A challenge for many workers in the # gig economy is the isolation. By definition independent workers are working on their own, an island away from the mainland. You do get to mingle with clients now and then, but for many, independent work is remote, and that client connection is via email, phone or maybe Skype. Freelancers, consultants, soloists or whatever term you use, are responsible for their own inspiration, reassurance, deadlines, celebrations and failures. But more and more, there are communities within various digital talent platforms that can help independent workers not only gain insights and skills, but develop more career resilience as well.
Task Rabbit is a great example. When it changed its model from an auction –based pricing structure to a category based system with distinct fee floors, the behavior of the “taskers” changed. Since they were no longer in cutthroat competition with each other, they began offering tips about procedures, like how to install lighting or drill through a brick. This sense of community emerged naturally and became a potent force for the company, enabling Taskers to up skill and thereby earn more money from more skilled work.
Working Not Working, a #CoolGigCompany, that I have written about before , offers yet another example. The founders appreciated another isolation problem for the creative community which is the impact of rejection. For creatives, rejection can be more personal, because it is not their competency or fit that is in question, but their creativity and craft. The firm began having meet ups to discuss this and found them to be over subscribed. To meet the demand for the conversation, they launched a podcast called Overshare, which features experienced creative freelancers sharing how they have become more resilient in their careers.
Building a sense of community for its consultants is key for the new digital talent start-up, LifeSciHub. LifeSciHub is focused on the skilled consultants involved in drug development and clinical trials. This is a highly specialized field of experts in a very niche marketplace. The idea that LifeSciHub could create a community for them has been heartily welcomed by this cohort, because their world is so unique, so having the opportunity to connect with others who really understand the environment is such a bonus. Being so specialized, they do not want to be lumped in with consultants from other industries who can’t really appreciate the trials (pardon the pun) they are faced with in the drug development world.
Other specialist platforms do this as well. Experfy was originally conceived from the Harvard Innovation Labs as a platform for data scientists, a highly sought after expertise. Early on they included a training dimension which was a benefit in multiple ways for their network. The courses can be taken by the data scientists that are accepted to Experfy (many are not…) and they can also be taught by those same experts.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, Boonle has built a community for rookie freelancers. Started as a joint project with the Rochester School of Design, the founder realized it was hard for inexperienced web designers to get any gigs. Rather than apologize for the lack of experience of design students, he decided to capitalize on it. The firm is all about hiring students for gigs. To build more of a sense of community, they announced a special scholarship for design students this year.
Beyond the platforms, there are also the co-working environments, which offer a sense of community as well. There are a variety of models in this space too, from the hip tech types like WeWork, to the boomer targeted sophistication of Canopy to the female oriented, Hivery.
So as an independent worker you may be an island, but you are not an uncharted one. Like the Greek Islands filled with yachts, fishing boats, private planes and hydrofoils, there is an eco-system designed to bring provisions, visitors, news and support of all kinds to your island. The players are different, from sail boats to “puddle jumper” aircraft. You need to understand the nuances, determine which is right for you and make the most of the eco system.