not important. Well, it is important, I think.
Zoe: But it’s the whole reason you’re doing the thing.
Justin: Thank you.
Zoe: Right? Because at the most basic level this is other people we’re talking about. So if somebody, if your partner or your child or whomever it is, says to you, “Please do ‘blank’.” Like maybe you’ll do it. But if they say, “Hey, this is a thing that’s happening for me and this is why it matters to me and I believe you and I have a shared interest and this also matters to you. Can you please do this?” Because you’re seen, you’re heard as a person and you’re contributing in a way that is about a personal connection as much as anything else.
Justin: So what would you say to a CLO who’s working in a company that brings in freelancers regularly? If you were interviewing somebody like that, or talking to them, what would you ask them about what they do, or what advice would you give them to say, “This is how you’re going to add value to your own organization? By watching over this and not quite frankly just delegating it to HR,” which is often what happens.
Zoe: I mean HR is pretty awesome.
Justin: Well, yeah, to a degree. We have our first disagreement.
Zoe: It was bound to happen.
Justin: I’m teasing you of course.
Zoe: No, it’s all good. I think HR is a great partner but we’re not living the day to day business with you, right? So we can be a partner but we’re not there in every moment.
Zoe: So I think it’s, it’s about that collaboration. So I think it’s a few things. It is about setting the vision, but there are also very practical things you should be doing when you’re integrating in whichever way works for your company and from a compliance perspective, the talent with whom you’re working. So you want to make sure that there’s a centralized repository of information. So how do people find the basic stuff they need? Because if I join here, I can stick my head in your office and say, “Hey, I really can’t find this thing.” But if I’m working from Ecuador, it’s harder for me to stick my head in your office and say like, “I need the acronyms that this company uses,” or whatever that is.
So I think that is part of it. Having technology that supports connection and collaboration is critical. Whether that is using Slack, a lot of video chat, I think you can’t replace … and being conscious about how the people are included in that and the ongoing conversation that happens in there. Then something we do, which sounds perhaps a little bit silly, but I think personally has made a big difference in my teams, and this is true not just for freelancers, but for any of our remote team members, is we will check in on video with folks.
So we’ll have a cup of coffee. My direct reports have a beer once a month without … I’m consciously not invited and they all get on Hangout in the afternoon and they have a beer and they talk about what they’re doing and it’s like a virtual happy hour.
So things like that, celebrating birthdays, caring about when somebody’s kid graduated or whatever else is going on. Those things are again about the personal connection, that’s really critical but also then the brass tacks of making sure information’s accessible. The technology is set up and works, the person’s got the right setup, they’ve got a good video chat, they’ve got a good phone number, they’ve got the right microphone or whatever it is that they need and that they’ve got access to the appropriate information.
Justin: Well, it’s really cool what you said because if you include them in your Hangouts, your beer Friday, whatever the freelancers that you brought onboard, they get to learn who they can rely on in the group. So, to your point about popping your head in the office, you can do that virtually.
Zoe: Yeah, sure.
Justin: But if you don’t know the people, you may be hesitant-
Zoe: You’re far less likely to do that, right?
Justin: Exactly. It’s like, “I can’t send this person an instant message because I don’t know if they’re open to that or not open to that.”.
Zoe: Or in the middle of a meeting or [crosstalk].
Justin: Or if they’re in the middle of their meeting and that’s OK in a lot of companies. You learn to say, “Oh you’re in a meeting, I’ll be back,” and you don’t want to do that the other way. So I mean, I think those are kind of things that I think very often a CLO doesn’t look to, to say, How do we give them, what is the informal work culture Which is where the work gets done.
Mike: Let me flip the question a little bit. Because we’re talking about bringing in freelancers to say how do we prepare them. What about the teams that are going to be a part of that?
Justin: That’s really important.
Zoe: Oh great, right.
Mike: There’s a perhaps a level of mistrust.
Zoe: Do you think so?
Mike: Potentially. If somebody left and people are looking at a freelancer coming in, OK, well they’re not replacing that position and they’re not investing in us, all of those things can set in. So what do you need to do to prepare a team to work with freelancers, an intact team?
Zoe: Yeah, I mean I think it’s much the same kind of conversation. Let’s get that on the table. I’d much rather know if somebody on my team is antsy because they think Jack left and now his job’s not getting replaced. “Well, let me walk you through my rationale around that, also by the way, we’re trying to save enough money here to fund this thing for your team. Remember you were asking me for that last budget we couldn’t do it because now we can do it this way?” So making sure that people have as much business context as is helpful to them and then just really sharing the notion that this is an opportunity for them.
