Tag Archives: professional_network

Work 2.0 Shifts Gears

gearshift-knobJournalist and editor extraordinaire Tina Brown wrote today, on The Daily Beast, that “No one I know has a job anymore. They’ve got Gigs.” In her rather negative post, she correctly notices the plethora of laid-off workers that are now trying to pay their bills by doing freelance project work. Tina seems to tie this condition to the battered state of the economy. While she’s right in doing so (and I like her term “The Gig Economy”), Tina (and many others) misses the bigger point.

The growing number of freelance workers represents a long-term structural shift in the economy, not just an inevitable immediate outcome of a global recession.

This new work model, which I call Work 2.0, is rapidly becoming the new reality. Yes, the economic downturn has accelerated the trend toward knowledge workers being employed on-demand to complete discrete projects, but the trend was already in place and is not likely to reverse itself. One of the lasting legacies of this Great Recession will be the transition to freelance, rather than regular, employment by many knowledge workers.

Venkatesh Rao illuminates a clear distinction between the old and new models of work on his blog. He uses the term “Organization Man” to describe the worker that is employed with the same company for many years, climbing the proverbial corporate ladder. He calls the freelancers “Cloudworkers” — human resources that can be called upon when needed to complete a specific task, much like one would consume a Web service hosted remotely. Like me, Venkat believes that cloudworking is rapidly displacing the organization-centric way of working, and that this is not just a temporary result of tough economic times.

What force is driving this transition to Work 2.0? The great disrupter called the Internet. As numerous authors (including Thomas Friedman and Daniel Pink) have noted, it is now easy and economical to divide work into digital bits and push it — and the information and knowledge needed to complete the task — to others outside of the company and/or geographic region for completion. Increasingly, corporate employees exist to synthesize the various work pieces into a complete product as they are completed and returned to the company.

There’s one other point that Tina Brown did not make explicitly, but must be noted.

The success of the Work 2.0 model ultimately depends not only on the infrastructure that enables it (the Internet), but also on healthy, collaborative relationships between the players in the game.

Making an acceptable living as a freelancer requires developing and maintaining an expansive professional network. Without a strong and active network, it is difficult, if not impossible, for a freelancer to piece together enough work opportunities and income to pay the bills. Tina noted (twice) the frantic number of things her freelancer friends were working on, but she didn’t talk about how they were able to garner so many opportunities. Tina is a well-connected individual and, undoubtedly, so are many of her friends. That high degree of connection will be required of more and more of us as we transition to Work 2.0.

As a way of summarizing, I’ll reprint another statement from Tina’s post.

“To people I know in the bottom income brackets, living paycheck to paycheck, the Gig Economy has been old news for years. What’s new is the way it’s hit the demographic that used to assume that a college degree from an elite school was the passport to job security.”

That “hit” is not temporary; it’s a long-term shift in the foundation of work. Better get networking…

Social Software: The Unemployed Knowledge Worker’s Best Friend

layoff-headlineReading headline after headline announcing new job cuts has sparked some thought regarding what’s different between this nascent recession and the last economic slowdown of the early 1990s.  Several things, to be sure, but the most important one may be the ability of the unemployed knowledge worker to connect with others to mine employment and new business opportunities.

I predict that we will remember the the 2008-2009 recession as the time when the public availability of free social software proved to be the unemployed knowledge worker’s best friend and savior.  And, perhaps, the global economy’s as well.

When I was laid off in 2003, after the Internet bubble burst, I had several tools with which to stay connected with my professional and social networks.  Telephone and e-mail were the primary communication vehicles, of course.  Instant messaging wasn’t as pervasive then as it is today, but I used it to stay in touch with a few people in my network.  The best method to network was — and still is — by meeting with someone face-to-face.  In fact, it was an in-person conversation that triggered the chain of events that lead to my employment at IBM in 2004.

Knowledge workers in this economic downturn have all of those tools available, plus several more.  Online profiles (LinkedIn, Facebook, MySpace), blogs, microstreaming (Twitter, FriendFeed), content sharing (GoogleDocs, Box.net), bookmarking (Del.icio.us, Digg), and other species of social software have greatly increased our ability to stay connected and work with others in our professional and social networks.

As I’ve noted previously on this blog, we rely less and less on employers to provide the communication and collaboration tools needed to connect and work with others.  That’s great news for those who have, or are about to, become unemployed!  Knowledge workers in 2008 have so many more ways to mine their contacts to find regular or contract employment compared to those who lost jobs five years ago.  The ability of unemployed knowledge workers to explore business ideas and start new ventures has also been increased by the public availability of free social software.

I am optimistic that the current recession, as painful as it will be, will breed the kinds of opportunities that will leave all of us better off in the long run.  There is one caveat to my optimistic outlook though.  If you haven’t been maintaining and building your professional and social networks all along, your ability to leverage them to find employment or start a business will be very limited.  It’s not too late to start building networks now via social software, but don’t expect to harvest immediately from a plot that you’ve just sown.