I met Paul Estes, a self-described evangelist for the talent economy and author of the book Gig Mindset, a while back at a conference about the gig economy when he was spearheading a revolutionary transition within Microsoft, bringing programs to support and facilitate working with an on-demand workforce for Microsoft itself and Microsoft clients. I knew how impressive his efforts were, because I advise companies who are trying to make this same transition to working with open models and tools. It’s not easy, and Paul fought the good fight. I had a chance to catch up with him recently about how he shifted his mindset and created the momentum to not only change his own life, but to change how an entire company does business. Here are some of the insights he shared.
Paul, how’d this idea begin for you? When my wife and I started our family, I realized that things were out of balance. I was spending time in a ton of meetings which was taking away from my ability to reskill and more importantly spend time with my wife and our two daughters. There had to be a better way. I started my own shift slowly. I reached out to a service called Fancy Hands that takes on tasks like scheduling, calling, and researching. This freed up my schedule so I could do the things that were more important to me (mostly, making pancakes for my two girls who are going to grow up and change the world). I calculated that, during 2019, outsourcing tasks to Fancy Hands helped me reclaim thirteen entire days (an example is that they placed 250 calls on my behalf).
That’s a significant amount of time! What are some other ways changing to a gig mindset has impacted your life? I now piece together a number of different services from companies like Uber, TaskRabbit, and Care.com, along with business like Fancy Hands, Upwork, and Ask Wonder. I even worked with a freelancer-friendly company to help me write my book. This approach completely changed the way I work. I’m still at the center, but in a different way. I’m more of the idea person, facilitator, and then the curator of work that comes back to me. What I learned in my personal life led to the launch of the first freelance program at Microsoft, and the Microsoft 365 freelance toolkit, a solution to launch and scale a freelance workforce targeted to Fortune 500 companies that are starting to adopt the on-demand remote talent model.
What’s the benefit for a company or a professional who makes this shift? I talk about the gig mindset being a time machine because it feels like it creates extra days that I didn’t have before. It truly makes you unstoppable, to get the support you need from an on-demand remote workforce. You can live a more balanced life, reskill, unlock new opportunities, or start that side hustle you can’t stop thinking about.
How does this concept play into the need for all of us—no matter our experience or life stage, to keep refreshing what we offer in the work world? Look at it this way: the half-life of a learned skill is around 5 years; you have to continually be reskilling and learning to keep up with the pace of change and stay relevant. But who has time to keep re-skilling? Hiring freelancers will help you and your employees make more space to learn, boost their skills and careers, and — bonus — pursue more things that make them happy.
What’s one of the key messages you’re hoping people to come away with?
My main message to companies is that, if you don’t figure this out, you’ll end up like 90 percent of companies from the 1955 S&P 500: Gone, due to changes in the market. You have to keep up with the changing workforce, and a gig mindset approach allows you to future proof.
The great news for all of us is the innovation space is that people like Paul Estes are leading the way and setting the example for what the future of work looks like. Let’s hope more people like Paul start stepping in and stepping up to guide us, both inside companies and in our personal lives, to get more done by outsourcing to on-demand talent platforms.