Last updated on July 2nd, 2020
Human Cloud is the new buzzword, which emerged up during the COVID pandemic. This technological cloud is now a source of many thousands of freelancers for companies that are avoiding operating from physical offices. However, there are many aspects of how the cloud works to the advantage of both the clients and freelancers. Matthew Mottola shares his experience.
The work environment has radically changed after the pandemic with company officials and workers locked in homes. Now, clients have frantically started to look for freelancers. As a direct consequence of it, the Human Cloud has gained significance as a source to access freelancers.
Companies and freelancers need to pay heed to different aspects of the Human Cloud to explore its full potential. Designhill organized a webinar with Matthew Mottola on the Human Cloud to discuss its varied aspects in detail. The webinar was conducted on June 23, 2020, and the topic was ‘How the freelancing economy is transforming work’.
About Matthew Mottola
Matthew Mottola is the co-founder and CEO of Venture L, the leading platform for freelancers to run their business, He is an international keynote speaker, speaking at leading conferences Remote Work Summit and YPO’s Innovation Week, to name a few. He is the author of StartUp Not StartDown and contributor to leading industry reports and the author of the upcoming book ‘The Human Cloud’.
Here Is the Video Of The Webinar With Mattew Mottola
Here Is How According To Matthew You Can Best Explore The Human Cloud To Your Advantage
Designhill: What is the human cloud?
Matthew: The human cloud is the ability to meet you sitting where we all are in the world. Many people like to define it in technical terms. Still, to be honest, it’s just the ability to have Wi-Fi and IP addresses and be able to work, communicate, and build relationships wherever you are in the world.
Designhill: How has been the learning curve for different domains, and which domain is most accepting of human cloud ambition?
Matthew: A lot of people realize that full-time employment is not as safe as we thought it was. They are saying that the crazy thing that we called freelancing or independent work has some stability there. Since technology only amplifies what already exists, if you are strong in full-time employment, you will most likely be good in independent work.
The key difference, though, for all of you is that you are now bound to outcomes. I mean, in full-time employment, especially in the last six months, it is pretty hard to fire you, and you do a lot of things that are not exactly the work. So, if you are a designer, there is more about politics, whereas if you are a freelancer or independent, it is all about the designs and the way that your clients accept your work. There are some different mechanisms in terms of what makes a freelancer successful.
Decoding The Human Cloud
The theme of the talk is going to be decoding. While talking about it, we can make this super complicated if we throw in a bunch of technical words. But in reality, when thinking about the human cloud, think about the ability to listen to me while you are wherever you are in the world. I am here in Singapore. I grew up outside of Boston and San Francisco and Seattle. It sounds cheesy, but I believe we live in a world that is more or less interesting. It doesn’t matter where you are.
Whenever anyone asks me about my journey, I say I owe everything to freelance. I don’t know if you have all noticed this, but there is usually a picture of a family in every single executive presentation. And I admit, I don’t have kids, so I can’t put photos of kids, but I will throw three pictures of family that you all can laugh at.
Now, I want you to think about how weird it is that I showed you a bunch of pictures of my family. And now, I want you to think of how weird it is that the people in those pictures are not my family. Those are my freelancers. Now, you know why I am so passionate and why many freelancers are so passionate about this future of work and the human cloud. One of the big things that the human cloud has given me is his ability to build these intense relationships.
Remote Work Helps Build Relationships
I want to shatter the first myth that when we go out of the office, we lose relationships. I have built the deepest relationships possible, working as a freelancer, which is why I am so passionate about this.
Freelancing opens a new world of opportunities
The second picture I am showing you here is that of a bridge. Freelancing was my bridge to opportunity. I grew up in an area in the US, and it was very traditional. You go to college, major in this, start working at the Big Four, stay in your lane, and you hope that in 20 to 30 years, you get your pension. But freelancing didn’t care about where I went to school, what I majored in, all it cared about was if I could provide value. It opened me up to a new world of opportunity that was beyond a traditional path.
Gives You Real Experiences
Another freelancing did to me because it opened me up to people and actual experiences that accelerated my career. One of the reasons that I think freelancing is an incredible thing for everyone is it stimulates the feedback loop from project to project.
