Flex Labor Works



In an article by the Harvard Business Review titled The Dawning of the Age of Flex Labor. The authors Andrei Hagiu and Rob Biederman share their thoughts on how “the prevailing paradigm of people working as full-time employees for a single organization has outlived its usefulness.” Their vision for the work world moving forward . . .

most people will become independent contractors who have the flexibility to work part-time for several organizations at the same time, or do a series of short full-time gigs with different companies over the course of a year. Companies will maintain only a minimal full-time staff of executives, key managers, and professionals and bring in the rest of the required talent as needed in a targeted, flexible, and deliberate way.

This strategy has been used by the film industry for years. Bring in a production team for a specific film and disband when the various roles in creating the film are complete.

How does it help workers . . .Many more people who today would be laid off from full-time positions when a recession hit and then would be totally unemployed for some period of time will find it easier to remain at least 80% employed during a downturn.

How does it help companies . . .For firms, the cost of locating, vetting, and onboarding full-time employees is very high: as much as 150% of annual salary for a management position . . . assuming these costs are, say, 50% lower for lower-level positions, spending 75% of an employee’s annual salary just to hire her or him is extremely expensive.

I can attest to this flex labor vision. More clients are approaching me to assemble teams of experts to tackle a learning project, then disband upon successful completion. Here’s a perfect real-world example of how and why flex labor works. . . .

On a recent 8 month project, I was tasked with transitioning instructor led and virtual instructor led training to e-learning. The project called for the design and development of 14 e-learning courses and 4 educational videos. My client had a fixed price contract with their federal government client, a hard deadline to meet, crazy requirements to transition the courses from ILT and webinars to antiquated Dreamweaver-based templates that would be delivered via a 15 year old home grown LMS. My client had 5 well respected subject matter experts, but no instructional designers, no developers, and no graphic designers. They wanted to include their SMEs in as much of the design and development process as possible, rather than outsourcing the development of the courses. The solution we created, at a significantly lower cost, was to design and build a cloud based, easy to use authoring/content development tool that would allow my client’s 5 SME’s along with 4 contractor IDs to easily and collaboratively (various people working on different parts of the same course at the same time) develop these courses. Due to the tight deadlines, we shifted from a typical strategy of long development cycles with SMEs, IDs, and developers all linearly working on individual courses to an agile rapid design and development model that allowed SMEs and IDs to quickly generate high quality content without having to be developers. I assembled a “flex labor” team of contractors (4 IDs, a graphic designer, a software development team) and we built an authoring tool that did all the coding and “heavy lifting” so the SMEs and IDs would only have to focus on the content, and was easy for non-developers to use. After a couple of quick webinar training sessions, the SMEs, IDs, graphic designers, reviewers, and content editors were using the tool effectively. Our solution allowed us to collaboratively produce 14 courses in 5 months. My client met the contract deadlines and stayed within budget. The contractor team that I assembled was disbanded with all moving on to other projects and the Federal government client told my client that what we did was “nothing short of miraculous.”  

Since then I have assembled and disbanded several “flex teams” of professionals (micro-learning, data analytics, IDs, performance consultants, designers, facilitators, call center consultants, etc) to successfully complete projects for various clients. So from my perspective, and I believe from the perspective of my clients, flex labor works.

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