Why Founders/Managers Have to Be Good Leaders Like Never Before

The shape of the workforce is changing. In times past, you had a team of employees who were the ones that kept the company running. Many of them you’d known and worked with for years and some you might have even seen work their way up from the bottom. Periodically one employee would leave, and you’d hire someone else to take their place, but in general, the team would be people you knew and could rely on.

Now we’re in the age of the gig economy. Instead of fulltime employment, more and more people are working freelance. Rather than coming in day after day, they’ll be with your company for a single project. They’ll also often be balancing your work with several other clients. This change in the work landscape requires a change in your approach to leadership. Here are some of the implications for you as a manager or executive in your company, and how you can navigate this unfamiliar terrain.

Gig Economy Challenges

When you work with someone fulltime, you get to know their work style, and they get to know your management style. It makes communication easier, because after a while, they know what you want, and you can rely on what they’ll deliver, without a lot of dithering. With a freelance worker, it may take longer to reach common ground and get to a place where they can deliver what you’re looking for. Then, by the time you reach that place, the gig is over, and you have to find someone new.

The rise of gig workers has led to an increase in remote work as well. More often than not, your freelancers aren’t on site when you need them—and may never visit your office at all. When you’re used to having someone at the same desk day after day, where you know you can reach them, this can be the most difficult transition of all.

In the same vein, the rise in freelance work leads to difficulties in schedule management. Your freelancer, working from home, keeps their own hours. They might choose to do their work in the middle of the night, rather than during the day. They might also be in a different time zone. They’re also likely managing several different clients at once. When you’re used to being your employees’ top priority from 9 to 5, not knowing whether you can expect a reply to your e-mail today or tomorrow can be a challenge.

Managing Gig Workers

The key to handling all of these challenges is good communication. When taking on someone new for a project, it’s important to outline for them exactly what your expectations are. Tell them what they’re meant to do and what the finished project is supposed to look like. If they have to guess at what you want them to do, and they guess incorrectly, it’s not their fault.

Be clear about scheduling differences as well. If you need to be able to reach them within a certain timeframe, let them know that at the beginning. If touching base with them regularly is important to you, schedule meetings, by phone or on Zoom, so they can up date you on their progress and you can keep them apprised of any changes. 

Finally, it’s important not to micromanage. If their schedule or their working style is unconventional, does it really matter, as long as the work gets done well and on time? The reason you hire a freelancer for a particular project is because they’re an expert in what they do. Let them do it. And if you like what they do, you can even hire them again for future projects and perhaps ultimately develop a rapport. It won’t be the same as with fulltime employees, but it will be a new working relationship for a new era of employment.

The landscape of the gig economy can take some getting used to but it’s here to stay. With a little flexibility, though, and a more open view of your company and how it runs, you’ll eventually be able to adapt your management style and keep things running as smoothly as ever. Will you rise to the challenge?