Category Archives: New World of Work

Building Virtual Bench Strength

Many small businesses are doing what they can to keep things going in the face of one of the worst economic downturns in our lifetimes, but with so many elements of uncertainty many are loathe to make full time hires or resume their pre-recession growth trajectories. And yet, there is still work to be done. While we wait to see what will happen with health care reformlabor lawstax changes and other variables, it is important to keep moving, stay focused, and explore other ways to get things done.

One way to keep projects moving and stay on track is through the use of virtual teams and the thousands of freelancers around the world who are eager to ply their craft, but have been sidelined as a result of the economy and job market.

I see a tremendous opportunity through virtual outsourcing, for small- to mid-sized businesses as well as freelancers and solopreneurs.

Since I started my business in March 2010, I’ve tested a number of these online resources, such as oDeskGuru,99designs and several others. In many cases, you will find very capable US-based freelancers registered on these sites as contractors and service providers. And in many cases, using these services is not the cheapest option. I have had some projects go very smoothly, and others that (four months later) are still not complete. And in that timeframe, I have learned some things that I am going to share with you.

  1. Have a plan. This would seem pretty obvious, but in the US workplace we’re so used to ambiguity and lack of specificity in job assignments that it’s tempting to apply the same approach with virtual team support. Don’t! If you cannot create a “paint by the numbers” plan for the project that spells out the goals, elements and deliverables then you are kidding yourself if you think the person on the other end is just going to figure it out for themselves. It is up to you to spell it out, and be as specific as possible in defining the scope of work and what the finished product should look like.
  2. Use specific questions to narrow the field. Many times, freelancers and virtual teams will simply bid on every project that is posted, and they will decide later (once they’ve made the cut for interviews) whether they can actually do the project. Eliminate these pikers right up front by putting questions in the original job posting that they need to answer in their response. No answers, no need to pursue further. If they won’t pay attention to details when they are eager to win your business, how attentive will they be once you’ve paid them?
  3. Set a price for the project, don’t go hourly. It is very tempting when you see the hourly rates that are posted on services like oDesk to just create an open-ended project … after all, for $3.50 an hour or sometimes as high as $11.00 an hour you can get lulled into the sense that you are getting “cheap labor.” And that’s true to a point. However, what you will find is that there’s a pretty significant delta between our expectations in US business (including research, writing, marketing, etc.) that doesn’t necessarily resonate in other parts of the world. What that means is that you will end up paying someone for 20 hours to learn what it is that they need to be doing, when you could have hired a US-based “VA” (virtual assistant) or an intern to perform that same task in a couple of hours. So, bottom line: set a price that you are willing to pay and make it a project price not an hourly rate. You will weed out the people who don’t have the ability to get it done, AND you will create an incentive for fast delivery because the project is only fully paid upon completion.

More tips later. Like”Keep an open line for communication.” and “Check the work in progress and be specific about changes.” What questions would you like to ask? What tips would you share based on your experience?

Alternative Workforce Strategies

Alternative Workforce Strategies: Earning Opportunities in the Knowledge Work Era

Key aspects of the traditional job market have been changing for several decades, enabled and increasingly required as a response to global competition, the ability to source labor in lower cost areas, and the willingness of employers to “de-compartmentalize” aspects of a business process and outsource them. This trend has only been accelerated by technology and telecommunications tools that enable work to occur anytime, anywhere and in the most efficient setting possible.

This is being seen in three areas that have a direct implication for job creation in the traditional sense:

1.         Technology is being used to augment or replace roles that were previously filled by a person, such as administrative assistants, travel agents, assembly workers, bank tellers, toll booth attendants, retail clerks, etc.

2.         Work is being “off-shored” or otherwise assigned where it can be achieved at a lower cost, and companies are increasingly outsourcing work that is not a core competency or profit center for the business. This is being seen in the health care industry (e.g., medical records transcription and radiology interpretation) as well as in professional services such as accounting, law, and business consulting.

3.         Entire work processes have been transferred to lower cost areas of production, such as the manufacture and assembly of electronics and components, and these jobs are not likely to return to the US.

Today’s freelance and crowdsourcing approach to project work includes a variety of activities, many of which are a natural complement to current social media practices and technology. There are dozens of areas where crowdsourcing is supporting or supplanting traditional roles and employment opportunities, such as advertising, programming, writing, research, design, product development, and data analysis. Technology makes it possible to source this work instantly via alternative workforce strategies and contingent staffing models.

