E L S U A ~ A KM Blog Thinking Outside The Inbox by Luis Suarez

Employee Engagement

Teamwork Needs Healthy Friction to Collaborate and Get Work Done More Effectively

 Gran Canaria - Guayadeque

Who would have thought something so relatively simple and mundane as food would be the glue for your team(s) to work together more effectively? Who would have thought cooking together would provide just the perfect level of healthy friction you would need to help your team(s) members collaborate more openly and effectively to get even more work done? Who would have thought cooking food would help your team(s) members bond together in much more meaningful ways than whatever other team building activity you may have thought of in the past? Is your kitchen ready?

A couple of days ago Tim Beyers wrote exactly about that very same subject in a rather interesting Fast Company article under the suggestive heading ‘Why Teams That Cook Together Work Better Together’, where he shared a couple of relevant stories from companies like PLAE and Segment that are using cooking food as an opportunity to help their teams get together and collaborate more effectively in an environment that’s totally different than their day to day operations. To quote Milbank, from the article itself, here’s the main reason why they do it: 

Ultimately, it’s about teamwork, thinking creatively with one another and working under a time and budget constraint.

My goodness! I can totally relate to it and big time! Over 4 years ago, Bob McMilan once asked me, while he was interviewing me for his Wired piece on ‘IBM gives birth to amazing e-mail-less man’ (as part of the #NoeMail experiment), where did my inclination to connect, learn, collaborate and work together closely with other people come from? Where did it start exactly? What was the trigger? Well, my first initial reaction was to eventually mention the very first project I started working on at IBM back in January 1997, but he kept insisting to go even further back, before I started working in the IT industry. And I had to think… 

I had to think really hard, because it wasn’t very obvious at the beginning, but once I realised about it, BOOM!, it was right there, right in front of my face! Two different activities, one followed after the other, were the ones that triggered that spark towards understanding the importance of teamwork no matter what you were doing or working on. Funny enough those two activities were related to a couple of passions of mine that decades later are still pretty much intact: basketball and cooking.

I started playing basketball (point guard, in case you were wondering…) when I was 10 years old (Thanks to my older brother and his own school gang) and I continued to play it till I left my home country when I was 23 years old. Throughout those 13 years, and after having played in a good number of different teams across different divisions, you get to understand how you, as an individual, are pretty much nothing, unless you are a team player and help your team win collectively through each and everyone’s individual effort.

Yes, everyone knows it, basketball is a team sport, who doesn’t, right? But what most people won’t tell you about it is that in order to do something rather significant, as a team, you need to learn how and when to sacrifice the individual for the collective good (i.e. learning to tame the ego, as I usually call it), so you can win the game. That looking after one another, no matter what, helping each other address our very own weaknesses and turn them into strengths, as a team, is probably as good as it gets. It teaches you plenty of understanding of the conditions and constraints around your team, about building enough empathy to utilise it wisely when needed, about helping one another altruistically so that the team benefits in the long run and, finally, about learning to master the art of healthy friction and negotiation that comes through from compromise. Gosh, I still love the game, don’t you? 

After I left the country and before I started working in the IT industry, I was a cook, as I mentioned in another blog post last week, in several different types of restaurants in multiple countries (Spain, France, Germany, UK, etc. etc.). It was the experience of working as a cook in an Argentinian restaurant in London though the one that taught me the importance of diversity, of inclusiveness, of understanding everyone’s needs to be different, while still being together, of embracing different cultures, customs, languages, traditions and what not. All in all, you learn to embrace all of that, and so much more!, for the benefit of the cooking team you work with, because everyone in the team knows, no exceptions, we are all on a very specific daily mission: delight our clients (so they keep coming back and keep us employed!). 

Of course, there are different kinds of pressure: time, stress, hectic (crazy) schedules, impossible goals to achieve, multitasking, not much thinking (just execute), yelling and screaming at others, and the list goes on and on and on. If you have ever worked in a kitchen environment I bet you know exactly the kind of pressure you are exposed to on a daily basis. The thing is all of those pressures are easily tamed if the team stays and sticks together, that is, if the whole team understands that healthy friction of rubbing it against each other has got one specific purpose: get the work done, effectively, as a team, delighting your clients, whomever they may well be. Yeah, indeed, I still get goosebumps, wouldn’t you? 

And then fast forward to 1997, when I started working for IBM as part of the IBM.HELP.NET project team. A team of teams of about 450 people from 40 different countries, 5 continents, speaking multiple languages, doing customer support for the mainframe and PC environments. A melting pot, indeed, of cultures, languages, customs, traditions AND, of course, people, vast majority of them without prior knowledge about the IT industry (Had to be acquired while doing the job after a couple of weeks of training) and yet working really hard every day, neck and neck, to address and fix as many business problems from our customers as we could possibly do.

You knew there always was something up in the air as you would enter the building and meet your colleagues: an inner urge to help them become successful, because the moment they were successful you, too, would be successful for that matter. Part of that collective team of teams effort, hard work and energy, for sure, but there was something else special that glued everything together in a very engaging manner. And it was food. 

At one point in time, one of the teams decided that every first Monday of the month, they would gather together for lunch on a single table and each team member would bring in with them a typical dish of their country. The purpose was to lay on that big table some pretty amazing, colourful, incredibly tasty and overall gorgeous dishes everyone in the team could nibble on, while standing and moving around, talking to one another, sharing experiences, recipes, childhood memories, weekend activities, personal hobbies, hints and tips, tricks, perhaps the odd customer problem that needed fixing right after lunch in a timely manner, etc. etc. It was just buzzing altogether! 

Soon enough, on that first Monday of every month, another team joined in, and then another, and then another one, and another one, and before we realised it, we had an entire floor of multiple large tables with all sorts of wonderfully yummy dishes from all over the world, literally, waiting to be enjoyed and talked about by everyone who wanted to come along. Yes, that was a very important aspect that most people kind of took for granted, but that those of us who knew what was going on appreciate it the most: it was an open environment and everyone was welcomed! Even people from other floors, other projects, other parts of the business. You can imagine what happened next.

You can imagine the huge impact in the overall team building activities that we had that such a small initiative of gathering people around some delicious food did have over the course of time in terms of helping just that, build community, because that’s exactly what was happening back then and that most people didn’t even notice. We just took it for granted. Yet, whether we like it or not, we are all, after all, social beings eager to connect, learn, share and work together with others and if food can help us achieve that, why not embrace it, right? It’s what makes us all human, that strong sense of belonging, of connecting, of caring for one another. I tell you, it was just mind-blowing altogether!

You know, all of that happened nearly 20 years ago and I still remember it today as if it were just yesterday! I bet that some time soon we may be having a few of them dropping by this blog post and leave a comment to say ‘Hi!’ It pretty much reminded me of this wonderfully inspiring short blog post by my good friend Tony Holder under the title ‘A sense of community’ where he pretty much nails it in terms of defining succinctly what it is like building an engaged, sustainable, committed, involved, open and overall participatory community: 

All it takes is a smile, a cheery greeting and a few seconds treating people like you want to be treated, as a human being.

Well, if on top of that you add some really good food (and drinks, of course!) I can imagine only great things will happen: some bloody good conversations. Conversations through which we can master the art of collaboration and fine, healthy friction.

0 votes
Read More »

When Context Transcends Change Management

Gran Canaria - Puerto de Mogán at sunset

What if everything we have been told about Change Management over the course of the last few decades was all just … plain wrong? What if research keeps telling us, over and over again, how ’most change efforts fail’ ? What if we have been approaching change initiatives from the wrong side of the spectrum and we never realised about it till now when it might be a bit too late already? Isn’t it time for us all to shift gears and, at long last, change? Oh, the irony, right?

Over the course of the last few months there have been plenty of really interesting articles around the discipline of change management itself (out of the several dozens of millions of publications, practices, methodologies, processes, and what not), whether it’s been talking about its many different mythsits various principles, along the science behind change in itself, or perhaps some forgotten questions, or comparisons between leading and managing change, where does it belong within the organisation?, how it tights everything up altogether around technology (as its main key enabler), or, questioning, as McKinsey put it recently, how, in a nutshell, we may need to change change management itself after all, given that massive statistic of how over 70% of change programmes fail to achieve their goals, whatever those may well be. Ouch! That hurts. A lot! 

