My focus on the future of work means that I’m often privy to the inner workings of some of today’s most innovative companies. Moving toward open sourcing and the gig economy comes with its fair share of internal questioning and resistance. Always. It’s just a natural part of the process. Questions quickly arise, like how to keep data safe and innovation secrets from leaking to competitors.
Recently, we talked with Liane Scult, Senior Freelance Program Manager at Microsoft, who works on operationalizing Microsoft’s Freelance Services program for Microsoft employees in the United States. Her primary tactic to get past employees’ natural resistance? Dialogue and communication. Scult talks daily with employees about workloads, helps them identify tasks that can be performed by freelancers and supports their need to access specialized talent on demand or scale their operations. Here is how she’s helping employees embrace the use of freelancers to deliver work that supports the company’s mission.
Q: How did you navigate employees’ initial concerns?
Two years ago we set out on this journey and quickly realized that freelancing was going to be a unique opportunity and an increasingly prevalent new way for people to work that would reach every corner of our company. We also knew we needed to operate in a thoughtful and trusted way in terms of how we handled our data and customer information. So we started small, monitored the program and usage closely, prepared to involve the appropriate stakeholders, and then engaged them early and often to improve the program. Overall, we worked closely with our partners in legal, HR and procurement to ensure that the entire virtual team was well aligned.
Like most transformations, this was disruptive. We had thoughtful discussions around the urgency to keep up with the speed of innovation and customer demand. We felt freelancers could help by enhancing our full-time workforce and suppliers.
Q: How do you create a culture that encourages experimenting with and using new models?
I speak with employees every day. 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. We look at areas in which they can have that growth mindset to keep themselves and our company more relevant and to improve customer (and not-yet-customer) experiences while keeping up with the increasing speed of innovation.
The hardest thing is shifting one’s mindset. When you disrupt the norm, the typical reaction is to push back against something new. So, I have to be prepared to be a myth buster when people tell me, “This isn’t right” or “This is different than the norm.” I have a list of more than 30 comments I commonly receive, including “Freelancers can’t be trusted,” “I’m not going to give my work to a non-skilled person,” “There aren’t enough skilled people out there to do what we do.” All these comments are from people who are feeling uncomfortable, and it’s important to let them know that you hear them. I take the time to listen carefully and let them express their concerns. Then I show them the value, the benefits. My biggest challenge is to get people to simply try it once, and when they do, most never go back to their old ways. It’s just like when people take their first ride-share or sleep in their first VRBO—sometimes people prefer a hotel experience, and that’s fine too.
Q: How do you communicate within your company about full-time employees versus people who freelance?
We share video interviews and stories about the employees’ journeys with freelancers, starting with the initial impetus for leaning in and trying the freelance route. We also highlight some of the struggles. We mostly acknowledge our employees for having a growth mindset and for trying new things—even failing is OK. We’ve shared stories about freelancers and how freelancing has impacted their lives. We host an annual Gig-Economy Summit, where freelancers share their stories of choice, circumstances and lived experiences being a freelancer. We also have an internal SharePoint site where we host our case studies, and we invite all employees, if they’d like, to have a case study done on them that showcases the freelancer talent and the project. We also send out a monthly e-newsletter to potential participants and individuals who’ve participated in the program highlighting these case studies.
Q: Why work like this? What’s the advantage on both a company and personal level?
There are wonderful perks and benefits of being part of an enterprise company, but to be valuable to our customers, we need to keep up with the future of work and this new economy of working without borders. To remain relevant, you need to apply the more agile and entrepreneurial practices that smaller companies and startups are benefiting from. For an enterprise to grow—to be able to keep up with customer demand—you need to be open to change, to doing things differently, to constantly being curious and learning. If we do things the same way year after year, we are not going to deliver better solutions that work for more people. Our company mission is to empower every person and every organization on the planet to achieve more. As an employee, I take this mission seriously and apply it to this program. It has inspired me to think differently about distributing my digital work to diverse people and sometimes providing them more opportunity to achieve more.
It’s a benefit to Microsoft to be able to collaborate with diverse people worldwide who have skills to contribute. It’s a win-win. We can bring the paid tasks and projects to where they are or want to live. A person doesn’t have to be confined to a nearby zip code to contribute or to have more economic opportunity. Like the well-known song from the Disneyland ride, it can be “a small world after all.”
Editor’s note: This article originally appeared on Forbes.