My grandpa worked at the same company from the time he graduated high school to the time he retired. His loyalty was rewarded with promotions, raises, and respect from his colleagues and the higher-ups. His story isn’t really unique to his generation, but it’s unique to ours. Working a “nine to five” schedule for one company was once a staple in North American culture, but it’s no longer. In 2019, twenty-four percent of Americans ages 18 and over are participating in the “gig economy.” The gig culture reigns supreme and promises to grow even bigger.
As a project management professional, it’s important for you to adapt to the gig economy, too. A recent report showed that knowledge-intensive industries (such as project management), as well as creative occupations, make up the largest and fastest-growing segments of the gig economy.
The makeup of a project team is different now, too. No longer are project managers drawing from a pool of long-term employees. Instead, you’re likely hiring short-term contractors who will be with you on this particular project, but not sticking around for the next (Even you may be doing project management as a gig!) This can be challenging because you need to build team rapport from scratch at the start of each of your projects. On the other hand, when you’re not limited to the same employee pool, it means that you can find the best people for the job.
The gig economy has revolutionized the way we work and do business. Change can be scary, but that doesn’t mean we should shy away from short-term, contractual work or be scared of managing folks who work in the gig economy. Your goal as a project management professional is to adapt and update existing concepts of project management to work within our current world.
The gig economy can be equal parts liberating and frustrating. As a project management professional, it means the better your skills, the more negotiating power you have when it comes to landing your next gig. You’re in a unique position to set your own terms if you’re highly skilled and have the resume — and results — to prove it. If you can’t sell yourself or don’t have experience under your belt, it can be challenging to find a gig and you may find yourself working long hours or taking other small projects just to keep yourself financially afloat. In fact, 51 percent of those who work in the gig economy say they work harder for their money than they would in a more traditional position.
If you’re a project management professional working in the gig economy, here are some ways to succeed and reap the benefits of this sometimes exhilarating, sometimes intimidating world.
Create a Financial Plan and Safety Net
The uncertainty of not knowing when you’ll land your next gig (or paycheck!) can be stressful. Many workers in the gig economy end up taking too much work or saying ‘yes’ to almost anything. The best way to avoid overwork, taking work that doesn’t align with your interests, or fear of the financial unknown is to create a financial plan and a safety net. When you do have a gig, save as much as you can to provide a “cushion” for yourself in between jobs. Put aside a certain percentage of each pay for the periods between gigs, for example. Try to plan out your year as best as you can and make a monthly budget accordingly.
Don’t forget that as a contractor, you’ll be responsible for your taxes (and retirement fund!). So, be sure to create savings accounts to save for both tax season and your future if you’re not on the payroll at the organizations you work for.
Learn to “Sell” Yourself
If you don’t toot your own horn and sell yourself — that is, your skills, expertise, time, and energy — you don’t get noticed. It’s important to let your past accomplishments and skill set shine when you apply for and/or interview for your next project management gig. Let go of modesty. Instead, get comfortable with putting yourself out there and really emphasizing your skills.
If you’re looking for a gig, you can register with career agencies that place people in jobs with your skill set, for example. These agencies can do the footwork for you, opening doors you may have otherwise missed. Making use of the internet and its vast connections and opportunities is another way to find work. Find a website or online venue that best fits with your skillset and use that site to connect with organizations who are looking for people just like you. LinkedIn is one example. Recruiters are often looking for candidates for open positions on these sites.
Focus on Four Types of Connections
According to a study conducted by Harvard Business Review, successful contractors in the gig economy cultivated four types of connections: places, routines, purpose, and people.
If you’re working on site for your project, this is less of a concern, but if you’re working remotely as a gig worker, you’ll want to create or find a workspace where you can get things done. As the gig economy grows, shared work spaces are popping up throughout the country. Such co-working spaces provide a respectful, quiet, and positive work environment for gig workers. Many gig workers struggle with the isolation that sometimes comes with working from home, so one bonus of working in a shared environment is the opportunity for socializing and networking.
Research shows that people who have a routine tend to be more productive and perform better. When you’re a gig worker, it’s up to YOU to set your routine, keep your to-do list up-to-date, stay on task, and keep the project schedule moving along as it should. When you set your routine, do your best to stick with it until it becomes second nature. This will help you with your productivity, meeting your deliverables, and— hopefully! — getting that great reference and landing your next project management gig.
Perhaps you are wanting to specialize in a niche industry that means something to you, like healthcare. If you believe in your work and have a sense of purpose, you’re more likely to be motivated to do your best. Many gig economy workers enjoy the freedom of choosing what projects they work on and with which organizations they work with. If you have a sense of purpose in your work, it can make the uncertainty of the gig economy more bearable.
Humans are social creatures. Yes, even introverts need to be around people from time-to-time. And, not just for socializing around the water cooler. Staying connected to people can do wonders for your career in the gig economy. Networking may help connect you to future jobs, help you find staff you need for projects you manage and hire for, and can help you launch and propel your career.
In the project management world of the past, career success usually meant job security and equanimity. For workers in the gig economy, these are elusive and sometimes, unwanted. The freedom that comes with being a gig worker should not be understated — it can be empowering to say “no” to a project that doesn’t align with your interests or professional goals. That is something you may not have had the opportunity to do as a full-time project management professional at one organization.
On the other side of the coin, the gig economy can be stressful. Either way, it’s important to remain nimble in this ever-changing world of project management.