Yes, I know, the links I have shared above are just a glimpse of an entire industry talking and writing extensively about what change management has always been all along: an obsolete change methodology using 20th century mindset, processes, tooling and practice while trying to address plenty of the organisational challenges from the 21st century in a more complex business world than ever. And, somehow, technology seems to be making things much worse, like two completely different worlds colliding with one another! 

What if all of that literature around change management could be smashed with just a couple of tweets? Yes, indeed, two different tweets, with a few weeks in between each of them, that have recently captured my attention, more than anything else, because of how both of them have undermined, and challenged at the same time, in a very healthy, disruptive, enlightening and rather provocative manner, everything I have known about change management in the last 10 to 15 years. So much so that after reading the second tweet shared across just last week I’m going to start challenging, not only my very own change practices, but also everyone else’s who may keep neglecting the fact we are living and working in completely different times, and therefore we need some fresh new thinking around change altogether coming further along.

Indeed, I love Twitter, specially, when people use it to school me, and everyone else for that matter, directly or indirectly, about things I stopped challenging myself some time ago, because I started taking them for granted and let inertia do the rest. Complacency can be so brutal, so lethal, so deadly, it’s not even funny anymore. The thing is, when looking into those two tweets, in the context of change, with new, fresh eyes, AND thinking, you wonder why you didn’t do it much much sooner.

Unlearning old, useless, obsolete stuff we keep clinging on to no matter what (even if we are wrong) to then relearn again about new ways of getting work done, specially, in change initiatives, is really hard, we all know that, but, at the same time, making it happen successfully can be rather intoxicating and enticing altogether, if anything, because it helps us all open up a new window of opportunity into thinking AND doing things differently, which is exactly what I will be doing from here onwards as a result of those couple of tweets I have mentioned above already. 

At this point in time I bet you are all wondering about those rather impactful tweets, aren’t you? The suspense may even be killing you, right? Well, let me share them over here with you all, so you can see what I mean about how a couple of sentences may be able to challenge every single change management programme you may be involved with, or know, out there within your own organisation, to the point where it may take you back into the drawing board and start again. I know it has done that with me big time. You will see what I mean shortly. 

Ok, here we go then. Both tweets come from Sonja Blignaut after having attended two different events in time around complexity and change from the one and only, Dave Snowden. To quote each of them: 

And here is the second one, shared a couple of months later, perhaps even more wonderfully poignant than the previous one:

As you can see, there is a lot of meat to chew on for a good while with regards to both tweets, but, on their own, they remind me of a superb recent blog entry Dave himself wrote where he pretty much nailed it in terms of why change management needs to shift gears of its collective mindset and change (pun intended). To quote him: 

Now there are a whole group of consultants in this field who focus on the idea that changing individuals is the best way to change an organisation. The worse ones come with a ideological view of what sort of people they want to create and a process of self-reflection that draws on the worse excesses of the counselling movements that took off a few decades ago. […] It’s the preacher man phenomena, in which the preacher is the privileged interpreter of the word and has achieved a heightened state of enlightenment to which they invite to you to seek to attain.

But it gets better, much better, because from there onwards he shares a rather thought-provoking reflection that has intrigued me to no end and I am pretty sure it’s going to make lots of people out there rather uncomfortable, but, hopefully, in a good way, that is, unlearn to relearn effectively about change and its many nuances too often ignored, or neglected. To quote him again: 

Now don’t get me wrong, individual change is important, meditation has huge value (I am less sure of mindfulness as that has become a simplistic fad), most practitioners are well intentioned. But the real change in organisations is when you change the way that people connect, and the most profound way in which that connection can be achieved is through small actions that change perceptions in an evolutionary way. People argue that it is easier to change an individual that to change the system and that may be right. But if you want systemic change there are simply too many individuals to change to achieve it and it is a lot easier to change the interactions and allow people autonomy over what they are.’ [Emphasis mine]

Whoahhh! If neither of those tweets, nor Dave’s quotes, shared above (never mind the fantastic blog post he put together), don’t persuade you to help evolve your own change management practice, I don’t know what would, frankly. Do we still think that organisations can change? That we can change people, even one individual at a time? Hummm, we may need to think again… And think hard! Seriously. 

You would remember how a few weeks back I wrote about the Social Business Adaptation Framework I am currently using with my clients to help guide them through their own Digital Transformation journey and that has evolved over the course of the years; well, next to each of those different five pillars I covered back then I shall be remembering, from now onwards, those terrific tweets and noteworthy quotes, put in context, where it matters, to essentially do just that: override the change management practice from the 20th century and fast forward into the 21st century. 

It will be high time to start catching up with this rather complex business world we live in, don’t you think?

0 votes
Read More »

Happiness at Work Starts with #NoeMail

Gran Canaria - The Monk

After nearly 9 years of actively advocating for #NoeMail I guess I can now say this pretty safely: doing #NoeMail all along (and still going rather strong at it, by the way, in case you are wondering!) has always been an excuse, a distraction, an icebreaker of sorts to entice people into stopping for a minute in whatever they are doing and ask themselves, and those around them, why certain things work the way they do within the workplace and yet, in our personal lives, they just don’t happen anymore? I mean, when was the last time you sent out a personal email to your kids, or your spouse, or a close relative, or even a good friend? I bet it’s been quite a while, isn’t it? Why is it so difficult then to challenge the status quo of corporate email and somehow accept its extended (ab)use as a necessary evil? Is it inertia? Is it because it’s hard to break away from our (good old) habits? Is it perhaps because it’s just too easy, pervasive and inexpensive, so that we can keep justifying how busy we all are, after all, despite the harm it’s doing to our very own health? Or is it, maybe, because, you know, changing the nature of work is really hard, so why bother doing it anyway in the first place, right? Well, there you have it. Just like that, all along, it’s been our choice to do something about it, and yet, are we up for the challenge? I think we, finally, might well be…

It’s been a long while, since the last time I wrote a blog post over here about the latest status of my #NoeMail journey, and very often nowadays, not sure why, I keep getting asked about how things have progressed further along over the course of time and whether I’m still doing it and what not, as more and more companies are starting to challenge that same status quo of corporate email I mentioned above and plenty of Messaging & Collaboration, as well as Enterprise Social Networking, vendors begin to market and sell their products as an opportunity to also reduce your inbox clutter. Not to worry, at some point in time I will write as well about all of those different companies and vendors that are starting to not just talk, but also practise actively as well #NoeMail, so you can see how we, true die-hard advocates of new ways of working, are no longer alone by ourselves out there. For today, though, I will just focus on giving you folks an update on how things have progressed since the last time, so you can see what I have been up to, even as I went independent nearly three years ago.

But before I go ahead and do that, I’m going to do things slightly different this time around. I will start by saying that I’m still, indeed, practising it every day. I am still keeping track of the incoming email volume and the great news over here is that when I was a salaried employee my weekly average of incoming emails usually was around 16 emails per week. Fast forward to 2016 and that weekly average is at 2,8 emails per week, as we speak. Yes, you are reading it right: 2,8 emails per week, which I guess is not too shabby, right?, more than anything else, because it confirms you certainly can live without work email either as an employee of a firm (no matter how small or large it may well be!), or if you decide to go and do freelance work. Remember, currently, 2,8 emails per week and still going down…

Ok, since I mentioned how I got things started with A World Without eMail as a rather unique, thought-provoking and somewhat mind-boggling opportunity to open up the conversations and start the dialogue about what I have been really interested in all along, that is, Social Business and its Adaptation Framework, I think it would make sense to put it together into the larger context and start connecting the dots as to where it fits in that Digital Transformation journey itself, so instead of updating you all on what’s been happening around it in isolation, I’m going to start, with today’s blog post, putting it into a larger context of a number of different conversations I have been having over the years with other people on this very same topic and see where we ended up eventually. That way you can see how I have used it as an initial conversation starter to then converse and learn plenty more about other related aspects of that transformation process, and the corresponding change initiatives, that have emerged over the course of time.

Yes, indeed, this means, from now onwards, I am planning to start sharing some additional insights about presentations, interviews, recordings, vlogsvideo clips, etc. etc. I may have done in the recent past on this topic and link to them accordingly adding, hopefully, some additional input into the mix from when I last did them. That way, it will help me keep you folks in the know, so that you can see how close, eventually, #NoeMail is to the overall Social Business journey, to the point where, sometimes, it’s even a tad scary how deeply ingrained it is into the overall transformation process.

