Dinusha: How can you promote flexibility in a deadline-driven environment?
Bridget: Flexibility takes time. It is not something that you can incorporate from the get-go. It is value-driven and communication-driven. I would say that the majority of the project work that is going through Expert360 - which is an on-demand platform of consultants - is deadline-driven.
And I'll allude to this more in presentation, but it's just around clarity in the deliverables and KPIs. You need to determine what "good" looks like and what the expectation is. And this is then where the character and values come into play. You need to be able to drive accountability and trust that people will execute and deliver on that.
Dinusha: I would love to hear some of your insights as you are on the bleeding edge of the on-demand workforce with Expert360 - so I think you have a unique view in all of this.
Bridget: Thank you Dinusha, and thanks so much Tristan. So much of what you spoke about resonated with me, especially what you focused on about culture and making people feel important and connected. You know, I started Expert360 three years ago and I underestimated these values when we first started off. We've now gone from 0 to 50, 10 of whom are working from the Phillipines working remotely and the majority in Sydney. I'll talk a lot more in the environment in which we are operating, what's happening in the workplace, and tapping into talent external to your business.
I'll just then talk a little bit about, how a small to medium business can think of a framework to think about bringing on external talent. And then just some top tips.
Emily - my cofounder and I - and I first started Expert360 three years ago, when looked around in our lives, and saw how we were interacting with things in our lives was less about ownership and more about access. Whether it was in a personal capacity with Uber, or GoCatch, to Dimmi and AirBNB, to the on-demand economy moving into business world through Amazon Web Services how you no longer need to run servers in your office, and pay for things only when you needed it. Personally that makes a lot of sense, but even more so for businesses.
What Emily and I started to think about is how this affects people. We looked at the trends and we saw there was huge research where we surveyed Australian small business study. We studied how much of their business was core or permanent and how many was external or on-demand. An increasing percentage was freelance, more or less 40%.
The other interesting piece as well was that traditionally on-demand workers were more blue collar workers, admin workers and even creative workers, but it is now moving upmarket to higher skilled, more white collar workers. Which is good news for people and good news for business.
One of the big things driving this shift is that work is no longer a place, and a job is not necessarily for life or for a decade. In terms of work no longer being a place, Tristan and Physio co. do that wonderfully, I mean we used to go to work because our tools were there, our computer, our desk etc. But we now have that in a format where we can chuck it in a bag and take work with us. If we don't have a physical need to be somewhere, then this is one of the biggest shifts in work in the past 200 years.
Which is exciting!
We've also got a new generation seeking flexibility and choice. By age 30, millennial have made an average of 6.4 job changes. People are looking to incorporate more into their lives. This isn't something to be scared of or to shy away from, but this is something you need incorporate into how you think about building your business. And we'll only see this number grow as people have more portfolio careers.
When I started working at Bain & Co before I started at Expert360, businesses saw this as a really big threat. They thought, "people are going to leave us every year or every two, then that is just not cost effective for us." Partly this provides a threat in a sense that businesses need to adapt, but it also provides us with a really good opportunity.
Being able to access talent on demand was actually a big advantage for small businesses, because they didn't need to get approval from a management team or go through processes. They could just jump onto Odesk, or Freelancer, or Expert360 to engage someone, and they could just do this nimbly and quickly. Traditionally, talent was locked up in large companies, and how Australian talent is available to all businesses, waiting to be snapped up.
The turnaround time for engaging people on an on-demand basis, on average is only 48 hours so you can move pretty quickly. You can test it out, and you can continue the relationship or you can end the engagement as previously agreed.
I would also like to outline what's good for on-demand and what's not.
The type of things good for on-demand is short-term or project based. You might not have a need for full-time capacity, or might not be able to afford a full time hire, but need to access these skills.
We found that Marketing is a high growth category. Things like digital strategy - 2 weeks - help us think about our digital presence. Could be help us with our Google ranking, or someone a day a week for 6 months, to help us with our SEO or traditional strategy.
Finance is another one. In the early days, a lot of companies need someone to help them. You can't really get your finances wrong. There are a lot of on demand CFOs, which we found are good.
Also HR, helping set up new HR policies or entering new markets such as China.
Things that are not conducive to on-demand, we learn the hard way.
We learnt this from using freelance platforms, and building Expert360. These are jobs where long term relationships are important. Or whether a slow-ramp up in productivity. Or even where deep knowledge of the business is important.