So if you are in a full-time job, you might work somewhere for two years. Whereas in freelance, you can probably do the same thing in two months. So you have this crazy accelerated feedback loop.
More Clients Look For Freelancers Now
The impact of COVID has done two things for the freelance economy. It has increased demand and expectations. By the increased demand, I mean that more clients are looking to hire freelancers. The increase in freelancers’ hiring by clients is 30 to 50%. But beyond the numbers, what clients and companies need is a way to rescale to get back to where they were before this giant pandemic.
But the expectations from freelancers also have increased. What I mean by that is that the freelance economy at first was built to just connect one freelancer to one person doing the hiring. But now that there has been increased demand, the actual budget spent on these freelancers is being compared to the experience of an agency that has 1000 to 100,000 persons. Such a big company can say yes to every project.
Freelancing is Faster and Cost-Efficient
So, let’s put ourselves in the clients’ shoes, and ask why we want to engage freelancers. But before we get to that, ask why are we even having this discussion? There are generally three main reasons or three buzzwords that in a leadership team that you hear in a boardroom.
These buzzwords are faster, better, and more cost-efficient. When we say better, it makes sense. You have the whole globe to access talent. You can go beyond the 50 miles of your campus. So you have this hyper-relevant quality. In this regard, one of my favorite examples was that we were hiring a writer for a book, and we needed a story about Da Vinci.
Now, before COVID and full time, we would find a bunch of resumes of writers. But in this case, we found an excellent writer who specialized in writing on Leonardo da Vinci. So, this crazy hyper-relevant quality involves making it better and faster means to get you hired.
As far as the factor of cost efficiency is concerned, freelancing is not about hiring cheaper labor. While freelance can be more affordable, but it is about cost efficiency, meaning you will get the right person at the right opportunity. This is the reason why companies hire freelancers.
Now back to this question of what is the human cloud, I will say that it is remote, independent, and outcome-based. Yes, It’s fully remote, and people are independently working on multiple clients at one time. But what drives freelancing is that it is outcome-based. Compare that with a full-time job in an office where employees sit in a seat for eight hours a day.
Designhill: Where does the human cloud live?
Matthew: In terms of where the human cloud lives, I know I told you that it is just us being able to talk to each other. But if you want to grill into the freelance economy, there are three areas of entry. I’m sure you all have heard of Upwork. The reason it is in the middle is that it is the broadest. If you have never heard and want to know what a freelancer is and what the freelance economy is, just go to Upwork and immediately see it.
Now, you might meet an individual in-person to work on a contract basis, which could be a day, a week, or it can be months. You can go straight to that person. You can even think of LinkedIn regarding the ability to go direct to the person. On the other side are some niche talent marketplaces.
Then, there are platforms like Upwork, which caters to everything. You will find every single skill out there on this platform. But when we look at companies like Catalysts, Poro, Parker, Dewey, Gigster, and Instant Teams, these are dedicated to a specific niche or skill. So, Poro is for finance and accounting, Gigster for software development, and Instant Teams for teams. So these are the access points if you are interested in this as well. In terms of what is possible, you can freelance everything.
Work Shifting to Freelancers
Now, one of the main shifts is that companies are relying more and more on freelancers. I will give you an example. Historically, companies always had a contingent, meaning that they are not full-time employees. And generally, at least in the US, companies were between 30% to 60% contingent.
Now, that is shifting over to freelance because instead of having something in the middle, you can go straight to the talent. So, you have a bunch of really talented individuals that you can hire as individuals on a contract basis. And if you think about the skills, it is nearby.
Three Areas Freelancers Can Help
Now, I want to highlight three potential projects or outcomes. You will purposefully see it as a ladder.
The first potential outcome is that if you always wondered about writing a newsletter, why not hire a freelance writer to write that newsletter? If you want a website, why not hire a freelancer or a team of freelancers to build that website. So that’s the first sort of level is just think about an outcome a little project.
The second level where freelancers can help is about more complex projects. Think of this as multi-month or multi-years projects such as writing a book. We, quite frankly, for any product people out there, we did a pretty dumb thing. We told publishers that we had a full book and that we could deliver it in seven months.
