Dave Osh is a Singapore-based entrepreneur who has recently launched Execuvite, a new global marketplace for professional freelancers. An established corporate leader, the former CEO and CFO of global corporations, Dave wrote a book on building a successful corporate career: Outgrow Middle Management – Accelerate Your Climb to the Top (Morgan James Publishing, 2014). In his interview with BalticAsia, Dave shares his views on the global expansion of freelancing to various fields, and how European companies and freelancers can benefit from this new Singaporean company, Execuvite.
You are the founder and CEO of a freelancing company, Execuvite, the publisher of the Freelancing Magazine and the founder of Freelancing Business Institute – that’s a heavy emphasis on freelancing and ‘virtual workforce’. Is this something you’ve been led to by your decades’ – long high-level corporate career?
Partially. Whatever I do, I seek solutions to problems. The bigger the problem, the bolder the solution is. Technology enables us to work remotely. When I headed a multinational company, we worked from 5 corporate locations and 15 country subsidiaries’. Employees of multinational companies already work remotely and virtually. Some of their projects can be delivered by freelancers. Companies can engage freelancers for the same caliber of jobs as full-time employees. My team and myself are very excited and passionate to drive this paradigm shift and equip corporations and freelancers with the agility and flexibility that the economy offers through Execuvite.
In your publications, you say that by 2020 50% of jobs will belong to freelancers as opposed to full time employees. Should most of us, full time employees, be worried?
Whether you should be worried depends on your values. If you are looking for lifelong secure job until retirement, then you should be worried because such jobs are less available in the new economy. However, if you are looking for more work-life balance and freedom of choice, the new freelance economy offers wealth of opportunities. The real challenge is the rapid shift of competencies that the workplace requires. Many of the existing lucrative professions may not even exist in the next decade. Let’s take for example accounting and other administrative jobs. They are moving to the cloud and many tasks are fully automatic. Technical, creative and marketing professions change rapidly as well. Even if you have a good job, you may not keep it when the company changes direction unless you quickly and consistently upgrade your competencies.
Your company, Execuvite, is a virtual marketplace that enables organizations to accomplish complex projects using cross-functional multidisciplinary freelance teams. That sounds like a whole new level of freelancing, compared to, say, Upwork (former Elance-oDesk). Could you tell us more about that? How is Execuvite platform different?
Execuvite fills the gap between the simple tasks done by individual freelancers on popular platforms and the large projects done by large outsourcing companies such as Infosys. We enable corporate executives integrate disconnected tasks done by cross functional individuals into a single project. One of our customers in the US provides elearning programs. A typical program requires content creator, instructional designer, multimedia producer and a web developer. On competing platforms, like Upwork, this company had to create and run a separate project for every freelancer. They struggled to coordinate the freelancers with disconnected tasks, milestones and timelines. On Execuvite they save time on coordination, accelerate development and dramatically improve the quality of the product because of the freelancers’ interaction and the synergy on Execuvite’s platform. We facilitate collaborative team freelancing instead of solo-freelancing.
Does your system ensure commitments between parties and protect them from scams – both freelancers and employers? In spite of all the effort, there are still cases of fraudulent behavior on popular freelancing platforms – can you avoid this on Execuvite?
Commitments between parties are formed by legal agreements, but still it is challenging to reinforce compliance on a global scale. In order to avoid potential compliance problems, we thoroughly screen employers and freelancers. Funds are deposited into an escrow account and released only when projects or tasks are completed to the parties’ satisfaction. We also require full transparency of public profile with full names and photo. We do not allow avatars and discourage freelancers with full time day job to join Execuvite in order to avoid conflict of interest with employer.
Is this trend (growing number of freelancers and decreasing number of full time employees) felt in Singapore these days? Is it beneficial to the economy?
A survey conducted by Hays in 2014 stated that two thirds of employers in Singapore would use contingent workforce, with 20% expecting their employment of such staff to increase over the next 12 months. The survey of 2,600 employers found that 43% of them use temporary and contract staff for special projects or workloads, and a further 24% employ them on a regular ongoing basis. Singapore is also at the top 5 markets for contingent workforce engagement in the ManpowerGroup Contingent Workforce Analysis (CWI 2014 Global).