So, let’s get down to it then. I shall start today with one of my all time favourite interviews I recently did around mindful social marketing, (and mindfulness, in general, for that matter) and happiness at work. Now, who would have thought both of them would be related to #NoeMail, right? Well, they certainly are! Hang in there for a minute …

Back in July, Janet Fouts kindly invited me, as a guest speaker, to her wonderful #MindfulSocial interviews to talk about a good number of different topics over the course of one hour: employee engagement, mindfulness, happiness at work and, of course, A World Without eMail. Those of you who may be interested in going through the full interview can start playing the recording shared below:

 

For those of you though who may not want to jump into the recording itself just yet and may be looking for a teaser or two, I have also taken the liberty of re-listening myself to the entire interview and take some copious notes about some of what I think would be interesting and relevant insights worth while mentioning in this article as well and share them across, so that you can judge for yourselves how #NoeMail is all tied in to those same topics I have mentioned above and many more! At the same time, and where appropriate, I have added additional links and reading materials that hopefully will contribute to enrich the actual conversation itself I had with Janet as I keep reflecting on what we talked about back then. See? That’s one of the many reasons why I quite enjoy as well going through the rich media recordings I may well have done over time, because I can remember then other interesting thoughts and reflections I can add into the mix, but that I forgot to mention during that time. Yes, I know, my short term memory is not very good sometimes. Thank goodness we’ve got blogs, right?

Like I said, the interview itself with Janet lasted for a bit over one hour and it was mainly divided in three different blocks of conversations covering #NoeMail, Happiness at Work and Mindfulness. So here are some of the highlights on some of the things we touched base on:

  • #NoeMail: We talked extensively about the main three reasons as to why I got started with it back in February 2008 in the first place, as well as explaining some of the tricks that still help me today go rather strong at it; we discussed as well plenty of the scientific research coming out as of late about some of the different health risks associated with processing email; what current digital tools do I use the most often at the moment (Hint: IBM Connections, Twitter, Slack, Telegram); the importance of filtering; BACN, everyone loves BACN!; the loss of critical knowledge for good once your mailbox gets deleted confirming the good old mantra from Bill French ‘eMail is where knowledge goes to die ; the importance of building bridges between the old world and the new, that is, between email and whatever ESN option(s) you may have at your disposal, etc. etc.We conversed as well about the much needed transition from knowledge stocks into knowledge flows; about the ever increasing importance and relevance of networked driven, open knowledge sharing (That is, from ‘Knowledge is power’ to ‘Knowledge SHARED is power’); about the additional perks (visibility, digital footprint, stronger personal brand through blogging, etc. etc.); about exposing one self and one’s work out there in the open for everyone else to benefit from it through working out loud, narrating your work or observable work (#owork) techniques.We also mused about the many benefits of relinquishing control into your social networks to then regain it back at a later time a whole lot more amplified when you realise your knowledge is no longer yours alone, but your network’s; we listed some of the main use cases for #NoeMail (Finding experts, embracing the power of networks, answering questions, etc.); we talked about the power of #notknowing; about the perils of the Cult of Busyness; about how our perceptions of how people work define what we expect from them, something email has been really good at all along (Remember ’I sent you an email 5 minutes ago and I still haven’t got an answer from you just yet. I wanted it yesterday already, by the way!’?).
  • Happiness at work: From there onwards, we switched into the topic of Happiness at Work citing one of my all time favourite presentations ever around employee engagement. A presentation done by Alex Kjerulf (Chief Happiness Officer at Woohoo inc) at #MeaningConf back in 2012 where he talked about what employee engagement is all about: Results and Relationships.From there onwards we talked about how we are currently going through a time where we have the lowest number of friends at work than ever before; how, more often than not, we work nowadays with total strangers, with no attachments; how we have stopped talking to people, conversing with them, learning from them; how trust needs to become, once again, the defining factor of fostering personal business relationships at work, which is why networking is so critical when nurturing relationships through conversations; how it’s much tougher to leave a company behind while your good friends are still there, rather than with total strangers, due to that natural, stronger sense of belonging, of bonding together, of connecting with one another. Eventually, we mused, further along, about how we can improve our relationships at work; rediscover why social capital still matters in the 21st century, and how, now more than ever before, it’s really important that we get  to know closer the people we work with.
  • Mindfulness: The last block of our conversation was perhaps the most exciting and re-energising one, because we ventured into potentially defining what the present of work may look like over the course of time. So we discussed how we may need to start fighting that Cult of Busyness I mentioned earlier on; how we need to live AND work in the moment, without having to worry too much about the future of work; how just being busy kills the conversations right there, right at the start, way before you even attempt to engage. Somehow, we should start growing the need to slow down; does mindfulness help employees become more engaged, motivated, involved in the work they do? Probably. What do you think?That’s probably one of the many reasons why we are witnessing a renewed focus around the wellbeing of the employee, about the overall employee experience itself, understanding happy employees = happy customers; how we seem to be transitioning from assets and resources to people and relationships; how meaning and purpose become the key drivers of re-engaging the employee workforce; what’s your purpose, after all? When was the last time you asked yourself that question?From there onwards we pondered about how multiples generations have different expectations, and how businesses need to meet them all up accordingly, as they may see fit. We talked as well, again, about an important topic, the perils of email inflicted upon our very own health, regardless of the mindfulness initiatives you may have in place so far; examples like Germany and France are just a couple of many attempting to forbid the use of email after office hours and do something about it. It’s just that bad, really.

    At the end of the day, we concluded we need to redefine work to respect people, and their own time, by regaining control of the interactions and the conversations; we also needed to stop appearing to be busy, because otherwise people think we are lazing about, even though productivity has been tanking already since the early 1980s!; working out loud can help out a great deal in showing your presence, showing you are there, available to help, caring for everyone’s time respecting each other’s, even your own. All under a pretty simple guideline, often either ignored, or neglected: if you care for me, I’ll care for you; if you don’t care for me, I won’t care for you (why should I?).

    At the end of the day it’s all about being more empathic about your colleagues while facing the situations they go through; ’how can I help my colleagues be less stressed out?’; ‘when did we stop caring for people?’; ‘What do you care about?’; ‘what’s your purpose?’; that’s where it all starts, challenging the status quo of how certain things operate and how we seem to take them for granted without questioning them. We need to shift focus and treasure the good habit of evaluating one’s strengths vs. our weaknesses and focus on what we would really want to do, following our passion(s).

    At long last, after such wonderfully inspiring conversations, we convened change is all about providing the right conditions for people to decide for themselves, one at a time, as a personal transformation journey, whether it’s worth it changing one’s mindset and behaviours, for their reasons and theirs alone, or not; change is a personal endeavour while traditional change management is all about control by keeping people in little boxes, which is why social business adaptation plans fail big time, because the focus is more on managing change than in creating change; yet, control still is an illusion; we should focus, instead, on influencing (people) by mastering the art of persuasion; HR needs to step up their game in terms of treating people as hard working networked professionals instead of treating them as immature, incompetent jerks (or sheep); we need to get better at asking questions and it all starts by asking even more questions, tons of questions; how are we connected to the experts who may help us solve our business problems? It’s no longer about finding out who the experts are, but also about how we may be connected with them, and, if not, why not? What’s stopping us? How could we get connected? Bridging networks; be willing to always learn, live life in perpetual beta; the moment we stop learning, that’s the moment we start dying. 

    It’s our means of survival by frequently questioning what we know, why we do certain things the way we do, who are we connected with and for what purpose?; we need to, constantly, challenge ourselves on how we learn, or we will have a problem; in this day and age of machines and automation, what do we need to learn (as new skills) to make ourselves *not* redundant?; machines should augment the human capability, not necessarily replace it (and us!); need to redefine a new social contract: what would we do, if we no longer need to work?; can we transition successfully from homo sapiens into homo ludens? It becomes a bit ironic how we now have got an imperative to re-humanise ourselves, once more, but this time around through technology itself as the key enabler. An example: if billions of people become unemployed over time because of that automation, then what?; can (or will) work turn itself into a voluntary task, a hobby, a passion, perhaps even a calling, not necessarily something you just do, you know, to keep paying the bills…? 