In reality, we had nothing. And so we had to figure out how in the world we were going to get a 52,000-word book written in seven months, while my co-author and I were sitting in full-time jobs. But fortunately, we knew about freelancers. Therefore, we ended up having around 15 freelancers going in and out of the book, from interviewing people to writing up the stories to editing design. One of my favorites was we had a comedian come in.
The only way we were able to get a full book project done was by embracing freelancers throughout the process. Now with that said, I want to stamp out one myth that you should outsource everything because we did not. We didn’t do that at all. We made sure that we owned the code on the actual text.
So, all of the writing came from us, but everything else and everything to build the stage that we could optimize our time for writing we engaged freelancers. So now, we have specific projects and very complex projects.
The last one is what if you could create new products or business units using freelancers. Now, I’ll give you one example. When I was at one of the fastest-growing software development platforms, the largest motorcycle manufacturer, they used over 30 freelancers to do their whole digital experience. So we’re talking mobile applications and Bluetooth functionality. They embraced freelancers because they could not get the right talent in house, meaning where they were located.
A second one though personal to me, was when I was at Microsoft, I had no headcount. I had freelancers helping me through everything. And a brief on that on the product that I built. It was an enterprise layer, ironically, so that every company on the planet can work with freelancers. And so it required ideation to learn from our customers and do a bunch of research. It required development to develop the software and develop everything going into the product and a lot of marketing. We used freelancers throughout that process, and there’s no way that my product would have been built without freelancers.
Designhill: How to get started with freelancers?
Matthew: If you are a company, the first step to take is to choose the outcome. Make sure that you pick something that is a low risk so that if it goes wrong, it still is okay with you. This is because you are just trying to understand the process. One of my favorite outcomes to get started is something like market research. So if you are leading a product, one of the best things you can do is go out and research all your competitors.
You should find all public channels, get some sentiment analysis, see what people love about your competitors, and what they hate about your competitors. So that’s been a great project that I’ve always used with myself with companies that I advise, and leadership teams are trying some research or something that’s very low risk.
Trust The Experts
One of the biggest golden moments that you will have as a leader when working in the human cloud is that freelancers are the experts. When I was helping out a university, I had promised a textbook. Now, I had about 70% of the textbook content done. But I had no idea what was needed to design it to get it in ebook format, and I only had a month. I didn’t even have time to teach myself what was required.
Instead, I just put everything out there onto a freelance platform. And the freelance designer came to me and said, this is what you need, how long it will take, and how much it should cost. So I let them fully take over the scope, and it was to date the best project in terms of efficiency. I will advise that you let the expert take over the work and project.
Learn and Repeat
You will learn the process and make mistakes. The learning process will, thus, continue. So, just keep learning and repeating.
Now, these were the three steps that companies should take while working with freelancers. But these same three steps are also for freelancers. They should understand the pain the clients or companies are going through. The freelancers should try to make clients’ lives as simple as possible.
So, as step one, freelancers should pick an outcome that you can deliver. Look through what you have done. What are some of the tangible results that you have delivered? Also, think about your skills. Step two is that you put yourselves in your clients’ shoes. This means more than just knowing what you can deliver. Think about everything that they have to think about and try to understand why they are finding you.
Under-Promise and Over-Deliver
Step three is that as a freelancer, you should under-promise and over-deliver, especially for the first couple of projects. Tell what you can do for the client, and here is the social proof. Give social evidence in terms of the person you help giving you a recommendation, or anything that you know, be as creative as possible.
Then, as step four, learn, quote, quantify, and repeat. When I say quantify. One big difference is if you are an independent talent, you are a business. And you do have to operate in many cases just like a business. One of the first things you do, if you’re marketing or product, you name it, is figure out how to make a good case study.
And, a good case study always comes down to the tangible metrics that you can then turn around and tell a potential client. I can increase your revenue by x, and I can decrease your cost by x, whatever it is that your outcome is, quantify that.
