In past blogs, I’ve shared how the freelance economy is revolutionizing the work lives of busy execs and their teams who are using open source platforms and talent to accomplish more in less time. Every week, new gig-centric platforms sprout up that give execs and companies access to talent pools—from assistants with general skills to highly specialized technologists.
With this rise in talent platforms and new access points comes a dilemma: As an executive or a team leader, how do you manage employee workload as workflow shifts to this multifaceted, collaborative way of working? Should you work with one platform or many? Do you need a customized interface, or should you go with the interface offered by the platform?
Some companies handle this by selecting one platform to work through and customizing it. Others, like NASA, benefit from capabilities offered by different platforms, so they secure several agreements—some with customized capability—and employees learn to utilize all of them.
A Plethora of Platforms
Recently I spoke with Steve Rader, Deputy Director for the Center of Excellence for Collaborative Innovation (CoECI), about how NASA helps its employees navigate using multiple platforms. CoECI has approximately 16 different crowd platforms in use, but most projects work with just one platform at a time.
“We’re currently facilitating about 30 projects using nine different contractors simultaneously across NASA and other federal agencies that are all at various stages of execution,” says Rader. In order to make this work, NASA had to build an approved legal framework, then establish contracts and build up a process framework.
Currently they’re working with NASA procurement on new contract methods that access crowd or gig talent and on making NASA’s internal talent more flexible for assignment across the agency. “Our hope is that these efforts will result in a culture that moves away from only using static, local employee–centric teams toward more dynamic distributed teams where talent needs are met on demand with a mix of internal and external gig/freelance/crowd resources.”
There’s no one-size-fits-all platform solution. Each business has to consider the platforms that fit the business model and its employee’s unique workflows and workloads. To understand that, employee input is critical.
Acclimate, Then Automate
I also checked in with some folks at Waters Corporation and Microsoft for their suggestions for how to balance employee workloads when introducing open talent systems into their everyday work protocols. “Support employees by offering help rather than scare and threaten them that they could be replaced,” suggests Allen Caswell, Senior Director, Informatics Research at Waters Corporation. “Ask which parts of their work they don’t have the capacity to complete and whether they’d like support completing them.” Those are the opportunities to which you can match platforms.
Liane Scult, Senior Freelance Program Manager at Microsoft, agrees. She talks to employees every day about workload and how they can utilize crowdsourcing and platforms. “We talk about what they have on their plate, followed by a deeper discussion about the work they feel is the best use of their skills and experience, and what they want to learn or do to make more of an impact,” she says. They especially look at areas in which employees can keep themselves and the company more relevant and improve customer (and not-yet-customer) experiences while keeping up with the increasing speed of innovation.
Once employees see the benefits of tapping into open talent platforms to balance their workload, there is the opportunity to make it more seamless. “We want our employees to learn to use our crowd platforms with more process automation and less assistance required from our team,” says Rader, noting that teams that have done three to four projects take much less time. They now use a Salesforce workflow to automate processes.