Project and contract assignments generally fall into one of the following categories:

(1)   Transactional: tasks that can be delegated or assigned to an individual or entity with specific instructions and expectations for the completed work

(2)   Relational: projects and tasks that are interpersonal in nature, and frequently require interaction and collaboration among more than one team member to complete the work

(3)   Creative: requires intellectual and/or creative content from an individual, often based on ambiguous instructions or loose guidelines

Work in 2020

Currently about 20-30% of the workforce in Fortune 100 companies is made up of “contingent” workers; that percentage is expected to swell to 50% by 2020.

If you’re a corporate manager in the future, you may need to make decisions regularly about whether your needs can be addressed by a “virtual” freelancer … or a former colleague who became a contractor after getting laid off. You may even have both types of contingent workers on your team, working alongside a few highly compensated company employees. As a result, you’ll need to manage folks with widely varying economic realities and pressures simultaneously. Their motivations may be very different.

Or, if your company gets leaner, you may be among the freelancers being managed.

Read more here.

Digital Era Competencies

Do you have the knowledge, skills and abilities necessary for success in the Digital Era? Regardless of the sector you work in, your professional discipline, your place in the organizational hierarchy – and to some extent your career stage – there is a core set of competencies necessary to effectively leverage new technologies to achieve your goals and objectives. This post highlights some of those competencies in four general categories – concepts, platforms, tools, and skills – in addition to identifying unique competencies for managers and leaders.

The New Digital Divide: Thoughts for Leaders and Laggards was inspired in part by efforts to help individuals and organizations adapt to Digital Era realities and adopt new social and digital technologies and tools. At the end of that piece: the importance of leadership – including self-leadership – in bridging and crossing the divide. As new technologies increasingly permeate every aspect of our personal and professional lives, it is incumbent upon all of us to prepare ourselves to be successful in the Digital Era – not just as workers, but also as citizens and community members. No matter what our starting point may be, we must take it upon ourselves to understand new digital technologies and make educated and informed choices about which technologies we will embrace and leverage. We must also commit to learning and excelling at the competencies necessary for Digital Era success.

There is a need to think about a new set of core competencies required for success in the Digital Era. As social tools and other digital technologies become more integrated into our work lives, it has become increasingly evident that developing certain knowledge, skills and abilities is important for a wide range of professionals in multiple disciplines and at all levels.

These competencies, however, seem to get short shrift in articles and discussions about social business and enterprise 2.0 applications, which tend to emphasize the importance of cultural values like openness and transparency. As I have argued in different ways elsewhere (like this post), it’s possible to successfully leverage new digital tools and technologies even in organizations with more closed, traditional cultures. But it’s almost impossible to be successful if people don’t understand what those tools are and how they can use them. Culture may eat strategy for breakfast, but when it comes to digital technology, competencies eat culture for lunch.

Digital Era Competencies

When I developed this social media and online communities curriculum in early 2011, I created a core set of competencies to organize specific study topics. Many of these competencies are relevant even for folks who don’t have a professional focus on social media and community management. By their very nature, 2.0 technologies promote a DIY (do-it-yourself) approach to a variety of tasks that used to be delegated to people with specific technical skills. With more sophisticated and user-friendly tools at our disposal, we’re more autonomous and able to get work done more quickly and accurately – but only if we know what we’re doing!

It’s not the case that everyone has to embody all the competencies or master them to the same degree, but the stronger people’s working knowledge is in each of these areas, the more effectively they will be able to leverage new technologies to achieve their goals and objectives. This is as true for an organizational leader, who has to set strategic direction and allocate resources, as it is for a middle manager who wants to communicate with staff via an internal blog, a marketing or sales person who wants to identify new revenue-generating opportunities, a human resources professional who wants to interact with employees efficiently and effectively, and a new hire who needs to acclimate to a new operating and cultural environment.

Here are the main competency areas I have identified, along with brief descriptions and examples (all listed in alphabetical order) that are relevant for a wide range of professionals:

Concepts: Ideas unique to the Digital Era, or that take on new meaning in the Digital Era.

  • Anonymity
  • Calls to action
  • Channel
  • Cloud computing
  • Communities of practice
  • Digital integration
  • Ethics
  • Gamification
  • Influence
  • Levels of engagement (i.e., consumer, contributor, curator, creator)
  • Location-based services
  • Multi-channel communication
  • Network
  • Online/digital community
  • Privacy
  • Social bookmarking
  • Social commerce
  • Social learning
  • Software as a Service (SaaS)
  • Transparency
  • Usability
  • User ratings and reviews
  • User-generated content
  • Virtual reality
  • Web 2.0 and applications like Enterprise 2.0, Government 2.0, Health Care 2.0

Platforms: Environments in which 2.0 technologies are leveraged for specific purposes.