Coffee Shop Challenge
When I first started freelancing, I didn’t know it was called freelancing. I just knew that I didn’t want to go work at the shoe shop or the grocery store. So, I went to a bunch of local businesses and asked how I could help. They didn’t come back and say, can you sit in the seat for eight hours? Can you be an intern? Instead, they told me a list of their problems. I just picked out and said, and I can do that one. The first place I went to was where the Wi-Fi was available.
I went to a coffee shop and fell in love with working at a coffee shop. I had to learn that this wasn’t, meaning I had to go to an office. But in remote work, and the human cloud, that same thing that I had in terms of no one’s going to give me a seat to sit in. I have to work remotely or in a house or whatever it is. The same thing applies to this new environment.
So, I call it the coffee shop challenge, which you need to take in three steps.
Step one, go to a coffee shop.
Step two, stay there for at least two hours.
Now, are you doing work there in the coffee shop? Is there work for you to do? If yes, that’s awesome. You are in a good position and increase the scope of work that you can do remotely. If no, simply ask yourself, why not? So, that’s it. The human cloud is simple, but a massive radical redistribution of opportunity. And I can’t wait to hear your questions.
Designhill: How to quantify if it is a little more subjective, in terms of strategy?
Matthew: I think it comes down to what I want. For example, I am hungry. So I’m going to hire this apple, or I’m twitchy, so I’m going to hire a fidget spinner. And so get to the core of what is that script doing? Is it enabling a demo to have x more views or x percentage of conversion, or even just getting to the social proof?
It is essential to have that subjective review and even the relationship. I think the best part about sort of this network work in terms of working as an independent freelancer is you build super deep relationships. Some of those relationships might turn into a referral. There are more opportunities for this network to pay off so long as you add insane amounts of value for the people who are working for you.
Designhill: Can you share some favorite tools of yours that companies can use?
Matthew: Task Management Tools
I start by saying, try to live without the tool and instead understand the process behind the tool. In a remote environment, it amplifies problems that already exist if you are not properly running a project. So I think every freelancer or even companies hiring freelancers, the first thing that comes to mind is what needs to happen and who is doing it. Whether you are using Trello, Asana, JIRA, or whatever tool, you need to deal with some task management components.
The second component is then the communication, which can be talking back and forth, and things like feedback. We heavily use Slack for our day to day communication. When it comes to working feedback, we heavily leveraged G Suite. We are sort of strict on ourselves about whether it’s working feedback, go straight to the source and go as close to the document or file as you can.
File Sharing Tools
The third category of tools we use is regarding file sharing. You can use a G Drive, Dropbox, etc. We always get stuck on which tool to use all the time, even though we have a clear vision of what we want to achieve. Still, using a tool sometimes becomes a hassle for us.
The data is showing that COVID has accelerated the trend already underway. Freelance is not new. Over half the US workforce would-be freelancers in the next seven years, even if COVID had not happened. But the company interest was accelerating by I think around 30 to 40%. All COVID did was that now remote work is more feasible than we thought. Now, it is prioritizing sustainability and profitability so that now freelance is an ideal solution based on the cost deficiency.
We are now going to become freelance. With that said, the future we see is hybrid, meaning it’s never going to be all freelance or full-time employment.
Instead, it’s a hybrid between the two.
For us, where we sit as a company, it is 20% full time and 80% freelance. We don’t believe that it’s going to become all freelancer-based. There are some great things about full-time employment.
I will say it will be more important for individuals, leaders, and companies to understand the fluid nature of this work environment. So, you might be a freelancer today, but you might be a full-time employee tomorrow. Therefore, understanding how to work as a freelancer is going to be one of the critical skills.
For instance, a woman was a full-time employee at a large tech company, and she was a freelancer prior. Because of her freelancing skills, she was good at driving cross-functional initiatives. She was able to understand how to work with various stakeholders and understand how to put all of the opinions together. But say, the future is not all going to be freelance, and instead, it is going to be more fluid, and everyone will have to understand how to work with freelancers.
Designhill: Is your cloud a feature that can be leveraged in distance and online learning?
Matthew: At present, COVID has affected the learning implications in regards to independent freelance work. I will say that a lot of internships are being withheld. Many jobs are being postponed or just being dropped. From an education perspective, freelance has an incredible opportunity because it opens up access to other opportunities.