So I have plenty of people in corporate at Upwork for whom being a leader of a cross-functional team or something, is really important to their development. They’re eager to be a leader, but we’re not in a situation where we would build out their team with full-time head count. So give one of them the opportunity to lead this team and have freelancers as part of that organization and then they can really get that experience. Then the next time there is a more official job like that internally, or at some point they will probably go on to be successful somewhere else. They can speak to that.
More and more we see, in the research that Upwork does, that teams are more like movie crews. People come together and they do the thing that they do very best for an X period of time to create and complete this deliverable and then they go their separate ways. They may get back together again but it’s very rare that you have the exact same team do the exact same project again. So if you think about it from that perspective, then I think it’s less threatening and more like, oh, really eager.
Now the other thing I will tell you that happens, and this happens every time we onboard somebody at Upwork, is you see their ‘ah-ha’ moment. That is magic because what happens is we have people, people who are passionate about the future of work, they’re passionate about remote work and freelancers. We all know people who are doing this now and over 50% of the people we survey around freelancing say there’s no amount of money that would make them take a full-time job again and come to an office. So there are more and more people doing this, we all know those people.
When people come in from a corporate perspective to work with us, there is this moment where they realize how to maximize what they can deliver through using freelancers on our platform and just all of a sudden their work product changes, like a step change level, and whether it’s their deck was pretty janky in one meeting and then three meetings later it’s amazing, with animation and all this stuff. Or their speaking notes have become really, really clear, or their data is visualized in a way none of us have seen it done before because they’ve connected to this amazing person on the platform. So those success stories, I think go a really, really long way.
Justin: I think that’s kind of important to talk about but I think Mike makes a good point. I mean, in healthcare at least, there used to be and … I don’t want to ascribe this universally, but there’s kind of a sense that oftentimes in clinical functions, all right, if you bring in freelance or back in the day, nurses that were there for a short period of time, travelers for short periods and things like that, there’s very often, I won’t call it hostility, there’s suspicion. “They’re not going to take care of their patients as good. They’re not going to take care of my patients as good as I would.” Well, the reality is statistically, by the way, yes they do. We don’t have bad outcomes that are traceable. We have bad outcomes traceable to overtired, full-time staff.
Zoe: Right, people are exhausted, yeah.
Justin: Exactly, so those kinds of things but it’s not traceable, but it’s embedded in the mindset of the people and that you’ve got to … I think that’s one of the issues. You’ve got to consciously help your staff overcome that. Does that make sense?
Zoe: It does. I mean, and this is where we try really hard, just give everybody a little budget. One of the things I’ve done with my team is give new hires like 50 or a hundred bucks on the platform and be like, “Use this for a personal thing.”
“Use this to source the most amazing date night you’ve ever taken your wife on. Use this to plan like some crazy, awesome kids activity and surprise them for their birthday.” I can be like this in my personal life and in my work life? All of a sudden I’m super Zoe and everything is amazing and you can just do more and the things that you are exceptional at are the things that you spend more of your time, which is such a constant complaint that we hear in HR. “I’m so bogged down in all this administrative work I’ve got to do. I’ve got to do all this other rubbish and the thing that I’m good at and the thing that you really want me to do, I’m only spending 20% of my day on.” What if I can make that 60% of your day? What if I can make that 70% over time?
Justin: You hit on something and you talked about it in your own work that you don’t do pretty PowerPoint, clearly.
Zoe: No, I’m really bad at that.
Justin: I’m terrible at it. I worked for an organization that at one point that said, “At a certain level within the organization, director and above, we do not want you doing your PowerPoint because it costs too much money for you to sit there and play with mice animation.” The mouse is coming out and saying, “New market.” Now, in my case, Luddite that I was, I would sit there and go, well, it’s going to take me three hours just to get a sentence centered on the PowerPoint and you learn that whatever it is, don’t laugh Michael.
Zoe: But it didn’t always automatically go there, right?
Zoe: You used to have to do it by eye, I remember.
Justin: Exactly, yeah, so now it’s … So you write something, that’s pretty cool, but I want to challenge you on something.
Zoe: Oh, please.