     

You can see how the conversation ended up eventually … Whoahhh! I was completely jazzed up altogether! Pretty amazing to think that all of that happened as a result of that icebreaker of doing #NoeMail, don’t you think? Now you know why I got started with it back in 2008 and why I am still going strong at it. More than anything else, because it gives me an opportunity to keep learning, and iterate again, by always questioning and challenging the current status quo of how businesses operate while we get to redefine what open, transparent, engaging, meaningful, purposeful, caring, empathic, autonomous, motivating and involved organisations should be all about and if that means I will need to continue living in a world without email, so be it!

We are just getting started!


[A big thanks to the wonderful, very talented and incredibly smart Janet Fouts for the kind invite and for the superb, delightful and very much inspiring conversations!]

0 votes
Read More »

Writing Ourselves into Existence through a Choral Act

Gran Canaria - Roque Nublo's surroundings

 

Earlier on this morning I spent quite some time going through a good number of the different posts I have put together in this blog over the course of the last three months and, to my surprise, it looks like I have been posting more entires in that three month period than the entire 2014 and 2015 combined! Whoah! How did that happen? Even plenty of readers of this blog noticed that as well as they decided to unsubscribe for new updates by the hordes explaining I have been sharing just too many of them to keep up with everything else that is going on. I think I know why there is just such a disparity between those couple of years and the last few months. It’s all got to do with my own mindset and how it’s shifted back over time into something I’m very familiar with, but that, somehow, I left it behind a few years ago. It looks like over the course of time I’m shifting away from social media first into blogging first. It’s as if I am longing for, once again, ‘writing myself into existence’.

Indeed, I remember very well the time when I first started blogging (internally, behind the firewall) around end of 2002 and all I could think about, while reading or conversing with other folks on a wide range of different work related topics, was along the lines of ‘Oh, I need to blog about that idea’, or ‘I need to respond to that blog post with another one as well to add further up into the conversation’, or, just simply ‘I need to write that down somewhere to reflect on it further along, so I don’t forget to come back to it later’, to name a few. Yes, indeed, I realise now how I was writing myself into existence as my good friend Euan Semple wrote a few years back quoting David Weinberger himself on what blogging was all about: ‘Writing ourselves into existence’.

Somehow, and over the course of the last 3 to 5 years I lost track of that while my mind switched automatically from blogging first into social media first, as I was spending a whole lot more time in several of those so-called social media tools while ignoring and neglecting my good old blogging mojo. However, at one point in time, this past August, to be more precise, I got too tired with just being the data, I mean, with always being the product no matter what. Frankly, I just got too tired with the surveillance state we are, apparently, creating with the current pernicious polarisation that keeps growing faster and faster than ever as we have confirmed that transition from making use of social media tools into just media tools, where we have become that, the media.

No, I am sorry, that’s not how I would want to spend plenty of my online time anymore. As Euan mentioned on that blog entry, I just need a space where I can be a whole lot more aware of my own thoughts and feelings, and of the world around me for that matter, without having to jump into everyone else’s throats out there every time they are not politically correct agreeing with me anymore on absolutely everything I categorically state because, you know, I am always right and they are not. That’s how things seem to be rolling out there for everyone at the moment. I can, we all can, do so much better than that altogether, don’t you think?

How about blogging as a choral act?, as Bonnie Stewart wrote beautifully in a recent blog entry a couple of weeks back. A superb article, by the way, in case you may have missed it about the healing powers of digital writing. To quote her: 
 

Blogging is a choral act. Posts are commented on; ties are formed. Stories and backstories become known. As I connected with other bloggers and found community first with other parents and then with those whose writing, like my own, unpacked identities in various forms, I stumbled into something extraordinary […]

 

This is just too funny, and perhaps a tad ironic, too, because my last three months of blogging over here in this blog have helped me, once more, finally, comprehend (and come to terms with the fact of) how I no longer crave for attention, at least, as much as I used to back in the day. How I seem to have departed from me, me, me land into the we, we, we land. It’s helped me, at long last, understand as well how most of the times it’s the long-form reads with your own thoughts, opinions and emotions the ones that are the most powerful components towards building, nurturing and sustaining long term (online) communities, where you are just one of the community members, connecting, sharing, learning and collaborating together with others as equals, as a choral act.

Yes, indeed, that’s the underestimated power of blogging. It’s no longer about the self per se, but more about what you could bring forward as part of an already existing conversation that’s taking place in multiple blogs and blog comments from different people who have got a long term common goal: connect, share and learn more about a particular topic with other online partners. Now, when was the last time you had that wonderful sensation while interacting through media tools? Something tells me it may well have been a while. Is that how you see yourself continuing to make use of those media tools in the medium, long term? Think about it… Think closely. Where do you think you will be online in the next 5 or 10 years? Someone else’s home or your own? Hopefully, your own, right? 😀

I realise you may be thinking one of the several reasons why you are still making use of those different media tools (apart from just being there so you don’t appear to be the awkward one, the weirdo) is as an opportunity to showcase and promote some of your thought leadership and expertise on a particular topic by pushing messages out there about the stuff you may have shared or published elsewhere (like your blog) and therefore help others become more aware about what you do. That’s a good reason, indeed. I have used it myself a few times, but only to realise it no longer works. Over the course of the years I have noticed, I’m pretty sure you may have as well, how we hardly ever read anything else on media tools anymore other than our very own broadcasted messages. We are just too busy doing all sorts of other things to then have to stop and read what other people publish, share or would want to converse about. Well, here’s the thing, if that’s how we all feel AND behave, that attention you are craving is then long gone and pretty much dead by now. No-one will read your posts, never mind respond to some of them! And then what? 

Keep posting multiple times during the course of the day adding further along into the already existing noise, so that your audience? may, pontentially, see it and drop by skimming through it rather quick before they head back into their timelines? Yikes! No, no-one would want to have that, so why do we keep sustaining it? We shouldn’t. No-one reads our marketing messages anymore. Somehow, it feels a little bit like a waste of time, resources, energy and good effort. That is one of the many things I have learned myself, through trial and error as well, over the course of last three months where I, along with several dozens of other people, have used different media tools to share some of the blog posts I have put together over here that others may find somewhat interesting and relevant for what they do and, yet, vast majority of my blog traffic still comes through search engines like Google or Bing and not a single one of those media tools despite the thousands and thousands of people we tend to broadcast to. Quite revealing on its own, I tell you, as it reminds me of the long tail of knowledge: as long as you get to write good content, or comment on other people’s blog posts, care about what they post, or take a genuine interest in what they do, etc. etc. they will always find it, with or without making use of media tools no-one stops by anymore to read, accordingly, more in depth.

I know what you are all thinking, but ‘blogging is hard work’. It takes an awful lot of time, effort and energy to put together a blog post versus writing a tweet or sharing a short status update and you may be right. But then again we ought to realise we should never be too busy to blog. It’s just a matter of habit, really; in fact, it’s a matter of (re)building the habit of writing further along about the topics we are very interested in and are passionate about and see what comes out eventually (remember? Blogging is personal), as if no-one else is reading, just for you, perhaps even if you decide to start using rather helpful techniques like writing 750 words per day, you name it. What matters at the end of the day is whether we are willing to write ourselves into existence in a space we own AND partake in the conversations, all of us, as equals, as a choral act. As ever, it’s our individual and collective choice and ours alone. No-one, not even any media tool out there, should interfere with that decision. Ever. We are the ones who need to decide and define what our digital footprint should be like

That’s why I have now, finally, decided to spend more time blogging over here than craving the attention in media tools from an audience we no longer have, no matter what the numbers of followers may well say. They have now become redundant. Instead, I much prefer to crave the wonderful conversations I have been having over here already in multiple blog posts, because they help me learn and grow accordingly over time by caring even more about the topics that are dear to my heart (and mind!). To me, that’s what blogging has been all about all along for the last 20+ years and still going strong: an extended part of our reflective brains about what’s going on around us, and the world at large for that matter, and how do we make sense out of it all.

Why not make the most out of it then, right? Blog on!