  • Public information networks like Twitter
  • Public social media sites like Flickr, Quora, Wikipedia, YouTube
  • Public social networking sites like Facebook, LinkedIn, Google+
  • Private social and digital networks, including social intranets, private digital communities, social business applications (see Ross School presentation slides 16-19 for specific examples)

Tools: Specific enabling technologies or applications of technology.

  • Aggregators
  • Badges
  • Chatting
  • Commenting
  • Content management systems
  • Dashboards
  • Discussion forums
  • Infographics
  • Mashups
  • Mobile apps and location based services
  • Plug-ins
  • Podcasts
  • Portals
  • RSS feeds and subscriptions
  • Tag clouds and word clouds
  • Videocasts and vlogs
  • Web analytics and social media metrics
  • Widgets
  • Wikis


The Social Media Sophistication (SMQ) Quiz tests people’s knowledge of 2.0 platforms and tools.
Click here to learn more and take the quiz


Skills: Capabilities unique to the Digital Era, or that take on new meaning in the Digital Era, including specific means of leveraging 2.0 technologies to achieve goals and objectives.

  • Benchmarking
  • Blogging: design, writing, promotion, commenting, management
  • Calendar and event management
  • Community management
  • Content sourcing and validation
  • Crowdsourcing
  • Digital collaboration
  • Digital design and publishing (e.g., Adobe’s Flash and InDesign)
  • Digital etiquette and communication effectiveness
  • File sharing and document co-creation
  • Group creation and management
  • Information management
  • Microblogging and status updates
  • Online research
  • Photo editing and sharing
  • Project management
  • Social sharing
  • Tagging and searching
  • Time management
  • User profile creation and management
  • Video production, editing, sharing
  • Web page design and coding (content, layout, keywords, links)
  • Web page navigation basics
  • Writing for multiple media

In addition to the above general competencies, there’s also a core set of management competencies that people in leadership positions need to effectively leverage and manage new digital technologies. These include:

  • Championship and change management
  • Community management, including engagement guidelines, moderation, and discipline
  • Governance principles, rules, and guidelines related to digital technologies
  • Human capital management applications and implications of new technologies
  • Knowledge of investment concepts like COI (cost of inaction), ROE (return on engagement) and ROI (return on investment)
  • Measurement and monitoring of digital activity
  • Risk management, including legal and policy considerations
  • Strategy and planning, including resource allocation and organizational design
  • And of course our definition of effective leadership itself may be changing, as articulated in another recent post: What Does it Take to be a Leader in the Digital Era?

What other competencies would you add? How about specific examples you think are worth highlighting? Any questions and concerns? As always, your thoughts are welcome.

Source: Courtney Shelton Hunt, PhD – Social Media in Organizations

Best Venn Diagram Ever!

This has to be the best Venn diagram ever, especially for those of us who are searching for the best opportunity to earn a living and love what we are doing. I’d like to hear your thoughts …

The Next Four Weeks

Here is a preview of what we’ll be covering over the next four weeks of training …

This is the approach we will follow in launching “Talent Hub” over the next several months in the Workforce Connection service region:

  1. Familiarization. Before launching a formal training program, it will be necessary to gauge the interest and to appropriately set expectations for this opportunity. A series of familiarization sessions could be held throughout the region to explain this concept in terms of the emerging technology-based job market, what it takes to be competitive in this space, and an overview of the resources and potential work.
  2. Assessment and Interests Inventory. Once there is sufficient interest in the program to form training classes, a local education partner will host the training session in a technology-enabled learning lab, and candidates will complete an interest inventory assessment to determine the best fit for working in this environment. It will also include an evaluation of their previous work experience and academic credentials.
  3. Contracting and Crowdsourcing 101. Using real examples of projects that are available, this session will focus on how to bid for the work, how to evaluate projects and how to price on an hourly or project basis to compete for the projects and/or tasks.  Participants will complete online profiles and registrations on one or more sites as appropriate to improve their visibility and competitiveness for these projects.
  4. Skills Development, KSAs Needed to Compete. Based on the outcomes of the assessment stage, participants will be directed to various training resources, some classroom based and some online, to improve their skill set and to learn in “real time” how to perform certain aspects of the project.
  5. Project Management 101. A real-world project will be used in a learning lab setting to give multiple participants the ability to work on a part of the project that is within their area of expertise, and this collaborative lab will include direct input from the contract manager and/or employer to give the participants the feedback they will need to work on these types of projects in the future, independently or in a co-working, collaborative setting.

Just One Word … Wow!