For example, I was a finance and accounting major. I don’t use any of my finance accounting, but no clients ever asked me about it. They never asked questions like, can you give me a list of 15 competitors and get me sentiment analysis to understand the strengths and weaknesses in the market? And so that’s the first thing it does.
The second thing it will do for education, and it is doing is accelerating those feedback loops. So traditionally, when you start an internship on June 1, you realize you hate the job. They are stuck paying you, and you are stuck going there for three months unless you are working at a big tech company that is just going to give you a bunch of Xboxes and put Pitbull on a stage and just as you have a good time.
It’s a pretty horrendous experience if you are locked in for the next day to three months. So, it will accelerate the opportunity so you can learn faster. There is a great platform called Parker Dewey if anyone is interested in the student-specific space. They are just student adjusted student freelance platforms. It’s incredible. I can’t say enough good things about what a freelance can do for students.
Designhill: Is there any revenue model, and do managing orders demand management logistics?
Matthew: No Need To Manage Freelancers
Yes. There is little to no management in regards to the freelance team. If we think about management traditionally, there is a leader at the top, then, people in the middle and below. But freelance can operate like a bunch of autonomous nodes.
This means that if you want to get a website done, you have the expert designer, the expert developer, the expert writer, and none of these people did you have to onboard or ramp up or have one on ones or have a performance improvement plan or any of that stuff. Instead, the freelancer just gives the outcome. You give them the success criteria, and you are operating this as an autonomous hive. The autonomy of each member is huge.
See If Other Management Models Work
But there are other models as well. So in the middle, a strong model is having more of a project manager along with a kind of coach. So instead of just this autonomous hive, you still have a sort of leadership or vision at the top. And then you have more clear project management where the project manager is creating the sprint boards, assigning each task, and keeping up with progress. So that is sort of the middle model where you like the org chart.
But you could still use the same management models. You could be in the middle where it’s more project management or be autonomous. I say the biggest difference though, is that you have to scope immediately upfront. You have to define everything in terms of the communication patterns, how many revisions of feedback, and be very explicit. So, that gives you a good overview of the management.
Designhill: How do you recommend a freelancer to have your own business?
Matthew: Yeah, this is my favorite question, because there is very little out there to do while freelancers are doing everything. Well, I had previously talked about three factors are network, outcome, and actual operations. The network is about sourcing your projects, and it can be a freelance platform, but it doesn’t have to be necessarily that way.
Clients Are The Best Source Of Work
A lot of the data shows that the two best sources of work are your existing clients and other freelancers. I was so shocked to see this data. I sort of intuitively knew it as a freelancer, but I didn’t believe it was real. And so that is sort of the first level of how to get your work. You can surely use platforms like Upwork, Parker Dewey, Rosie, or Poro, as per your niche skill set.
Then, think of the outcome. You need to under-promise and over-deliver. Ask questions like how you manage expectations and how you are making sure that your customer knows what you’re going to do? What is it comparable, when, and how much will it cost? When it comes to building the network, you should find out the sources of work?
As far as building the outcome is concerned, you are going to align expectations and underperformance. Regarding that, we have noticed that there is a serious scale constraint, which means you have to go above and beyond just being an individual. This becomes either painful or impactful in two ways.
The first way is you, simply don’t have the time.
And so if you are a freelancer, you’re doing two to five projects at a time, One of those projects lasts a day and the other one lasts a week, a month, or a year. If you are doing everything yourself, you inevitably are going to get stuck in the roller coaster. This means that you just cannot do every freelancing work yourself as you don’t have the time.
Another thing to note here is regarding the projects that are of high complexity, high dollar, and high length. They need teams and go beyond your one skill set. So in the two projects that I mentioned in terms of the giant boat product that I built, and the large motorcycle manufacturer, in no way shape or form, could you be an individual freelancer and get in those projects. But what you could do is you could be the main lead for the client and say, we will take on this outcome, and work with other freelancers who have the supplemental skills.
