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Freelancing

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The Employer Alliance recently stated that many Singaporeans (literally, hundreds of thousands) could re-enter the workforce, and hence ease Singapore’s manpower shortage, if more companies were willing to adopt flexible working arrangements. Singapore’s Ministry of Manpower (MOM) also released figures revealing that more than 160,000 economically inactive individuals want to find work within the next two years, but are, for one reason or another, unable to do so. In other words, due to a reluctance on the part of employers in adopting flexible working arrangements to accommodate individual circumstances, Singapore continues to suffer from severe manpower shortage.

In some sense, it’s hard to blame employers for erring on the cautious side. ‘Face-time’ is still highly valued as a traditional marker of worker productivity by employers – workers who are seen less are generally perceived to be less productive. This is hardly a rational measure, but one that employers stick to nonetheless.

Despite the trend towards flexible work arrangements, companies are still unwilling to let all its employers have that degree of freedom. For example, Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer made abold move by ending Yahoo’s work-from-home program. Following suit, other giants such as Best Buy also stopped their work from home programs, and many have either applauded the move, or denounced it in its entirety.

 

The Debate: Pros and Cons of Working-from-Home

According to some, the end of the work from home option in Yahoo and Best Buy  creates serious repercussions for men and women between the ages of 40 and 60, as the typical teleworker is 49 years old, rather than the 20-something. Parents have also raised a chorus of disapproval, complaining that this has destroyed their chances to have a career as well as being a mother or father.

On the other hand, many have stood up in support of the move.  In defense, they point out that those who work in the office often have higher productivity, lower idle time, and take shorter breaks.  Yet, even they have conceded that telecommuting options should still be open under certain circumstances – whether it to save on office space, or to find candidates from a broader pool.

So it seems that the majority believe that flexible working arrangements have their merits, and should not be completely abolished. How, then, should employers abolish the undesirable effects?

 

Take a Leaf from the Apple Playbook

Apple seems to be doing phenomenally well with its “massive network of remote customer support agents” (i.e. At-Home Apple Advisors). The challenge they faced, as do many companies, is in training a diverse group of people, spread out across the world. What they did was to put their advisors through an intensive four week, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. training program:

“The curriculum is broken into four, one-week sections that are a mix of live instruction and self-paced modules in iDesk. Then at the end of each week, everyone takes an exam. They have two chances to hit the grading benchmark (two advisors said this was 89 percent, one said it was 80 percent), before they are kicked out of the program. So immediately, workers have an impetus not only to pay attention, but to keep the job once it’s final because they worked so hard to get there.”

In other words, the sheer difficulty of passing the training program makes workers want to work hard to keep their jobs. Apple also employs some other (draconian?) tactics to make sure that their advisors are not goofing off:

 “For example, trainers deliver regular prompts to each person throughout live instruction. These can be questions, requests for input, or just a cue for the trainee to click on. One former advisor I spoke to said Apple monitors mouse movements. If your mouse doesn’t move in a certain amount of time, then you’re sent a prompt. If you still don’t respond within 30 seconds, the trainer might actually call your cell phone.

“In addition to these prompts, trainers can ask the class to turn on their cameras for group discussion at any moment, making it immediately clear if someone isn’t at their desk. Also, many of the test questions are worded in such a way that the trainee would only know the answer if they participated in all the past week’s activities.”

These are excellent methods of giving employees extrinsic motivation to stay on task. Additionally, Apple also works to keep employees intrinsically motivated through the use of team psychology (team-building exercises) and enforcement of company culture (an Apple ‘care package’ sent to each advisor).

 

The Key: Motivate Your Remote Workers

In sum, Apple’s remote working arrangements work remarkably well because they invest a lot of effort into making it work. In contrast, most companies simply grant their employees work-from-home time, and end it at that – no wonder their employees do not feel motivated to work hard!

The key to making telecommuting work, then, seems to be in creating a proper remote working program or scheme that suitably rewards/monitors the employees under it.

 

My Take

There are certain jobs where working from home is, well, pretty much an impossibility. There are others (largely digital-based work), though, in which it absolutely make sense for two reasons:

  1. Remote workers, being able to work at times when they are at their best, tend to work the hardest at home (sometimes, even too hard)
  2. Employees are treated like adults rather than children, and nobody wants a child in their company

Remote working is definitely a step forward, in my opinion. What do you think?