I’m not aware of a formal study that shows the impact on the economy. My personal opinion is that the trend towards freelancing facilitates growth because it gives businesses ability to launch new products and expand to new markets without the long recruitment process, such as 30-60 day for a new employee to quit and join and then another 30-90 days onboarding. Professional and experienced freelancers are “plug-and-play” under many circumstances.
How do freelancers from different countries, cultural and professional backgrounds come together in a team? Is this an effective approach?
Team are formed ad hoc for specific projects based on the skills required. We look for international experience to avoid cultural mismatch. A team that has successfully accomplished a project can offer similar projects or even turnkey projects to new clients. The team leader plays an important role. We are developing a pool of highly skilled leaders that have managed projects as corporate executives or freelancers. The employer can provide the team leader and it happens quite a lot.
The team uses a collaborative platform, similar to what employees use in large corporations. The all-in-one documentation and project tools help freelancers and employers overcome communication and cultural challenges. These challenges exist but well written documentation lessens them. One challenge that requires flexibility from freelancers is different time zones. Working day in the US is night in Asia. Freelancers have to adjust their time in order to respond quickly to employers and meet deadlines.
What are the most in-demand fields and skills on Execuvite? Does this reflect the entire Singapore and/or Southeast Asia freelancing market?
The most in demand skills are creative and technical skills for various industries from education to media. We believe that the creative and technical domains will stay strong because cross functional projects require multidisciplinary skills. This is what we are good at.
Where are your freelancers from?
Our freelancers are from all over the world. English is the formal freelancing language so most freelancers are from English speaking countries like the US, UK, Australia, New Zealand, Philippines, India, Singapore, Malaysia.
Singapore is a very comfortable, stimulating, and expensive place to live. Do you think Singaporean freelancers have it easier or harder compared to others?
There aren’t criteria to compare freelancing in different countries yet. The higher cost of living means that freelancers have higher income expectations. Singaporean freelancers compete on highly paid technical and creative skills. Corporations require the same skills and are willing to pay well employees or freelancers. Freelancers in high demand jobs in Singapore have probably made a lifestyle choice. You don’t see too many freelancers who provide administrative jobs like virtual assistants in Singapore.
Basic research through main freelancing platforms gives an impression that freelancers from Asia dominate the freelancing market – is this true?
ManpowerGroup 2014 Contingent Workforce Analysis (CWI Global) shows that US dominates the freelancing market. However, Philippines, Singapore, Vietnam, Thailand, India are at the top 10.
When it comes to Singapore and Southeast Asia, is there a room for freelancers from Europe? How can they find their unique selling point to infiltrate the market? Is there a skill gap that isn’t being filled at the moment?
Online freelancing is borderless. European freelancers can work for Asian business and vise versa. European freelancers bring unique culture, language skills and experience in industries they lead such as fashion and cosmetics. This is extremely valuable for Asian companies that sell to Europe. These freelancers can help businesses to form marketing strategies, develop marketing assets, produce multimedia, translate to European languages, manage social media channels, write copy and run advertising campaigns. This can helps businesses to expand to Europe without hiring locals in Europe or even opening local offices. These projects are less likely to succeed in Europe if done by Asian freelancers.
You published a book called ‘Outgrow Middle Management’, a guide on building a successful corporate career. Do corporate employees and freelancers need the same skills to thrive? What’s different about them?
The more freelancers work in virtual teams for larger companies, the more they will need leadership skills like their fellow corporate employees. ‘Outgrow Middle Management’ is a leadership book that applies to everybody that manages a team.
Freelancers who would like to earn more than the ceiling of their working hours have to develop and lead a team of freelancers. It’s more challenging than managing employees because you are not their boss. Freelancers eventually will have to develop skills that are required from corporate executives like communication, teamwork and leadership.
Managing a virtual workforce creates new challenges like how to connect them to the company’s mission, vision and values. Employers have to start thinking about sharing their success with freelancers and how they can fill part of something bigger than the hourly pay. How they can be part of the employer big picture and be proud to participate and walk the extra mile to succeed.
This article is part of the upcoming Southeast Asia section. Please follow the news!