The Future of Work in the World of Co-Creation
In September, Amy was invited to Bangalore, India to give a talk at Crowdsourcing Week about the future of work in a world of co-creation. We at ModSquad took that opportunity to really dive into the history of our company and explore why our model has resulted in such successful partnerships between our clients and Mods. It was quite an introspective journey and led us to conclude the key to our success has been our role as the bridge we have created between a talented workforce that demands autonomy and purpose, on one hand, and the businesses looking for high quality, flexible expertise on the other.
Pop quiz. What is co-creation?
- A religion
- An artistic movement
- A style of governing principles
Pencils down; it was a trick question! Co-creation is when parties like companies and a group of customers join together to produce a positive outcome that is valued by all parties. Predating social media, it has its roots back in 1970s business schools but gained traction with the rise of popular audience-sourced apps like Napster. We weren’t even familiar with the term in 2007, when Amy left her legal career to start ModSquad, but as we reflect on it today, it’s what has driven thousands of people to join ModSquad (along with our many clients).
So how did we find ourselves at the helm of a leading on-demand “crowdsourcing” workforce company, part of a movement that’s win-win for both the company and individuals? It all started in a bar — and no, this isn’t the setup to a bad joke. It was in Mike’s virtual sports bar in Second Life. For those unfamiliar with Second Life, it’s an online virtual world and for many, the first experience with virtual community engagement in the new social realm outside of MySpace, America Online, and online gaming. In Second Life, a lawyer by day can be a virtual DJ, musician, or bartender at night. (Mike, also a lawyer, worked in Second Life as all three, albeit without the requisite degree of talent.)
Amy had moonlighted as a moderator on message boards for her favorite TV shows, but Second Life was more immersive. We met people from every walk of life who shared our interest in pop culture and current TV dramas. For businesses (particularly consumer brands), celebrities, and public figures, it was a way to connect directly with followers and build advocacy and community. It was this deeper level of engagement in a new virtual world that brought brands closer to their customers and followers and it really got our attention. It ultimately changed Amy’s personal journey from the halls of justice to working from home, convincing Mike to do the same, and led to the creation of a new on-demand workforce.
Fortunately, it was more than just an enjoyable pastime. There was a commercial demand for it! From TV shows to national sports teams, Army families to politicians, companies and organizations far and wide sought help and expertise to foster engagement in the new online frontier. As disruptive as it has been to customer engagement and customer support, back then, even the best customer support agencies had not yet figured out or believed in the viability and legitimacy of social and virtual communities.
Being comfortable in a virtual world, we wanted to be where our clients’ customers were: increasingly online. Never partial to a physical office setting or traditional watercooler experiences (though we do have a long running chat named “Watercooler of Epicness”), we instead brought that sense of workplace camaraderie to the fun, vibrant, and distributed community culture we’d created online. We teamed up for client projects without sacrificing the flexibility on which the Mods and our clients depend. There was no reason to limit who could work with us by location; instead, we pooled our talents and combined interests, always using an equation of skill, interest, and experience to find the perfect match for each client. Not surprisingly, these Mods were already customers of the brands and projects they chose to work on. Finding the most applicable Mods for our clients reminded us of how our clients were delighted when we found them the best of the best, people who were ready to fight for their cause. But here, we can go even further; we can easily scale up when there is demand and scale down just as fast, if not faster, than the traditional outsourcers, and certainly with less of the headaches and delay that come with hiring a permanent workforce.
At the time, outsourcing customer care and engagement was very much an accepted practice, but it came with a degree of disconnection with the consumers and inflexibility for the business clients. These traditional outsourcers were designed with bigger operations in mind, so if you were a start-up or a growing company and didn’t exactly need 24/7 services, you were out of luck. ModSquad, with its concept of social and virtual engagement, quickly stood out for a variety of reasons:
- The magic blend of a motivated, talented workforce with the right brand, as compared to the old-school time-clock card-punchers toiling away anonymously in a cube for a brand they couldn’t care less about. (#modsnotcubes).
- Savings on reduced capital expenses (without the need for substantial buildings, operations, and maintenance) are passed onto customers.
- The ability to source top talent from anywhere in the world, rather than being tied to a workforce local to your physical operations; this location-based flexibility is a boon for our clients.
- Customization and localization is a breeze for business clients looking to engage their customers from a different region than their own.
Passion. Purpose. Engagement.
Just as the way we work is changing, so are the ideals about work and our connection with others. You frequently hear, “I have a passion for what I do,” but we combine that with exclamations like “Wow, I love art!” or, in the case of my world, “I love Pokémon Go!” Sure, passion is important, but the most motivated and loyal workers are those who find a purpose and meaning to the work. You can’t depend on business to give you purposeful work, unless you believe in it as well. This reciprocity is where the future of work lies, in the hands of the individual who chooses the work they do, when they do it, and from where. Yes, employers will always need to compensate their workforce, but it will increasingly require more than a paycheck to keep workers happy and engaged. The key is advocacy, support and innovation.
Crowdsourcing a Workforce is Mainstream and Growing
As people seek opportunities to find great work outside of the traditional office setting, there is tremendous opportunity for crowdsourcing. Freelancing is a booming industry, with LinkedIn recently adding a new service allowing users to register for, or find, freelancer work. MBO Partners, which studies the independent workforce, has predicted that 54 million Americans will be independent workers by 2020. With 152 million working Americans working today, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 54 million independent workers is a very sizable percentage of the population.
Besides a growing independent workforce, crowdsourcing has a place in the future because it has cemented itself as a practical way to gather the best information and skills from the best talent. (For a mainstream example, look at Wikipedia, usually our starting point for writing blog articles like this!) And that brings us back to co-creation. All around us are consumer-driven economics with surveys and customer pulse-readings. Gone are the days of “build it and they will come.” The challenge for companies is tapping into whatever it is that motivates customers and key influencers to invest in the process. What purpose resonates with people and what value do they gain? How do you reach them and stay in touch? In the case of producing a better service experience, the ideal co-creators are customers who have an innate understanding of your business and want to help it expand and succeed. Think of a brand you know inside and out, one where you feel like you have a vested interest in seeing it succeed. To get close to the customer, we absolutely must move beyond a call center in a physical building. The Internet, social media, and mobile give us direct connections. It’s about localization and personalization, instant access from experts everywhere, anytime.
A Shared Vision, Motivated with the Same Goal — Key to Great Engagement
Clearly, crowdsourcing and co-creation go hand-in-hand. Co-creation works best when both parties have a shared vision, motivation, and goal. To succeed, one must go well beyond merely hiring focus groups and compensating them for their opinion on a product service. Instead, co-creation means finding those special individuals who want to make a better product and help a brand. In the case of what we do, it’s the drive to protect or promote the brand in an online setting.
Will the future offer traditional office jobs and employment opportunities? Of course. But it won’t end there. We’ll have more dynamic opportunities because of the effects crowdsourcing will have on the way tomorrow’s workforce is defined. We’ll be molding, or co-creating, the products and services we all use in the future. As crowdsourcing continues to grow and evolve, new models will help businesses around the world and will spark endless opportunities. And we’ll be there on the leading edge of that movement.
COO | General Counsel
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