Working on my MBA Thesis: How Can Companies Hire Technical People in an Increasingly Freelance Job Market?

Since September 2015 this past year has been an absolute blur. I started my MBA here in Paris with 12+ hour days of classes learning about digital strategy and learning how to code. At the same time, I started my internship at Disneyland by diving head first into web analytics and reporting digital marketing and e-commerce performance. In the middle of the year, my son was born, and you can imagine how the second semester of classes became just a tad more difficult in terms of time management.

But we did it, and now as I wrap up the year the only thing left on my plate is my MBA thesis which I’m working on with two of my best friends from our program. All three of us were interested in the rising trend of freelancing, both from an internal, work-at-home aspect for businesses, as well as the external gig economy. We noticed that people were getting more and more specialized and that certain technical skills like web development, QA testing, and content integration were starting to become hot areas in freelancing because of the flexibility and the temporary nature of the projects they take on.

Businesses, particularly in France, are in a heavy period of digital transformation and they are now finally getting to the point where the workloads justify hiring these technical people internally instead of farming out projects to freelancers or agencies. The problem is that for these technical people, freelancing and/or working in an agency provides high levels of flexibility as well as earning better money than what most companies would be willing to offer.

This is especially true at Disneyland, a company with over 500 different jobs and 15,000 employees in France. Digital transformation affects each department differently, but the analytics team that I work with is bundled under the overall umbrella of marketing. This means that when the analytics team wants to hire an analytics specialist, they are considered in the same way as other marketers, and not like the statistical or programmatic specialist that they are.

The industry of digital evolves much faster than other sectors and HR departments across all big companies struggle to keep up with the changes. It’s nearly impossible to have predictive hiring policies that can be put in place for a number of years at a time, because who knows which department will need a new position next year? Who knows which technology will affect which part of the business in two years?

The common response to these problems today is just to farm out the needed work to an external agency or freelancer until the technology proves itself to be valuable enough to bring the work inside the company. But therein lies the big problem: how can companies hire those same people internally? Especially when the freelancers value their freedom more than anything else and each department where they might be hired has differently HR policies?

Our thesis focuses on this problematic for the analytics team at Disneyland but also on a much broader scale. We have just concluded our quantitative study and are nearing the end of the writing process. But I’m very interested in hearing what you think about the topic as our arguments are not completely done and we are still working on our recommendations. Have you experienced this problem before? How did you solve it? Are you a freelancer? Want to tell me a little bit about your experience? Please get in touch!

If recent trends are any indication of the future, this issue will only grow more difficult over the coming years. I’ll be posting the results of our study here at the end of September, so check back to see what we found out!

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3 thoughts on “Working on my MBA Thesis: How Can Companies Hire Technical People in an Increasingly Freelance Job Market?

  1. Great idea, Tony!

    As a freelancer, one thing I would really like to know is: why do big corporations like Disney still want to internalize talent?

    As you say:
    1) the digital industry evolves faster than corporate HR can plan,
    2) and internal teams (e.g. marketing/analytics) may not recognize the distinctive skills and interests of technical experts that they hire.

    So why bother trying to hire technical specialists ?

    Can’t wait to read the insights of your thesis! Keep up the great work!

    1. Thanks Adrien! To answer your question, many technical skills are “plug and play” meaning that if you have a Javascript developer who does his/her work well, you can plug in a different Javascript developer relatively easily to finish a project if the first one leaves. In this sense, I agree, why bother hiring technical specialists for specific projects? But companies like Disney reach a point where they need people on a multi-project basis, not just single projects. A multi-project role requires strategy and understanding the business behind it. So even if technical specialists might be largely interchangeable on a project level, they often need to spend a lot of time understanding the business intricacies, what has been done before, and how, if they are working on a multi-project basis. That’s why I think that once the role becomes important enough it’s better for a company to try to hire someone internally who will learn all of those aspects than simply relying on external people for each and every project.

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