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Project-related work – multimodal, flexible, virtual and volatile

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Traditional labour arrangements are founded on contracts with people who earn their living through a permanent contract with one employer. It´s an agreed upon exchange of time and efforts by the employee vs. salary paid by the employer. However, nowadays projectized world pushes new labour arrangements.

Projects are temporary, labour is only needed between the kick-off and the closure of a project. In the film industry or theatres this is already well known, so you contract people just for a short sequence or a role during the creation of the movie or performance. This may be based on a temporary labour contract or on a freelance basis. Both parties know that only for a pre-defined period of time the labour arrangement is needed. Only in case of a stream of projects, a series or a longer-term programme, the labour arrangement may be defined on a longer term basis.

How does this new world of projectized labour arrangements may look like? Definitely less long-term contracts, more short-term or temporary contracts, part-time, more freelance job offers, parallel and flexible job arrangements, like a hop on hop off bus during a city tour, you participate in a project here and help to get started with another project. Virtual work arrangements play an important role too. Not all project work needs to be done in the premises of the sponsor, work could be done from the home office, a co-working space in your neighbourhood or from a creative agency (“club”) that you are a member of. For some of you this may sound frightening, but in fact, this has already started and is just taking place in many (creative) industries…

There are certainly many advantages of this flexible work arrangements. You can focus on what you like to do or what you are good at. Changing work contexts keeps you always awake and you learn to know new areas of expertise and application. You collaborate with new people and live may be very exciting. You are your own boss and decide in which arrangements you want to participate (and in which not). There is no dependency on how your employer performs, you just look out for opportunities in the market and pick those that fits you best. You may also decide which part of your time you spend for earning money and which time is dedicated for your own passions or voluntary engagements, paying back to society.

The disadvantages of this change in our economy is increasing qualification needs. People need to be specialised in an area, have exceptional skills in utilizing modern ICT-tools and be able to self-organise themselves. As the income in such a world is not a continuous stream of salary payments but volatile earnings based on project deliverables, people need to have a minimum income to make their living. Young people tend to forget about the cost of sickness and living after an active period of working. Thus, the income of freelance labour should also take into account the times of low or no income, otherwise people fall back into precarious living conditions. Without a strong network of contacts it´s also difficult to get new jobs. Recommendations and guerrilla marketing may help to get new project assignments, but it means to be active and advocate your expertise.

How to prepare for the new world of flexible work arrangements? You should definitely know what you like to do and what you are good at. This is the key to success. In addition, you need to establish strong networks and relationships with potential customers and project partners. The stronger your networks, the more opportunities you will get in future. It means investing time talking to people, sometimes also in voluntary assignments, showing off and demonstrating competence to others, the next job may be a paid one and the start of your career as freelancer or self-employed project manager.

PS: In Germany, since many years labour unions suffer from a decreasing number of members, because many you people do not see the need to be protected by labour unions or they do not want a labour union to interfere in their (private) lives. Thus, labour unions try to regulate the conditions for people working as freelancers, part-time or temporary employees, bringing them back into “the good old system of labour arrangements”. I am convinced that this attempt will fail as labour is on the move, if the conditions in Germany are dissatisfying for the creative class, they will just move to other places or create their own space.

- Author of this post

Reinhard Wagner has been active for more than 30 years in the field of project- related leadership, in such diverse sectors as Air Defense, Automotive Engineering, and Machinery, as well as various not-for-profit organizations. As a Certified Projects Director (IPMA Level A), he has proven experience in managing projects, programmes and project portfolios in complex and dynamic contexts. He is also an IPMA Certified Programme and Portfolio Management Consultant, and as such supports senior executives in developing and improving their organizational competence in managing projects. For more than 15 years, he has been actively involved in the development of project, programme and portfolio management standards, for example as Convenor of the ISO 21500 “Guidance on Project Management” and the ISO 21503 “Guidance on Programme Management”. Reinhard Wagner is Past President of IPMA and Chairman of the Council, Honorary Chairman of GPM (the German Project Management Association), as well as Managing Director of Tiba Managementberatung GmbH.

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