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  • Ron Favali

CEOs Point to the Rise of Distributed Professionals in 2020

Perhaps no other event had a more immediate impact on the employment market than the COVID-19 pandemic. The first phase happened overnight. Starting in mid-March, if professionals were able to work from home, they did. 

While many professional pundits seized this opportunity to pitch their remote employment expertise, nearly everyone can agree that what took place wasn’t remote work -- It was basic survival. In those first few weeks, everyone struggled to balance roles as professionals, parents, and teachers in many cases.  

As the days turned into weeks, and now months, companies have extended policies that allow professionals to work remotely.

With offices vacant for months now, many organizations are reevaluating approaches to how, when, and where professional work gets done. Earlier this week, Twitter announced that professional employees could work remotely forever. Others will undoubtedly follow. As a professional who has not worked in an office for over 15 years, my initial reaction was, “It’s about time.” 

It’s not all sunshine and rainbows for newly remote employees. As a result of slamming the breaks on the economy, the unemployment rate has skyrocketed to nearly 15 percent. Upwards of 35 million Americans filed for unemployment since mid-March, and more will follow.  

Out of work professionals will find employment again. Some will return to traditional offices, while the path for others may lead to roles that companies now find are entirely acceptable being remote. However, getting everyone back to work will take time -- years, potentially. 

Another sector of the professional employment market has been gaining steam long before this pandemic. It could become a preferred option to help many companies reemerge form this period of economic turmoil. Distributed Professional Talent. 

As the name suggests, Distributed Professionals work remotely. The significant difference between Distributed and Remote is that remote employees have similar roles typically receive the same compensation and benefits as their office-based counterparts. Distributed Professionals are more like highly skilled free agents. Rather than work for a single company in a traditional role, Distributed Professionals prefer to use their skills and talent to work on different projects with many different companies.  

Why choose Distributed over remote or traditional in-office roles? Well, way back when, (like in February), companies were facing massive skills shortages. This was a result of the prolonged period of record-low unemployment. Distributed Professionals were used to fill gaps and quickly inject much-needed talent to help organizations meet business goals. Many businesses couldn’t find people to fill traditional roles. The use of Distributed Talent became a necessity for survival and not losing to the competition. 

And how will organizations use Distributed Talent during these times of record-high unemployment? As a necessity for survival.  

This shift was already happening. Full-time professional employees are an expensive long term commitment. Salaries. Employment Taxes. Vacation time. Healthcare. Retirement contributions. Office space. Internet access. Phone service. The list could go on. And when an organization ends a relationship with a traditional employee--remote or otherwise--it usually includes the additional expense of a severance package. 

In the emerging Distributed model, these expenses are eliminated for the employer. It’s a contractor model. Distributed Professionals typically agree to work with a company on a specific project, for a specific amount of time or for a specific deliverable, for a specific amount of money. Upon successful completion of the project, the Distributed Professional and employer either agree to continue working on another project or part ways. In either case, both parties are typically pleased with the result. 

On several earnings calls I listened to this month, CEOs have specifically mentioned plans “to increase the use of contractors” to control costs. Despite layoffs, work still needs to get done, but the cost of traditional full-time employees is not something a growing number of CEOs are willing to commit to during this period of economic uncertainty. 

This is where Distributed Professionals shine. We thrive on entering quickly, not needing much time to get up to speed, and delivering results immediately. 

As CEOs push for an increased number of contract-based professionals, so will the number of professionals applying them. There are several factors to consider. 

Becoming a true Distributed Professional can’t happen overnight. To successfully participate in this market requires months, if not years of preparation. Traditional employees have access to corporate systems and services. Distributed Professionals must acquire these independently, which can come at a significant cost. 

Distributed Professionals are also committed to being distributed. They aren’t likely to jump to a traditional corporate role in the middle of a project because they need the security of company-sponsored healthcare or retirement benefits. Distributed Professionals already have plans in place for that. 

Distributed Professionals also have a track record of proven performance as a contractor. Many Distributed Professionals may know what is needed more than the employer does. The experience that comes from years of working on many different projects with many different clients is hard to replicate in someone coming from a traditional professional role. 

For those wanting to venture into the world of Distributed Professionals, we’d love to have you. Opportunities should be plenty. We’re a strong network that is always willing to help each other out when needed. If you’re on the fence, take the time to decide if this is the right fit for you personally and professionally. If your goal is to use the distributed model as a stepping stone to something more permanent, there could still be opportunities as long as you are open and upfront with employers or potential agencies. 

There are resources available to help distributed professionals. If you’re in marketing, the Freelance Marketing Network is one place to go for support. For communications and PR professionals, ProsInComms is another great resource that offers members professional advice on starting and growing a consulting business, along with huge discounts on the software and services that independent contractors need. Other industries have their own versions, and they aren’t hard to find. To hear stories about other professionals who left the traditional corporate roles and found a better way of working in the Distributed model listen to the Distributed Talent Connections Podcast.  

The Distributed model isn’t going anywhere. It will only grow. It makes too much sense for employers and the growing number of professionals who choose this approach to work. Many companies will depend on Distributed Professionals to emerge from this economic turmoil. Many will never let go of the model.

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