 

Most of this post originally appeared on Zopim’s Blog: Read this before Letting Your Employees Work From Home

Looking for the best content on Freelancing, Writing and Content Marketing? Let me save you the trouble. I will be curating the top posts on Freelancing, Writing and Content Marketing at the end of each week,  for your reading convenience. For more freelance resources, check out my Resources for Freelancers page.

 

Freelancing

The Path to Mastery on Medium

The case for having no goals in your life: Why it might lead to more success and happiness on Buffer

A Grad’s Guide to Freelancing on Business2Community

 

Writing

7 Invaluable Writing Tips from Stephen King on Policy Mic

 

Content Marketing

How to Build a Scorecard to Measure Content Marketing Effectiveness on Content Marketing Institute

Optimize Your Content Plan for Google’s In-depth Article Results on Content Marketing Institute

7 Ways Twitter Can Help Juice Your Content Creation on Hubspot

 

The age old debate. What is more important – to find a job you are passionate about, or to find one that puts food on the table? The notion of happiness has, in recent years, become a topic of heated debate. As a result, students working their way up and out into the corporate world are beginning to question their career choices. What job will make me the happiest?

I always dread making small talk with strangers, because invariably we would reach a point where we would touch on one of the greatest icebreaker questions of all time:

“So, what do you want to work as?”

At this point my heart would start pounding. My self-consciousness meter would start to peak, as I try nonchalantly (note: try) to reply:

“Oh, I’d like to be a freelance writer in the near future.”

At the same time, I do my utmost best to hold myself back from adding the words for now at the end of my sentence (even though most of the time, I’m not really sure myself). The response is always the same – a rather awkward:

“Oh. That’s nice.”

That’s nice? Having a pet dog is nice. And the follow-up question always hits the spot:

“So… What do you plan to do after that?”

It always seems to be a mind-blowing concept – that one would pursue his or her passion in the arts or sports arena as a full-time job. Is it any wonder that our Singapore soccer team, good as they are in the ASEAN region, can never make it to the World Cup? After all, who would want to chase their dreams when from a young age parents have already drilled into their children the notion that having interests and dreams are fine – only if they are pursued in their spare time (who has spare time nowadays, with Singaporean parents’ obsession with tuition?). This essentially relegates our dreams to the backseat, as unrealistic and irrational.

So where does that leave us? I personally believe that there is room for compromise. For example, how much food do you want to put on the table? Is simple fare like cai fan (assorted meat and vegetables with rice) good enough? Or do you want an intercontinental buffet? In other words, how much money do you need to survive? If you can accept less, there is more room for you to pursue your passions.

This is not to say that it is impossible to find the perfect job – one that pays well and is in an area that you are passionate about. American entrepreneur Chris Guillebeau, in his book The $100 Startup, makes the case for this formula: Passion/Skill + Usefulness = Success. In other words, if you can use your passion to create a product or offer a service that people are willing to pay for, and of course find a way to get paid for it, you will find the perfect recipe for success – where passion and practicality meet. In this way, it is entirely possible to do what you love and still earn money.

The catch: it will most definitely not happen overnight. Like any business (or anything else in life, for that matter), it will take months – or in some cases, even years – to build. In the meanwhile, would cai fan do for you?

At the end of the day, it is inevitable that you will have to weigh your own priorities, and decide for yourself what option would make you the happiest in the long run.

Freelancing might be on the rise among this generation. However, to many (especially in Asia), freelancing is either something that you do after you retire, or as a last resort when you are unable to secure a full-time job. Hardly would anyone aspire to become a full-time freelancer – not a chance!

Some state perceived instability as a reason not to freelance – CPF contributions, insurance, promotions, free coffee are seen as part of the stability that a full-time job offers. Others fear being looked down upon – being a freelancer seems to lack a certain prestige in our circles.

All these being said, the question remains: Why on earth would anyone (read: 7 million on Freelancer.com) still want to be a freelancer?! Adding to that point, why would anyone in his or her right mind even start a site like Freelancer.com that creates a marketplace for freelance jobs, knowing well that freelancing is a dead end?!

The short answer: Perhaps freelancing isn’t all cracked up as people make it out to be. 

After an interview with the International Director of Freelancer.com, Adam Byrnes, it occurred to me that the real picture of the freelancing world is far from what we perceive it to be. Here’s what you should know about freelancing before taking the plunge. (italics are mine)

 

adam byrnes freelancer.com 

1) How did Freelancer.com come about?