0 votes
Read More »

The Downsides of Freelance Work

Gran Canaria - Playa del Inglés Beach

 

Last week, if you would remember, I wrote a blog entry on the topic of ’The Perks of Freelance Work’ to describe some of the things I have enjoyed the most, so far, from being a freelancer over the course of last three years. While that post did not include an exhaustive list of perks, it gave me a pretty good opportunity to reflect upon what I have learned over the course of time, now that I’m getting pretty close as well to my 20th year anniversary in the IT industry. In it I also mentioned how I’d be writing another article where I would share across a number of other different advantages that didn’t make it into the first entry of this series, but I also wrote about creating a couple of different blog entries where I would be musing about the downside(s) of freelance work. Yes, that’s right, the ones no-one talks to you about, nor cares to admit they are going through themselves, mostly because of the lovely, rosy words we seem to impregnate freelancing with as the next big-thing (Remember the gig economy?), when, in reality, it might be everything but… 

The overall purpose of these blog posts talking about the perks and the downsides of freelance work is for me to try to share across a somewhat balanced view around my overall experience in an effort to, perhaps, help you folks understand whether freelancing might be something of interest for you, or not, who knows. At the same time, it’s also a unique opportunity to confirm for myself whether I am alone experiencing and going through some of these ups and downs of freelancing or whether it’s just me. There is that possibility as well. That’s why, with regards to the downsides of freelance work, I am putting together this first blog entry where I would like to explore ten of them and then over the course of time I will be picking each and everyone of them and describe in length how I get to overcome them eventually.

Thus, without much further ado, here are some of the downsides of freelance work, in no particular order, I’d want to share across for now and let’s see how much other folks can relate to each of these, if at all:    

 

  • Uncertainty: If there is anything I have learned over the course of the last three years, as a freelancer, is money doesn’t like uncertainty. It runs away from it like the plague. So when we are going through this exhilarating, nerve-wrecking roller-coaster of tumultuous times, provoked by either global or political turmoils, you know you are bound to learn, and pretty quick, how to live with the uncertainty of not knowing what tomorrow is going to bring forward.

    Making plans ahead of time is not only a waste of time, effort and energy, but also a rather distracting activity, because, in most cases, you just don’t know what’s going to happen next week, month, or year! So, very early in the game, you realise that uncertainty helps you, through the hard way, to pretty much live in the moment, focusing on the tasks and work at hand without having much of an opportunity to focus on anything else, because, you know, it’s just not certain. The ever so much more complex times we live in will bring forward such uncertainty that will pretty much scare your customers away, specially, those with the budget to kick off your projects. But here is the thing about uncertainty that I like the most: it forces you to keep moving, constantly, without excuses, nor regrets, into striking the next lovely project work you will be doing with a potential client at some point in time. Now, I will be talking a whole lot more about it, but here is a tip of advice I learned about coping with the uncertainty: the moment you stop thinking about the what next that’s the moment when uncertainty wins. Don’t let it win. Keep moving! 

    [Like I have mentioned above already, I will be putting together a number of different blog posts in the near future where I will explain with much more detail how I get to tackle each and everyone of these downsides of freelancing, so you folks may learn some more about how I try to cope with them and how sometimes I succeed and how, in others, I don’t. But one step at a time …]

  • Insecurity: With this one I’d want to encourage you all to think of it more as in job security than anything else. And here is a short story on what I mean with that. Three years ago, when I had already decided I was quitting my job at my former employer to start my own advisory firm around Social Business and Digital Transformation, I remember having a conversation with one of my managers where he was asking me what I was thinking about doing next as a freelancer. Back then, and without much thinking, I ventured to state I suspected plenty of the work I would be doing would be rather similar to the work I was doing for him, that is, advising and helping businesses make the most out of their Enterprise Social Networking platforms while embarking on their own Social Business and Digital Transformation journey, but do that work on my own. Going solo. 

    His response, after a long silence, was something along the lines of ‘Hang on, but where is the challenge in that? I mean, you would be doing pretty much what you have been doing for the last 14 years, so there wouldn’t be anything new for you to learn and enjoy in your new job and therefore you would still be stuck within your own comfort zone’. I remember how my initial response was fulminant and somewhat categorical. Alas, it had to come out. I remember I mentioned how, while I was working for him, I would be working really hard to my abilities (or not so hard sometimes) and still have the certainty at the end of the month there would be a paycheck. There always would be a paycheck.

    However, I told him, when I start my freelance work I will be working just as hard, if not harder, day in day out, week in week out, and, unfortunately, I would not have any certainty I would be getting paid for that work. How is that for a challenge to shake your own comfort zone of having received monthly paychecks for the last 17 years without not knowing whether there will be a cheque anymore at the end of the next month? That is the kind of insecurity freelancers are constantly being exposed to. It’s not an easy downside to deal with I can tell you, as most other people would confirm as well, but, unfortunately, it’s going to be there from the very first day you decide to go independent and become a freelancer.

    How can you overcome it? Well, I will be talking about it in more detail at a later time on what I do myself to tame it, but my first piece of advice I have always shared with folks has been to have a substantial financial cushion that would allow you to live comfortably those months where either things are slow, or just not happening at all. And keep moving. The important thing though is not to live for too long under the assumption things will be all right as you deplete that cushion month after month hoping it will all turn around eventually. Well, it might not. At one point, you will need to decide what you may need to do to stop the bleeding, before it’s just too late and you end up in a whole lot of unwanted and perhaps unnecessary trouble. 

  • Client Prospects: I know this may sound a bit weird, I mean, the fact I’m adding searching for client prospects as a downside of freelance work. Well, it is and those who may tell you otherwise may not be telling you about the untold costs of client prospecting. Because it does pay a toll, a huge one, actually. While you are doing client work (either with one client or multiple of them at the same time), your mind will always be worrying and preoccupying itself about the next client. Where are they? How can I find them? How can I reach out to them without sounding too aggressive, too desperate, too cheesy? How can I influence them to start working with me when there are millions of other freelancers out there? Will they be interested in the value add I can provide? What do I have to offer to that client that may be unique and no other people may be providing? How am I going to end up finding new clients when I’m terribly bad at marketing or selling my product? Where do I start? Jeez, why is it all so difficult? 

    I’m pretty sure plenty of the questions, concerns and uncertainties I have just shared in the above paragraph have gone through the minds of any freelancer over the course of time. Why is it a drawback? Well, because of focus. It’s a distraction. It’s a massive distraction from the work you are currently doing for your client(s). And here is the frustrating tidbit, that while you know you will want to work really hard for your clients and deliver 100% of your value add, that distraction, that lack of focus on finding the next client is going to neglect you giving that 100%. Ouch! It will hurt. You know you can deliver effortlessly, but the distraction is a killer.

    And while you may be wondering how to get around it, I can share with you all that the way I have done it is by creating in-between blank spaces where I’m not working with a particular client and, instead, do the prospecting. In short, that means I focus 100% on the client work I’m doing in the moment, delivering with the highest quality I can provide, and once the work is done, I will be spending some time (it usually depends, but it ranges from a couple of weeks to a full month) doing that client prospecting, knowing that there will be no income coming through, but it will help me focus on a single task at a time: serving my client(s) first, looking for new ones afterwards. 

  • Trust: This is perhaps one of the downsides of freelance work that has hurt me the most over the last couple of years. And I don’t think it would apply only to people doing freelancing per se, but everyone, in general, whether you may well be in a salaried job or as an independent. Trust seems to be running very low all over the place at the moment, whether we like to admit it or not. And that lack of trust is causing infinite more trouble than one could have ever imagined. The thing is that if you are going solo trust is an even more critical component towards your own success working with clients achieving your various different goals, because, you know, you are on your own. There is no-one else out there supporting you, at least, initially. That’s what most clients would think about you and the work you do. 

    But there is also another component of trust at play, as a freelancer, which is when you connect and build personal business relationships with your ‘peers’, those people who, over time, eventually, become an integral part of your social networks, till you realise that what you thought of, and advocated for all along, as coopetition (i.e. collaborate openly to compete in a healthy manner) is just plain good old vicious competition. By the time you find out, the damage is already done. The horse has already left the building, indeed, at lightning speed.

    I never thought I would be talking about this, but, like I have blogged a couple of months back, trusting people in this social age is a tough job, specially, when there is a lack of coherence between what people talk, preach and advocate for AND what people really do, letting hypocrisy, therefore, run the show while abusing your own good will. What did I do about this one? That’s a great question! I decided to move on with my work life, understanding I may need to work ever harder from there onwards towards building better, more effective, relevant tight social networks where the primary goal may well not be being poached around left and right. See why it hurt back in the day? Onwards and upwards! 

