NHPF-Authored Articles & Industry Reports

Entrepreneur, December 18, 2018 “Don’t Try to Herd Cats”—and 4 Other Leadership Tips for the Gig Economy by Richard F. Burns, President, CEO & Trustee, NHPF

Considering that 1 in 3 workers today are freelancers, you’re probably managing one or more of them now or will be soon.

be successful. According to independent construction project manager Andrea Syracuse, the worst sin that well-meaning employers commit is failing to develop mutual trust, especially if work styles differ somewhat. “If you micro-manage the first project we do, that is understandable, but loosen the reins on the next and we will both be really satisfied with the outcome,” Syracuse told me. Set realistic, as well as “reach” goals. We have found that our freelancers work best with well-defined goals and timetables. We discuss what is realistic as well as aspirational, Keep in mind that these talented individuals have chosen to work for several companies, rather than just one. Recently, our team was tasked with finishing three annual reports in a tight time frame. We set the bar high but offered plenty of support. Working together and conquering challenges as they arose, we accomplished the task in record time. Freelance graphic designer Rita Lascaro told us: “It’s invaluable to create a shared document with tasks listed, so the independent worker can update the status of many projects, checking off completed ones. Then, instead of multiple emails, the employer can quickly check on what the independent worker is up to.”

At first glance, I may not seem like an expert on leadership in the gig economy. Certainly I’ve led traditional work teams, as a partner in several private equity real estate investment firms, and for the last nine years I’ve been the president and CEO of a not-for-profit developer of affordable housing. But don’t be misled by my seemingly staid, parochial business background: We’re all in the gig economy now and there are some smart rules to abide by if we want to succeed. You may still think of the gig economy as all freelance writers and Uber drivers, but it’s so much more. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the “contingent” workforce comprises 16.5 million people, and nimble businesses everywhere are turning to this type of talent. The reasons vary. According to a recent survey from Monster, recruiters say “It’s harder than ever to attract high- quality job candidates.” Connecting with contingent workers often fills this void, but managing this workforce is something else: Nurturing successful partnerships that produce quality business results takes some simple but often overlooked concepts. Our business employs contingent talent in capacities ranging from graphic design to tech to asset management, to onsite resident services management at our properties. So I’ve learned a few things. Drawing on conversations with other leaders as well as freelancers, I can offer the following lessons I’ve learned about managing in the gig economy. Richard F. Burns

Go deep on niche.

One of the wonderful truths about hiring a gig economy worker is the number of people specializing in niche work. These aren’t people you’re going to need every day for every project. However, when a team needs someone to excel at a very specific task, an indy specialist can be your go-to. Joshua Holtzman is the CEO and co-founder at InterviewJet, a members-only hiring platform for tech companies. For quick, small jobs, he told us, he likes some of the “specialized online gig platforms that enable rapid-fire hiring of a particular type of talent, varying from MBA graduates to support research projects to more mundane jobs like picking up office supplies.” Of particular help to Holtzman? Amazon Mechanical Turk, he says, is “a crowdsourcing marketplace that makes it easier for individuals and businesses to outsource their processes and jobs to a distributed workforce who can perform these tasks virtually.” Holtzman has been very pleased using the service for administrative tasks. “I sent a list of 100 data-enrichment tasks that needed to be done and multiple ‘turks’ (people) followed the instructions and did a handful of the tasks each,” he told us.

Don’t try to herd cats.

Successful independent workers operate best when free of traditional work rules. This doesn’t exclude deadlines and “codes of conduct” but it does imply that management should accept unconventional work hours, personal styles and even modes of communication. As one of those managers, you will be a much happier leader of these team members if you stop sweating the small stuff. Instead, concentrate on the quality of the work product and attention to detail. If that is up to snuff, the partnership will


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