Actually, Freelancer.com was started by our CEO Matt Barrie, when he bought and rebranded the website getafreelancer.com in 2009. Matt had just left his previous startup, and was looking for The Next Big Thing. While attempting to get some basic tasks done online, he realised that one day, buying services on the internet would be just as big as buying goods on the internet – that is, he realised that very soon, there will be an Amazon or eBay of services – a multi-billion-dollar marketplace for jobs. Matt wanted to be the guy that built it.

 

2) What are the demographics of the current freelancing scene like?

Freelancer.com’s 7 million users come from a huge variety of places – we have users in 240 countries and regions, including the Antarctic and Vatican! Our most popular project types are website design and development, and graphic design, but we’ve seen projects in literally anything – from astrophysics to chinese rap songs.

Our typical employer comes from an economically stable country, and is an entrepreneur or SME looking for a cost-effective way to get their business off the ground. Our typical freelancer comes from a second or third-world country, and uses Freelancer to make a living. This is in no way exclusive though – we have numerous full-time freelancers in the US, and our second biggest source of employers is India!

 

3) Do you think that there is any stigma attached to the concept of freelancing today?

I don’t believe so, no. Entrepreneurship, freelancing and innovation go hand-in-hand, and are increasingly being celebrated around the world, from Silicon Valley to Dhaka. The startup movement is transcending borders and revolutionising the economies of many countries – people are getting out and creating wealth, rather than consuming it. Freelancing, and hiring freelancers, is the epitome of this global shift.

Also, as the world embraces globalisation, companies in the USA are becoming increasingly comfortable with hiring freelancers from abroad in countries they’ve never visited. A company owner in Australia can get their logo developed by a designer in Buenos Aires, their website from a developer in Islamabad, and their content from a copywriter in Prague – all in a safe and affordable manner.

 

4) In your opinion, what are the greatest/worst points for/against freelancing?

The best part of freelancing is the independence. You are no longer tied down in a restrictive and boring day job. You make your own destiny. You work wherever you like, whenever you like, on your terms. You sail your own ship. There’s endless possibilities for wealth and success in freelancing.

However, therein lies the issue. Freelancing is not always easy. It requires work – lots of it, and an ability to be self-motivated. Not everyone has these qualities, but for those who do, a revolutionary lifestyle awaits as a freelancer.

 

5) Give some advice to a freelancer who is just starting out on his career.

Reputation is king. It is the single most important quantity for any freelancer. Always go above and beyond for the customer – they will reward you by hiring you again or telling their friends about you.

Finally, stay motivated. Freelancing isn’t an easy ride – it requires hard work and lots of it – and there will almost certainly be setbacks. But, if you continue to go above and beyond the call of duty for your employers, the rewards will come.

 

6) Any predictions about the future for freelancers?

As of today, roughly 2.3 billion people have internet access around the world. That means there’s another 5 billion people who have never connected. Most of these people are located in emerging markets. When someone from these countries first connects to the internet, the first thing they do is look for an education. Today, they can find a quality education, online, for free. Coursera, Udacity, Khan Academy – its never been easier to learn a trade or skill.

The next thing they do is find a job. Many of these people are not lucky enough to live in a place where jobs are common, and those that do exist pay on average $1/day. So they do the only thing left to them – become a freelancer. At the same time, employers in first world countries are facing rising costs and barriers-to-entry to creating a business. They need a source of quality, cost-effective and flexible labor – and nobody suits this description better than a freelancer.

In 10 years time, my prediction is that hiring freelancers will be commonplace. If I have an idea tomorrow, and think I can make a business out of it, I know what I’ll be doing. The first thing I’ll need is a logo – and why pay thousands of dollars for a logo, when I can crowdsource 300 unique, quality designs using a Freelancer.com contest, for just a few hundred dollars? I’ll also need a website (after all, its 2013 – every business is a software business) – and rather than get into tens of thousands of dollars of debt getting a website built locally, I’ll jump online to Freelancer.com and post a project, and get it done for a tenth of the cost. Ditto copy, SEO, marketing, etc. Freelancer.com provides that essential edge for entrepreneurs who want to get their business started without millions of dollars of VC investment.

 

7) What are some resources you would highly recommend for new freelancers?

There’s a number of great freelancing blogs out there. Take a look at our guide for new freelancers on our website, and check out our blog too. Up-skill through free, online education. And above all else, use our platform to start your career. With over 4500 new projects posted every day, its easy to get started, and once you’ve built up your reputation, you’ll be well on your way to freelancing success.

 

Still think that freelancing is for the dogs? Let me know what you think in the comments below!