Justin: So you talked about, and I think your data is absolutely right, you have millennials and people coming into workforce now that are not going to work 20 years for the same company. And even if they do, they’re not going to work in the same function and they want to say, “And now it’s time for a month long trip to Greenland and I’m going.” And I think that’s really cool. What about the other end of the workforce? Because I think that’s an important thing to talk about-
Zoe: I agree.
Justin: … when you talk about the seasoned worker who brings something in and the skill. What’s your experience with that? Are you guys focusing on that at all? Because I go to the movie, “The Intern,” if you remember that.
Zoe: Oh yes, yeah. Anne Hathaway, DeNiro?
Justin: Anne Hathaway and DeNiro and they obviously simplified it, but the value that the seasoned worker brings them, do you have experience working that end of it?
Zoe: I do and I feel increasingly like I’m the seasoned worker-
Justin: I hear you.
Zoe: … and I felt like half an hour ago I was the snappy young upstart. But yeah, I think you raise a really good point, is that there are other folks on the end of the spectrum. So not specifically at Upwork, but let me tell you a personal story. My dad, whom I love obviously, loads, CEO for a long time. Retired, did a really terrible job of retiring because he was a CEO for so long and was used to being a big driver, making huge decisions, talking to the board constantly, talking to investors, everything he had to do. So he ended up consulting, and amongst his peer group, so many of the men and women he knew, arguably more men in that generation, were doing that as well. So this is also an opportunity to harness their wisdom.
I could never afford to hire my dad. Obviously we wouldn’t because you know, he’s my dad but you can’t afford to bring somebody that seasoned on to advise you but can I afford to set up an agreement with him on the platform for 10 hours of consulting? To say, “Look, I’m thinking through how to position X with the board. Talk to me about the board meetings that you had and when they were pushing back on this thing, how did you navigate through that?” So it’s a great way of doing it. The other piece of this, is there are so many of us and this is true in my family as well, who are in the sandwich generation. I’ve got two little boys. My mother-in-law lives with us and we’re looking after things at both ends of the spectrum.
Justin: You got intergenerational care issues all over.
Zoe: We want to have that flexibility. We want to look after people. So having a workforce and an understanding in society that we’re not going to be 50 hours a week for 50 years and then stop all of a sudden, like that’s a kind of … Why would we ever do that?
Justin: Well see and I think that’s really cool because when you start talking about what you’re talking about, particularly the executive level, one of the things that I found in, and this again Mike goes to the CLO’s role. Very often the executives in your company, if you’re the CLO and you’re really part of the senior team, you’ll get somebody else on the senior team, the COO, the CAO, who says, “We got a new exec.” Or, “We’ve got an up and comer that’s going to be soon and I need somebody to just advise them on a short period of time.” And then you go through this, “Oh, I’ve got to find a certified coach, I’ve got to do this … ” I’m more of the type, if I can find 15 retired execs that are my stable that want to do some of this, that no longer have skin in the game about advancing their own career.
Zoe: Right, then they’re just telling you everything they learned.
Justin: Bingo and this is the cool thing and this is a thing … so if you aren’t doing that, you should be doing that.
Zoe: Agreed, agreed. I think there’s great reason to still use a coach and there’s all these things … the dynamics in the boardroom are different now than they were in the past and life is changing, I would argue clearly for the better with more diversity in that room and all of those considerations but there is just so much valuable perspective you get from people who have done it for multi-decades.
Justin: Yeah and if you help them learn to say … What your job is to do is not say, “Well, you brought me in to give you advice, so you must do these four things,” rather than, “Your job … ” and this is where your company could really position it is to ask that exec questions, rather than supply them with the answers.
Justin: Does that make sense?
Zoe: Yeah, love it.
Justin: I mean, I think it’s a cool niche and you should be doing and tell the champagne guy that he needs to get into that business.
Zoe: I’m on it, I’ll call him as soon as we’re done.
Justin: All right.
Mike: So we’re just about out of time Zoe [but] I want to ask you the question: Based off some of the research that you’ve done with Upwork, younger hiring managers [are] much more likely, 50% more likely to use freelancers to fill their skill gaps. What’s going on there that that demographic, Gen X and millennial managers, who are much more likely to use freelance talent, why? Why is it them and what’s happening in the market that is driving them do that perhaps that older managers aren’t tackling?
Zoe: I mean, so how many have you tried to phone somebody and they immediately texted you right back and you know they were just not answering your call? Their phone is right there. They’re watching you call, they’re waiting for it to go to voicemail and then they’ll text you.
Mike: Wait, that’s me.
Zoe: And it’s me too, right?
Justin: And me.