  • Remoteness: This is one of those drawbacks you may not be able to see coming up front early in the game, till it’s, perhaps, too late and you may have experienced it firsthand already. What I mean with remoteness is, essentially, working remotely while freelancing and how, depending on the industry and the kind of work you do, it will become an issue that’s rather tough to overcome on its own. In this day and age of hyper-connectivity, of remote enabled collaboration, of networks and online communities as the new operating model, of digital technologies allowing you to transform work from a physical space (i.e. the office) into a mental state, it’s hard to believe that remote working in social business is pretty much dead, unless, of course, you would want to re-locate or work on-site 24x7x365. Then again everything you may have endorsed throughout your entire working life is bound to collapse on its own, because, you know, your words and your actions will no longer match. Two completely different worlds colliding with one another and you sitting right in the middle about to experience the clash. 

    That lack of coherence will eventually be your dead end, because how can you dare promote a different kind of working together? How can you state you are designing the ultimate new way of working while promoting an emerging set of digital technologies when you end up working in exactly the very same way you have done it in the last 15 to 20 years, if not longer? Why bother? Seriously. Why bother at all? It’s like as if you were heavily promoting the extensive use of all of these digital technologies at work to help improve the way you connect, learn, share and collaborate with others and yet your number #1 tool you still heavily use on a daily basis is *cough* email *cough*.

    I tell you, if someone would have told me, ahead of the time, what a huge challenge would be working remotely in the realm of Social Business and Digital Transformation I think I would have probably switched off a long long time ago and moved on to better things. That lack of coherence and dishonesty to our core beliefs are just killing us, social business evangelists, big time and, somehow, we just don’t seem to want to wake up and do something about it. Don’t worry, in an upcoming blog post I will let you all folks know what I am doing at the moment to overcome this particular drawback. Can you already hint what it is? 

  • Lack of Discipline: Ok, let’s now move into the more down to earth, mundane downsides of doing freelance work and see what’s out there. Remember when I mentioned free time in a previous article around the perks of freelance work? Well, lack of discipline is one of its worst enemies altogether, more than anything else, because, unless you do something about it, it will manage to destroy your focus and dedication to your client work with a multitude of distractions that will be hard to beat till you realise it’s just too late. 

    That’s one of the reasons why I think plenty of freelancers are so keen on coworking spaces in the first place, because somehow there is a specific discipline in the air to get work done together but still separate, if you know what I mean, and therefore eliminate the urge for any kind of distraction or goofing off. The fact that others are working around you in the same space makes you give in to that thought of not wanting to slack off nor lazy around, to just go for coffee breaks whenever everyone else is having one (GREAT opportunity to converse and connect, by the way!) and to put similar amounts of work like everyone else is doing and eventually conform to an office-like environment where you know lack of discipline is no longer welcomed, nor encouraged.

    You may be wondering by now whether that’s how I have overcome that lack of discipline while freelancing, right? No, I don’t use any coworking space at the moment, even though there are a couple of them right where I live. What I have done instead is build a number of different routines I have developed over the years to help me focus on what I am working on at the moment. That’s why I depend so much on the Pomodoro Technique. That’s why I also rely quite heavily on the effective power of music, for instance, to help me eliminate distractions and really focus on what I need to do in the moment. And the list of routines goes on and on and on. I think I could probably write an entire blog post just on this subject, so I’m going to park it over here for now and come back to it with a follow-up entry at a later time. 

  • Procrastination: Oh my, talking about writing an entire blog post on a specific subject! How about on procrastination itself? Yeah, I know, I bet plenty of you folks out there could write another article about it and how you try to beat it successfully. And yet, it just doesn’t happen. I think it would be silly at this point in time not to realise and acknowledge we all are professional procrastinators. The thing is that while you can certainly bump into dozens, if not hundreds or thousands, of articles, blog posts and whatever other publications about how you can stop procrastinating and keep working further along, over time I have learned about something else that works for me way way better: embrace it! Yes, that’s right! If we are all chronic procrastinators having mastered its art over time, why not try to make the most out of it?

    This may sound a bit too weird, but mastering the art of procrastination has helped me, over time, become much more effective and creative altogether. If anything, it’s helped me understand how there is good and bad procrastination and how, over time, I have become a huge fan of learning ‘how to procrastinate well’. Have you tried it out yourself? Believe me, it just works! 

  • Self-pity: You know those times when things are running far too slow in terms of clients asking for your help, support and guidance or when freelance work just doesn’t come up often enough and you start wondering about whether you really have it or not? You know those times when you are on the brink of giving up on freelancing because you keep thinking you are not good enough for it, or you don’t have the right skills, expertise, mindset, networks (to help out and assist where appropriate), etc. etc. Or perhaps you even thought you made the wrong decision about going freelance in the first place and you should be doing something else elsewhere? Well, folks, that’s when you’d know you are entering the world of self-pity. Welcome to the club!

    I tell you, I don’t know a single freelancer out there (me included as well for sure!) who may not have gone through that phase of self-pity, specially, when there is no paid work coming along for an extended period of time. It usually comes in the most unsuspicious ways: thinking too hard too often. Thinking about your current situation; about why you are not getting enough client work any longer; about why hardly anyone comes to you anymore and asks you to speak at an upcoming conference event or to write an article for an online publication, for example; about why no-one asks you to help them, where you can, with their own projects collaborating together; finally, about why, all of a sudden, it feels as if you have disappeared entirely from the scene as if you never existed. My goodness, self-pity can have such a destructive flair to it, can’t it? Well, it doesn’t end up there. 

    Then there is the doubt. That same doubt about whether you may have made the right decision in the first place when you decided to go freelance, as I have already mentioned above. Or when you start questioning your own skills, experience and expertise thinking that perhaps you may not have it after all and that it may well be a good time to move on to other things whatever those may well be. Or when you think you are living in a bubble that has got its days numbered and it’s about to burst, if not already! Or even when you think that some of your most innovative, refreshing, new, profound radical thinking just ends up in the same gutter as everything else. Or, even worse, when you start questioning whether loneliness is harming you more than whatever you may have  thought of in the past. Loneliness as in ‘Who is going to hire this person who goes solo?’ Why is he / she not working with an agency? We only do work with consulting agencies anyway, right? So why bother? 

    Gosh, I know what you are thinking, self-pity can have such a destructive power of the self that it’s just mind-blowing. And while I surely agree with that sentiment, doing some self-pity every now and then shouldn’t necessarily be something negative. On the contrary. It helps you to constantly question AND challenge what you do, to confirm whether we feel we are on the right track, whether we have made the right decisions, or whether we need to perform a number of different changes before we move on. The issue with self-pity though is when you dive into it for far too long that you give up on either moving on or making some changes. Well, whenever that’s happening, the best thing one can do to revert course, move on and get back in business is to eventually rely on your own social networks, more than anything else because they know you better than anyone else and at the same time there isn’t anything more satisfying than relying on their power to get you out of such black hole as self-pity. So handle it with care and whenever you feel you are just going down on a spiral of negativity, reach out to your trusted networks, because, if anything, they are the ones who care the most about you. One conversation at a time. 
     

  • Payment Methods: This particular drawback of doing freelance work may not necessarily apply to vast majority of freelancers out there, at least, as far as I can see, since most of them have got a very clear payment method based on either an hourly rate or a daily one. If you work under either model I don’t think payment methods would be an issue other than, you know, getting paid on time, which certainly can be one of the most poignant disadvantages of freelancing by itself as well, as I keep reading different reports on taking between 60 to 90 days to get paid. Ouch! 

    However, that’s not the main downside I’d want to highlight in terms of payment methods. To me, it’s slightly different. You see? I don’t usually work with either the hourly or daily rates. I much prefer to set my fees based on the overall outcomes of the project or its different deliverables, but also within a timeline manner. The drawback is that most firms are not very much used to that kind of payment method resulting in a good number of unnecessary bureaucratic paperwork that sometimes can delay a project for a certain amount of time. And while I usually explain straight up front why I don’t work with hourly or daily rates (mostly due to time constraints, which I will develop further in an upcoming blog entry to explain more in detail how I work through payments), it’s still a bit time consuming helping folks understand new ways of doing work and getting paid accordingly. 