Things like Software engineering - and this is just my perspective, and I welcome other perspectives - but their roles are better for in-house. Sales as well. Often one the first/second/third hire is how do we get our product out there. We found that it didn't work correctly. Operations, c-level as well.
We just wanted to share a few things that wouldn't be possible a few years ago.
For example, Marketing Research - where you're able to get a top-tier marketing strategist to come into your business for a few days to a week to perform market research for you for only a few thousand dollars. You might need to add some professionalism to your finances, and get assistance on financial analysis and modelling - to help with cash flow, or P&L balance sheet. You might receive an e-commerce business review, running a small site it may be important to get that optimised. Workshop Design, to help you run an offsite to help with your 2-3 year strategy. Marketing support, where you might not be able to hire a CMO or a full time marketer.
I just wanted to share that to show you things that are possible. This is obviously really experienced professionals, coming in and helping, advising, and doing. If you're talking about lower skill, such as data entry, or copywriting, a lot of that is possible, and we do it extensively through Odesk which we are a big fan up. Leveraging and setting yourself up for success, by tapping into these external resources, to help you grow and execute in the medium and long term is a no brainer.
You need to create that space and set it up correctly, and set it up for success. You'll make some mistakes when you first start, but we try to help you so you can get what you want out of it. We made makes when we first used Odesk as well, trying to figure out how to have a good experience and to deliver great work. It's definitely a learning process.
Just to talk about the softer side, of engaging people and building a community. This is obviously a harder, and more tactical elements. As you kick off, set clear quantitative goals.
For example, if you needed to do a survey for market research, you need to figure out how many respondents you want - is it 20, is it 50, is it 100? What does success look like and how do we measure it. How do we measure your work, and clear deliverables. I think one of the biggest learnings for people, as they tap into the white collar gig economy, is to be really clear on expectation of work.
Introduce them to key stakeholders, even if you are managing them. Introduce them to 2-3 other people so you will help them set context on the work they are doing. And then in terms of actually collaborating, there are amazing terms, Skype, Slack, Jira, Google Drive. I really recommend people to use these tools so that people feel connected to you. Always be meeting at critical points, and drive accountability and don't micromanage.
You have to tightly align them really clearly what needs to be done, and then let them know you're there to provide support for them to drive that project through.
Dinushi: Just on that last point on micromanagement, do you have KPIs that you can put in place to track regularly, and how often do you need to track them to get the most out of the mobile workforce.
Bridget: That's a good question. I don't think you can spend enough time mapping out success to show what success looks like. Unless you know what success looks like, you can't pull yourself up when you fail but you can't celebrate success.
We recognise that no-one in our business has more than 2 or 3 in top of mind. It's really simple. For our marketing team, it's client sign ups, and consultant sign ups. For our product team, is active monthly users who post projects every month and engage.
Dinushi: We also have another question from one of our attendees. They saying, if staff are working from home, how are you managing the health & safety issues at home. This applies more for in-house. As I understand it, there was a journalist on the news who sued her employer for twisting her ankle while working from home. How do you go about protecting your business that way?
Bridget: Wow, I have not actually considered about these issues. I'll say one or two things about this though. We have a team in the Philippines, where we ask them about their working environment, their productivity and their happiness, rather than safety is itself.
Dinushi: How has your embrace of flexible work given more people from different genders, backgrounds and abilities a fair go.
Bridget: I give insight in two areas: our workers in the Philippines and of our consultants. I'll start with our consultants. Our mission and vision for the company is that if you are highly skilled, highly ambitious and you want to work on important challenges with like-minded people that you should be able to get flexibility in your work.
We are going to look back in a 5-10 years time and think, "gosh, you graduated in the top of your class, and was on the rung to the top, but you didn't have a choice as to whether you work 60 hour weeks, for how many days a week, and how many week a year, day in day out, at a particular office at a particular street."
I think we're going to look back and think that was crazy. You know with Expert360, for us, is about making work more human - at that white collar level. For some people, it may be managing their career with adventure or entrepreneurship. At the next level, could be having three kids and how you are going to attack a $10,000 big project from home and still provide great value for a business in need.
A lot of great stories we've heard at Expert360 revolve around the theme of "Wow, you've helped me. I love working with small business that I could not have in my own work".
On the Filipino side, it's a cool story there. For anyone who has worked with off-shore teams, you will know how this may positively affect people's lives. My EA is a single mum that supports 7 family members. She got paid maternity leave (which is not standard in the Philippines). She's able to move classes, and it is a once in a lifetime opportunity to change her life.
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