Zoe: Right but so we don’t have to talk all the time. We don’t have to be in the same room with somebody to communicate effectively. I think each generation is understanding that proximity is not necessarily the key to great collaboration, great intimacy and opportunity for discussions and connections. So while there was this notion of face time, and I need to be in the office by then, the offices aren’t the same, the structure is not the same, the hierarchy is not the same. Many of us work for people younger than us and there’s all of this change in the workforce.
Like I said, so many of Generation X and the Millennials and Generation Z are freelancing, they have friends who do it. They understand that it’s exceptional talent contributing to their workforce. So I think for them it’s about … Goodness, what I need is the work done. I don’t need you to sit right here to do that work. The irony of the whole thing to me is I spent a decade at Yahoo! and we didn’t work from home in those days but we had offices all around the world, 27 countries. So I was working constantly with people who weren’t right here.
We’ve all done it in these conglomerates where companies have different offices in different places. We’ve worked very successfully with people we didn’t see or sit by all the time. I think it’s just this notion of doing it in a remote way and it’s … To really date myself, I sometimes use the … Remember the Palmolive ad? Like you’re soaking in it?
Zoe: Like you’ve been doing it forever. So you just didn’t realize you were doing it.
Mike: It’s about control.
Justin: It’s about control and I think also the generation of which I’m a part, so I can say this, I think we need to have a big sign in the new kind of economy at the front door where the company is, or on the letterhead, the banner of the website that says, “Loyalty and value is not dependent on time in grade in my office.” That’s the key, we don’t … “Well I can’t really let this person work at home, they’ve only worked from me for like six months. So I don’t know.” I mean, you hear that from all the managers.
Zoe: Yeah, sure do.
Justin: “Well you know, they haven’t been around long enough.” I don’t care, that’s not the point.
Zoe: No, are they coming to work?
Mike: Well isn’t it partly also about control of knowledge? I mean, because I think isn’t there a fear that when you use freelance work, when you give people more control, then you have less control that you’re going to lose that knowledge that you need. But hasn’t that ship sailed?
Zoe: I think so.
Mike: I mean, now the cycle of knowledge just moves too fast for organizations to be able to control.
Justin: Yeah, the knowledge is obsolete in six months anyway.
Zoe: The half life of skills is shorter and shorter and obviously knowledge becomes obsolete over time. I think the other piece of this is there are variety of engagements that you can use to work with a freelancer, so forgive my plug, but we have an Upwork payroll offering in which then you’re working as an enterprise organization. We’re doing all the compliance for you. They’re signing your NDAs, you’re having agreements about created work and all … Upwork is designed so that it’s very clear who owns the work product. You can have those conversations before anything’s done. So I think this fear that there are these nefarious freelancers out there just looking to hoard your code …
Justin: Not real.
Zoe: I think you care about it more than they do. They want to have an impact and go on to the next awesome thing.
Justin: I think you’re right. I think that’s a huge thing. They don’t care, they’re not trying to hoard that knowledge and if you still have older managers that think, “Well, I’m going to lose this guy.” I would actually contend that you can get skill transfer from your knowledge worker that you bring in, your freelancer to your team.
Zoe: Right on, yeah.
Justin: Because their creativity transcends. They learn from each other, which is the ideal and makes the job of the CLO much easier. So just take a deep breath and trust it. Just trust the reality that there’s a different way to do it. I mean, we talk about generations that are coming up now working even in universities and school, they have their own posse, they have their teams, they don’t need the ask the professor because they’re going to ask the three people that they’re working with on the way to or from, or just instant message them and just pull it up.
Justin: So let that happen in the workforce and then your full-time group will pick up new things as they go. So it’s kind of pollinated.
Mike: That’s a great note to end on. So with that I just want to say thank you to Zoe for being our guest today. Where should people go to learn more about you and learn more about Upwork?
Zoe: I’m on LinkedIn and Twitter, zsharte on Twitter with an E and LinkedIn, and then obviously upwork.com.
Mike: Well, thank you for joining us in Chicago.
Zoe: Thank you so much for having me.
Mike: Safe travels back home.
Zoe: Thank you.
Mike: Thank you again for joining us for the Chief Learning Officer Podcast. If you like what you heard, please consider giving us a rating on iTunes and if you have a comment, a topic, or something that you’d like to see us tackle in an upcoming episode, be sure to drop us a line at firstname.lastname@example.org.
We look forward to having you back again soon and keep on learning.
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