A few weeks ago, I got a call from Rusty Skinner at Workforce Connection asking if it would be possible to set up some training on freelancing for workforce customers in the Citrus-Levy-Marion region. And, of course, being a good consultant I said “yes.” You’ll see how that works when we do this training … kind of like this quote from a recent BusinessWeek article, “How to Look Like You’re in the Special Forces”:

Never say “no.” Your first reaction has to be, “Yes, I can do that,” and then you figure out how. If the president asked me to go to the moon tomorrow, I’d say yes. Then I’d say, “I’ll need some training. And someone who can fly a rocket.”

So, we set up a couple of orientation sessions, one in Ocala, Fla. (that was last week) and one in Lecanto (Citrus County) Fla. – that was where I spent the afternoon today. When Rusty and I set this up, I remember him saying, “Maybe we’ll have some interest, maybe about 20 people or so will sign up.”

Last week’s session in Ocala was great … we had outstanding turnout and people were very interested in the concepts that we covered, ranging from what it takes to be a freelancer to how to navigate the online project market. If you’re interested, you can see the slides from that presentation here. To set the right tone for the meeting, we watched this intriguing video produced by oDesk that provides some insights about the “New World of Work.”

After the meeting, we did have about 20 people sign up to participate in the 4-week training program. Rusty was right. Right? Well … kind of.

We anticipated about 40 people at today’s session at the College of Central Florida – Citrus Campus. We had closer to 50 people, and this group asked some great questions and had some definite ideas about how this Talent Hub concept could work for them. I had to let them know that we were pretty close to a full class (our capacity was capped at 24 because of the computer lab we are using for the classroom training) and a few people actually signed up on their phones and other mobile devices during the orientation.

In the two hours it took to drive home from Lecanto, 40+ people had signed up for the Talent Hub training program. That’s 40+ people over and above the number already signed up. Now we have 80 people signed up and we’re scrambling to expand the training to a second location and an additional series of classes. So, now you know what I mean when I say “Wow!”

Thanks so much to the great people who joined us last week in Ocala and today in Lecanto, and I am really looking forward to working with you to launch as many as 80 new Me, Inc. businesses and solopreneurship ventures! This is going to be fun! And a very special thanks to the team at Workforce Connection and to College of Central Florida for hosting our training and making this all possible!

The Double-Edged Sword of the Freelance Economy

One thing that concerns me about how crowdsourcing is being depicted is that it is somehow exploitative by design. Listening to David Alan Grier’s talk about the history of crowdsourcing did nothing to dispel this notion. And whenKeniks founder and CEO Patrick McKenna shared his formula for crowdsourcing, he essentially ruled out the possibility that it is viable to harness real talent but that we should instead focus our business model on the low-end work.

Here’s what I think: what we are really talking about is tapping into the global talent supply chain in ways that were never before possible, and in doing so we have the opportunity to create meaningful work and viable opportunities for people who were marginalized as a result of the Great Recession and other seismic changes in the employment market.

There’s certainly a global perspective to explore, but for the moment I want to think about the domestic implications here in the United States. By some estimates, we currently have 15 million people unemployed in the U.S. My bet is that the number is higher than this. Most of us are now beginning to realize that many of the jobs that have vanished over the last decade are not coming back. Ever.

People who have followed the accepted employment model are used to job descriptions and career paths, and while empowerment is a popular buzzword most workers have a finite amount of latitude in what they do and how they do it within the corporation. In other words, people are used to being told what to do. Here’s the upshot: as part of the obsession to streamline and automate, coupled with the availability of outsourcing services, those positions which could be tightly defined in a job description are mostly gone, either to an “offshore” service provider or simply eliminated.

Our education system is more closely aligned to the 20th century model of employment, but what if the 21st century Knowledge Economy actually requires a completely different orientation to employment? For example, what if the estimated 42 million or so “free agents” (sole proprietors, contractors, consultants, etc. – according to the Human Capital Institute) are actually on the leading edge of the next economy? What skill sets do they need to have to succeed? And how prepared are we as a workforce to take our skills directly to the marketplace and earn a living based not on a more-or-less predictable employment model but rather in the fluid free agent market?

Here’s where the lessons of crowdsourcing come in. The “game changer” which makes 21st century crowdsourcing possible is the Internet, and its ability to link people anywhere in the world. The Internet is the backbone of the new global talent supply chain, and the participants in this new economy can participate whether they are in the corporate parks of Bangalore, India or the rural counties of Indiana.

More to follow …

In the News … Citrus Chronicle

Seminar offered on alternative work training

By Shemir Wiles
Saturday, April 28, 2012 at 12:00 am (Updated: April 28, 12:01 am)

LECANTO — Downsizing has led to a growth in the contingent workforce made up of self-employed professionals, solo entrepreneurs, freelancers, independent contractors and other nonpermanent workers.