    How do I break free through this downside? Usually, through one or two additional conversations with the client explaining the advantages of the pricing I enjoy using the most, which is the one that allows me to focus on the work to be done for the client without not necessarily worrying too much about the time constraint, but, instead, focus on the quality of the overall outcome(s). If there is anything I have learned over the course of time in the area of Social Business and Digital Transformation is that you just can’t hurry things too much, because, after all, we are running a marathon here, not just sprints, and some times you need to allow enough time to take place before you can show and demonstrate the real impact of the work you are doing. A single week, month, quarter won’t cut it, I am afraid. So why the time pressure of working through the ruthless law of either hourly or daily rates when we could instead focus on change programs where the quality of the deliverables becomes much more important than the time spent executing on them? I wish I were more effective in being able to communicate why I prefer this payment method over others … Still tons of room for improvement on this one, I can tell you. 

  • Free work: And, finally, the last, but not least important, of the downsides of freelance work for this time around. One that I am pretty sure would come up on the Top 3 pet peeves for most freelancers out there. One that annoys plenty of people to no end, if anything, because of the lack of respect for one’s rights to get a decent payment for the work one gets to deliver on. Of course, I’m talking about the constant requests to work for free for other people. Yes, I know, 2016 and it still is a thing. 

    Somehow there seems to be that expectation that whether your are in pursuit of cheap, or whether you are just getting started with your freelance career, or whether you would want to ask for a few minutes of someone’s time or pick someone’s brain, you name it, you will always get asked about working for free for people, even if you know things just don’t work that way anymore.

    The exposure economy can only take you up to so far, I am afraid, before you realise you can no longer pay the monthly bills. At that point, and thanks to those many many requests still coming through to work for free, you know you are in (big) trouble, because people would still expect you to work for them for free, as it will be good exposure for you, while the unpaid bills tend to accumulate. And before you know it, you are doomed. Freelance work should not be like that. We should pretty much respect and treasure people’s time, hard work, effort, energy and, overall, their own lifetime work experience and get paid accordingly. It’s the least we could all do to recognise and appreciate both people and the good work they do. Anything else is an open call for even bigger trouble.

    Of course, I, too, have been asked to work for free as a freelancer in numerous occasions, although things have slowed down a fair bit at the moment with perhaps two or three requests per week. Mind you, I fully realise it’s very difficult to break the chain of working for free. And don’t take me wrong, it doesn’t necessarily imply I won’t be doing any kind of free work, on the contrary, I’m rather keen on doing it as long as there is a single premise in place that would give me the heads up: that is, I know you really really well and I truly love what you are doing. Anything else would need to be discussed and settled down for payment. No exceptions, I am afraid. Just like everyone else, there are plenty of bills to pay month in month out and that’s something that we all ought to respect and acknowledge for everyone, even freelancers. 

    There is a blog draft I’m putting together to talk at length about this particular downside on its own, more than anything else because it’s an important topic we only keep hearing about from one side of the story without getting the other and I feel, as I am getting closer to my 4th year of freelancing, it needs to get the word out and have a conversation about it, as opposed to just take things for granted. We shouldn’t. We should just take a moment to understand the context and the circumstances as to why people do the work they do and eventually appreciate and recognise it accordingly. It’s not that difficult, nor challenging, right? 

 

And that’s it! Those are some of the downsides I can think of at the moment about doing freelance work. And while I fully realise this blog post may be coming across as somewhat negative, it’s not meant to be. By far. It’s more about exposing some of the issues, the drawbacks, the disadvantages, the challenges, but also the opportunities about freelancing we all have in order to start the conversations on how we can all improve the state of the present of work today to then perhaps still have a future tomorrow, specially, if we all keep claiming the so-called future of work is the gig economy. Is it? If so, we still have got plenty of good work to get done! So let’s get down to it, please!

Here is a final, open reflection for you folks out there who may have been reading this article thus far: What’s the main downside of doing freelance work you may have experienced yourself in the last few months? Or to put it in other words, if you could address a single disadvantage of freelancing, which one would you choose right now and why?

0 votes
Read More »

The Perks of Freelance Work

Gran Canaria - Cruz Grande in the winter

 

As I am getting closer to my third year anniversary as a freelancer, and since I also mentioned how every now and then I may write a blog entry here and there to share some additional insights on what it is like the life of an independent adviser (around Social Business and Digital Transformation, in this case, for yours truly), I thought I would go ahead and share across this article today where I would like to reflect on some of the perks I have enjoyed myself the most about being a freelancer in the so-called gig economy. Don’t worry, I know what you are thinking as well, that’s why I am also planning on reflecting on some of its various disadvantages no-one seems to be telling you about just as you keep wondering whether it’s a good time, or not, to start your own freelancing career and leave behind your job as a salaried employee. All in all, and through this blogging exercise, I am hoping to provide a somewhat balanced overview on what it is like being an independent and, essentially, share a few of the things I have learned along over the course of these last three years. Time more than enough, I would think, to confirm whether freelancing really is the future of work or just another buzzword, overhyped to no end, as we try to figure out what’s the Future of Work going to look like, potentially, instead of, perhaps, doing something a bit more meaningful and purposeful as we help redefine the Present of Work itself. What do you think? Hype or sharp reality then? 

Before you answer those questions, though, allow me to expand further along on those perks I have enjoyed the most from being a freelancer myself over the course of the last three years, and then see how many of them you would be able to extrapolate yourself as well to your own working life as a full time worker, so that we can decide whether being an independent is much different, or not, than being a salaried employee. Something tells me both worlds are not that far off from one another, but let’s have a look into some of them and see how many would apply to you folks out there working in a full time job. Mind you, this is not, by all means, an exhaustive listing of all the perks I can think of. There are plenty more, I am certain, but since I have to get started somewhere I will venture with the first ten I can think of from the top of my head and I will add a short paragraph describing each of them as an opportunity to unpack plenty of these thoughts in upcoming follow-up blog posts as part of the series. Then, at a later time, I may put together another article where I can include whatever other perks I can think of I may have left behind…

Thus without much further ado, here are some of my favourite perks of being a freelancer with a short explanation detailing why, because, you know, it all starts by asking ‘why?’. So here are my ‘why?’s
 

  • Freedom: This is, perhaps, my all time favourite perk from being a freelancer and by far! Freedom. And it’s not necessarily about doing whatever you want, but more along the lines of deciding what you love doing, as in what you enjoy the most in investing your time, effort and energy and then do it! Yes, I fully realise that plenty of people would advise you that things don’t work out that way in most cases, but then again you can prove them wrong. It’s that kind of freedom where you embark on doing what you love. Period. No exceptions. 
  • Flexibility: My second favourite perk of being a freelancer and it looks like I’m not the only one who enjoys it. The best thing about flexibility is that it allows you to learn, through firsthand experience, how you really work, and perhaps much more importantly, it helps you also understand your own productivity and creativity peaks. It helps you comprehend, and fully embrace, how you may have slow days where hardly anything happens and you are lucky if you clock a couple of hours of good work, and then you have got days when you clock in 12, 14 or 16 hours of really good work as if the day just went by in a flash and you are as fresh as when the day got started! If only we were more open and keen on learning about how our very own circadian rhythms work. Something tells me we would all be much better off altogether. 

  • Purpose: It all starts with purpose. With having a purpose, more specifically, whether you are freelancing or working as a full time employee in a firm. And while it’s really tough to go through that phase of self-discovery of your own ‘why?’, it’s one of those exercises you can’t skip just like that. The nice perk of finding your own purpose as a freelancer is that it’s you the one who decides what your own purpose should be all about while trying the match the needs and wants of your clients. There is an inefable symbiosis between both of them that hardly anyone can fight, so the sooner we get to embrace how our collective purpose is to serve others into achieving a specific goal, whatever that may well be, the better. That’s what I like the most from the whole exercise: co-create your own purpose with your clients. Help them help you find your ‘why?
  • Meaning: I bet, at one point in time, we all have asked ourselves how we may find real meaning at work and how some of us may have made it through, or not. What I like about this particular perk, as a freelancer, is that I have a chance to define for myself what meaningful work would be all about. At least, for me, along the lines of ‘Why do I still get up in the morning?’ or ‘What can kind of impact, or legacy, do I want to leave behind for others to benefit from when I am long gone? It’s a tough call, I tell you, but questioning it every single day is totally worth it on its own, even though you may not have an answer for it just yet while you keep trying; just the fact you are questioning it for yourself is a small victory already on its own, because vast majority of people have already long time ago forgotten about what it is like having meaningful work and seeing the huge % of disengaged employees it’s no wonder we still don’t spend more time trying to figure it out. That’s why I’m grateful I had the chance to challenge myself to find my own meaning. Have I been successful? Well, maybe. I will leave it down to you all to answer that one for me… 
  • Networking: This week is Working Out Loud Week (#WOLWeek) and this year’s focus is all about working through some different routines to help you become more effective at what you do already by exposing and narrating your own work, by becoming more open, public and transparent about what you do and eventually entice you into making more connections by helping you build, nurture and cultivate different personal business relationships that, over the course of time, would potentially become your own social networks. You already know the gimmick, ‘I am made greater by the sum of my connections, and so are my connections.