If you can take on the work of building a website, then you have the bench of a designer, developer writer, and other skills you do not have. So the first reason to collaborate with referring the work to your other freelancers is you don’t have the time, and you are going to get stuck in a roller coaster if you do it all yourself. And the second reason is that you need to augment the work to take on the high complexity projects.
The third factor is the operations, and it is about all the standard operating procedures that you build into your business. For example, when you have a new client, you always have a kickoff call or a Trello board or any other communication method. We should enable freelancers to have consistency.
Designhill: Sometimes, the freelancing doesn’t end up in an excellent relationship. Should we look out for such a perfect relationship?
Matthew: I will give the red flags actually for a freelancer and a client. Do they want the job? And does the client put effort into hiring you versus just putting out a project when you know they’re not going to hire for you or are just trying to find the lowest bid or have a track record? And this is where freelance becomes one of the most beautiful things as it is super transparent.
And so if you’re on most of the platforms, you can see these clients. If these clients have done some shady stuff, like, there are some methods upfront to weed out if a client is serious or not. One of the ways to do that is to look at the brief. I love it when a freelancer comes to me and says a great job post, but you need to answer these four questions for me even to give you a ballpark.
Look For The Red Flags
So from a client-side, watch out for the red flags, see if they’re actually putting any effort in and maybe go the extra mile of having a questionnaire or having some sort of intake there. From a freelancer’s point of view, it is similar to where the red flag is. Find out if this client is serious. I take away the name, the face; I don’t even look at the resume.
What I do is I base it off the questions that they are giving me. And then I look at their portfolio. So we do ask specific questions. We line up all of the responses, and we shortlist, and then the ones that we like, we look at the portfolio to match. So that’s sort of how we mitigate the red flags.
One thing that we are passionate about is removing as much as we possibly can. We try to remove the bias that we all have. And so for us, it’s, you know, what is the tangible example of how much you want the job, and it’s a super red flag. Hey, freelancers, know it like you don’t have a job post but don’t half-assed a proposal. If you do, you’re going to get a bad client. Yeah, so that’s, that’s how I would read it on both sides.
Designhill: How to tackle the cultural aspect of freelancing?
Matthew: We all are almost the same.
I think it comes down to being intentional and explicit in everything you do, and it is not unique to the remote. What is unique is that the problems get amplified. So, instead of just starting a relationship and seeing what happens, be explicit about some of the things that could go off the rails.
For example, if there are ways that you like to receive feedback and the numbers of feedback revisions that you will take, be explicit about that. I always have a statement of work and a master service agreement with me at all times, whether it’s a freelancer or someone we hire full-time or just partnering or collaborating with for a project. So, I have operated in every type of environment, quite frankly, dealing in all parts of the globe. And I’ve kind of noticed, we all are the same.
We all just want to be valued for doing good work and want to do good work. The Dutch are especially harsh in terms of they like to get very direct. Americans are a little passive-aggressive and very ignorant. We Americans believe that we know everything in the world. There are so many stereotypes, but you should be explicit and intentional and document these things, which is basic. But just assume good intentions.
On multiple occasions, I wanted to go nuts on a freelancer, and I’m sure a freelancer would want to go nuts on me. But when looking at documented procedures that we had and looking at the feedback that I gave, the scope of the work before they started working, I realized I was totally in the wrong.
And the difference in remote is that it’s going to be documented, transparent, and amplified. All you need to do is to be explicit, be intentional, and ideally get everything documented.
These are the key tips that Matthew Motolla shared with the companies and freelancers when COVID is deciding how the world will work.
While the emphasis is on freelancing due to the coronavirus pandemic, the importance of creative marketplaces like Designhill is felt even more today. This leading marketplace is home to thousands of business owners and freelancers who create amazing visuals together. As a freelancer and a business owner, I start exploring this site to create brand visuals while thinking of remote working.
Human Cloud is all about the world meeting you right where you are sitting. It is a place where the gig economy and freelance work culture are fusing. Freelancing has opened a new world of opportunities for both the workers and companies. But the work models must be picked up carefully out of many of them. Matthew Motolla emphasizes that both the freelancers and clients should ensure network, outcome, and cost of operations in remote working.