From 1995 through 2012, the total workforce of self-sufficient workers grew by an estimated 4.3 million workers. As estimated by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, despite economic downturn, the overall contingent workforce has held steady and is projected to grow to 40 percent, or 64.9 million by 2020.

However, as the independent workforce prospers, other benefits like flexibility in one’s work schedule, supplemental income and becoming one’s own boss has influenced more and more people to leave the 9-to-5 daily grind and work independently.

To help people make the transition, Workforce Connection is launching “Your Talent Hub,” a new alternative work initiative to assist professionals in navigating the new work world of freelancing and crowd-sourcing.

The program provides access to tools, resources and strategies designed to lead to earning opportunities, project work, contracting and full-time placements in creative, technology and related fields.

“We’re excited about this innovative alternative workforce strategy,” said Laura Byrnes, communications manager with Workforce Connection.

In partnership with the College of Central Florida (CF), an orientation is Monday, April 30, at CF’s Learning and Conference Center, 3800 S. Lecanto Highway in Lecanto. The orientation begins at 3 p.m. and is free.

Rusty Skinner, president and chief executive officer with Workforce Connection, recently told the Chronicle editorial board there is a whole pool of people who have skills they can use to snag freelance opportunities.

“We’re trying to get people to define their skills and think differently,” Skinner said.

Starting in May, training sessions will introduce alternative workforce strategies and opportunities such as online research, technical writing, virtual assistance, web development, project management, content development, technology and help desk support and social media management.

The orientations and training sessions will be lead by Orlando-based workforce strategist Steve Urquhart, founder of T21 Solutions of Orlando and the nonprofit VETsourcing, which helps veterans — particularly those with disabilities and other limitations — transition from military service to civilian careers.

Over the past three years, Urquhart said there has been an erosion of the traditional job as businesses seek to hire remote workers with certain skills on a temporary basis to complete specific projects. The goal of “Your Talent Hub” is to give people a survival skill set so they can freelance or launch a small business. It’s about learning one’s marketable skills, he said, and then using social media to reach a newer, broader consumer base.

“You have to be plugged in,” Urquhart said.

To learn more about the orientation, call  352-291-9551 or 800-434-5627, ext. 1147 or visit or Updates and information are also available on Twitter @YourTalentHub and at

To register for the orientation, send an email to

Chronicle reporter Shemir Wiles can be reached at  352-564-2924  or

Workforce Connection and College of Central Florida Partner to Launch Talent Hub

Workforce Connection is partnering with the College of Central Florida to launch “Talent Hub,” an innovative workforce program to assist professionals in transition through crowdsourcing and freelancing opportunities. Our goal is to teach you the skills needed to compete and succeed in the new world of work.

That new world of work is a “Free Agent Nation” of borderless workplaces where freelancers profit by coworking in project-specific virtual teams that form, collaborate, disband and form again. Collectively, there are more than 40 million members in this contingent workforce which companies can tap into to get work done without weighing down the bottom line.

To get started, we are holding one more Talent Hub orientation in partnership with the College of Central Florida (CF): the next one is on Monday, April 30 from 3:00 pm – 4:30 pm at the college’s Learning and Conference Center (C4 on the attached map) in Lecanto. Next month, we’ll begin a special training program that takes place once a week for four weeks. There is no charge to participate in the training.

You can sign up for the orientation here.

The program will be presented by Steve Urquhart, formerly with Workforce Florida and Enterprise Florida and whose company, T21 Solutions, specializes in workforce alternative strategies and project management. Urquhart, an Army veteran, is also founder of VETSourcing, a nonprofit that helps veterans in the Orlando area make the transition from military service to civilian careers. VETSourcing’s goal is to provide the veterans, especially those with disabilities which preclude traditional employment, with paid work opportunities and projects that will help them earn a living, sharpen their skills, and become increasingly competitive for full-time placements, additional project assignments and greater earning potential.

“Jobs may be in short supply, but in some industries there is actually more work than ever as companies are beginning to ramp back up and prepare for market demands,” Urquhart said.

We are excited about the potential for Talent Hub and possibility of opening up this new world of work to those who never thought it was even possible. That’s just the beginning of what’s in store for Talent Hub.

If you are interested in joining the talent hub, or just finding out more, sign up for one of the orientations by sending an email to You may also call the Talent Hub information line at 800-434-5627, ext. 1147.

You’ll find a variety of additional information by visiting and by following us on Twitter @YourTalentHub and checking us out on Facebook at