    Well, the world of freelancing is no different, perhaps even more prominent, because, you know, you are just yourself out there in a brave new world of trying to make ends meet month in month out and, as such, networking for us all freelancers is no longer a nice-thing-to-have, but an essential, critical skill to master in this day and age as my good friend Harold Jarche demonstrates repeatedly with #PKMastery. So if there is anything in this regard I appreciate quite a bit is the opportunity to be constantly networking with people, as I have written rather extensively in this blog for a good while already, and let it down to both curiosity and serendipity to do the magic

  • Focus: It wasn’t easy at the very beginning, and probably rightly so! Doing freelance work in the age of far too many distractions floating all over the place requires plenty of discipline, hard work and dedication. That’s why focus was perhaps one of the most unexpected perks I acquired, as freelance work kicked in, right from the start. Learning how to work alone can prove to be rather helpful as well. Fully embracing deep work will be another blessing to add into the mix, mostly, because it will help you fight one of the biggest myths of today’s workplace: our ability to multitask.

    Yes, it’s a myth. Get used to it. A myth that’s bad for our brain and, overall, for our very own health. That’s one of the reasons why, back in the day, I switched into single-tasking, through the well known Pomodoro Technique, to, eventually, get work done, task by task, much more effectively altogether. So when doing client work it’s amazing what being focused on the task at hand can do to your overall effectiveness, productivity and morale. The fact you can produce and create a whole lot more in less time, finally, allows me to embrace, fully, the good old mantra I have written about over here a few times already: ‘work smarter, not necessarily harder’. 

  • Free Time: One of the immediate outcomes, and wonderful consequences, of becoming more focused on the tasks at hand, when working with clients, is that, all of a sudden, you realise you are starting to free up plenty more time that you can then dedicate it to other activities whether work related, or not. That’s why I’m spending a whole lot more time outdoors (as you can see from my Instagram and Flickr accounts), exercising (running, too!) early in the morning while keeping up with some other healthy habits, which I can confirm have got plenty of additional great benefits to help me learn more or be even more productive, such as sleep, idle time, walking the dog, blogging, etc. etc.   
  • Learning: Now, you would remember how, not long ago, I wrote a blog entry over here about ‘Learning is the work’ to describe plenty of the work related activities I have embarked on since I went independent that have transformed themselves as well into learning opportunities. Well, that’s another perk of being a freelancer, that constant, lifelong learning experience where curiosity about everything that’s around you and your business (after 17 years of being a salaried employee) entices you to want to learn more.

    It’s an everlasting activity that’s nicely complemented with the free time I mentioned above, because, all of a sudden, you realise things slow down a fair bit to help you see them with a different perspective, reflect and learn accordingly whatever may be happening around you and your work. And there is a bit of everything in there: good practices, worst practices (Yeah, I know, I just made up that word, but you will find out pretty soon why!), lessons learned, opportunities, challenges, personal development, you name it. They say the moment you stop learning at work, that’s the moment you start dying a little bit inside. I can tell you though there is never a dull moment when doing freelance work, which I guess it’s good news! 

  • Reading: If I were to name another unexpected perk of becoming a freelancer that I have enjoyed tremendously over the course of the last three years that would be the one about reading. Again, thanks to having the opportunity of freeing up more time, as I have mentioned above, it’s given me the enormous pleasure of rekindling my love for reading (whether business related or not!) and not just books, but also articles, white papers, reports, studies, research, publications and whatever else.

    One immediate benefit of such an increase of my own reading activities is that I have noticed how much richer my blog posts have become with plenty of links shared across about items I find interesting and relevant, which is brilliant because it helps me add further nuances on already existing conversations hoping to add my two cents worth of additional commentary. The same would go for curating hyperlinks to helpful reading materials I may want to come back to over time, like I have mentioned in previous blog posts with Slack becoming my personal knowledge hub as an example.

    But who knew that reading would be one of our secret weapons? That writing about what we read is a very powerful learning activity? That reading a book can be a healthy activity in the long run? That it will trigger your brain activity with a boost? That you would become more empathic altogether? Or happier? Whoahhh! See what reading can do to you?

    [PS: If you are wondering why I haven’t shared any recent review of the books I have read in the last couple of years, just to get a taste of what I’ve been interested in so far, don’t worry, that’s coming up soon! I’m just trying to figure out the best way of recommending those books I find interesting and relevant without having to maintain, yet again, another online presence]

  • Work – Life Integration: And, finally, one of my favourite topics of conversation from over the course of years, the well known dilemma of work – life balance, whether it really exists or whether it’s another myth we have bought into. As a starting point, I should add I don’t believe in work – life balance itself, more than anything else because there isn’t such balance, work always wins, even for freelancers. It’s all about integration though. It’s about understanding how flexibility kicks in to help you define when to work, when not to work, and integrate them accordingly and make the most out of it. Let me share an example with you on what I mean…

    Back when I was a salaried employee, I was working remotely already from Gran Canaria, Spain, and, as you can imagine I thought, at the time, I had a pretty good balance between both work and life. Yeah, I can see plenty of you thought the same thing. However, little did I know that when I, finally, went independent I would truly understand the whole notion behind work – life integration and it has all got to do with breaking up with the Cult of Busyness. Because, with it, we have got to add into the mix feeling overworked, stressed out, unhappy, miserable, dangerously unwell, addicted, etc. etc.

    It’s all about Quality of Life. And I do realise it’s all easier said than done, but being a freelancer over the course of last three years has helped me, at long last, fully understand as well, some times through trial error, silly thoughts, utopian ideas and other crazy thoughts, how, perhaps, working hard has never been the answer; how we should treasure more the one finite resource we have got allocated upon us (i.e. time) versus other material goods, including money; how we need to stop telling people how busy we all are we just can’t get work done altogether, and how we may have other choices.

    Interesting and rather thought provoking choices like learning how to break our addiction to work, how a potential solution to vast majority of our business problems today may well be to work less, or even mastering the art of doing less, who knows. Or perhaps we should start questioning harder why is it we keep treasuring that Cult of Business as if there is not tomorrow, when it’s been demonstrated, time and time again, how the world’s most productive countries also have the shortest workdays, never mind the happiness factor.

    Yes, I know, you can now see for yourselves, firsthand, what my mind keeps buzzing around while in between client projects. You know, that’s what freelancers (and salaried employees, too, I am certain!) do on a rather frequent basis, when the right conditions AND context are provided: think about the what next?

 

Being a freelancer has got lots of perks, with an increase on Quality of Life perhaps being my all time favourite one so far, as you can hint from the above long list, which will keep growing, the list, that is, as I have come up with a few more already that I will be putting together in an upcoming blog post to keep describing what it is like being part of the so-called gig economy. But, at the same time, there are also some disadvantages. Plenty of them, actually. Of course, it is not a rosy world where everything works just right, so I will also be putting together another article where I will list and detail some of those cons. As you can see, it’s all about striking that balance and ponder whether it’s worth the effort becoming a freelancer to enjoy the various different advantages while putting up with the burden of some of those challenges themselves I will be talking about shortly. It’s a thin line, I can tell you that, but, at the same time, these past three years have been one of the most rewarding periods of time from my 20 years work experience in the IT industry to the point where it may well have been the best decision I have ever made. And by far. Going freelance.

Now, here’s a final reflection, as an open question, I’d want to leave you all with: what’s your favourite perk of being a freelancer or a salaried employee?

Will both of them ever blend together to become one?

0 votes
Read More »