Simon wrote a post earlier this week about the lessons that corporations can learn from web workers as a follow-up to his GigaOM Pro post, “Making Coworking Corporate-scale,” (subscription required). While corporations can learn quite a bit from web workers, I think that the reverse is also true. As someone who has worked recently on both sides of the fence — as a corporate employee and as a freelancer — I thought it would be interesting to turn it around and think about what web workers can learn from corporations.
Since I’m currently working full-time in a corporation with part of that time as a web worker, I’ve been thinking more and more about the way that corporations are run compared to freelance and other types of web worker businesses.
Planning and Strategy
Most corporations have whole teams of people who are responsible for planning and strategy. They look at the next few years to determine the best direction for the organization over the longer term, while coming up with shorter-term plans to make sure that they can execute on that longer-term strategy. Some web workers spend an appropriate amount of time strategizing, but I see too many web workers making mistakes by avoiding it entirely, or taking it to the opposite extreme and spending so much time planning that they don’t have time to do the work that pays the bills. Either extreme can be devastating for web workers, especially freelancers or small startups. Spending time setting your strategy and creating your plans to achieve your long- and short-term goals are important for all web workers, but be careful about how much time you spend.
Corporations have formal budget processes where expenses are planned, approved and adjusted throughout the year. We’re currently reviewing our Q3 budget requests at work, and I’m remembering how rigorous this process can be within a corporation. You need to be able to clearly explain how much you will spend and what it will be spent on, along with being able to justify exactly why you need to spend that money. Sometimes you even need to compete with your peers to demonstrate why your request is more critical than the others. While a complex budgeting procedure is overkill for freelancers and smaller organizations, having a slightly more rigorous process can be beneficial. Even for freelancers, looking at your projected income for the year or the quarter and deciding how much of that should be spent on expenses is definitely worth the time you’ll spend. Once you have the amount you can spend on expenses, you are in a better position to make appropriate trade-offs between the many conferences, supplies, equipment and other expenses to determine which ones you can realistically afford and which ones you can skip for now. Don’t forget to revisit this budget if there are any changes (positive or negative) in your income or when you encounter unexpected expenses.
As an employee of a corporation, I have certain required training classes that I must take along with other opportunities for training that I can choose to take if needed. As a web worker, especially as a freelancer, it’s easy to get busy and neglect training. When time taken out of the day for training means hours that you can’t bill clients, this can be a tough trade-off. However, a web worker with stale, out-of-date skills is unlikely to be successful, so at some point you need to make time for some type of training to learn new things. However, you don’t need to attend formal, classroom training to improve your skills. A great way to get some training without sacrificing income as a web worker is to take on an assignment that stretches you just outside of your comfort zone and requires some additional learning on your part. I’m also a big fan of picking up side projects or other activities outside of work to learn new skills. Even just spending an hour or two a week learning a new tool or technique on your own can make a big difference.
What are some other things that web workers can learn from corporations?