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The pop-up employer: Build a team, do the job, say goodbye

There was a content division to churn out copy for game cards; graphic designers to devise the logo and the packaging; developers to build the mobile app and the website. True Story was a case study in what two Stanford professors call “flash organizations” — ephemeral setups to execute a single, complex project in ways traditionally associated with corporations, nonprofit groups or governments. Temporary organizations capable of taking on complicated projects have existed for decades, of course, perhaps nowhere more prominently than in Hollywood, where producers assemble teams of directors, writers, actors, costume and set designers and a variety of other craftsmen and technicians to execute projects with budgets in the tens if not hundreds of millions. In principle, many companies would find it more cost-effective to increase staff members as needed than to maintain a permanent presence. There is some evidence that the corporate world, which has spent decades outsourcing work to contractors and consulting firms, is embracing temporary organizations. In 2007, Jody Miller, a former media executive and venture capitalist, was a co-founder of the Business Talent Group, which sets up temporary teams of freelancers for corporations. Some of Miller’s biggest clients are in the pharmaceutical industry, whose economics are not unlike Hollywood’s in that it is heavily project-based and a small handful of blockbusters drive most of the profits. Business Talent Group teams frequently work on the kickoff of a new drug — devising the strategy for reaching out to patient groups, journalists, doctors and insurers — and help pry open new markets for existing drugs. In entertainment, there is Artella, which helps freelance animators, sound designers and other talent form teams that produce animated features. In addition to True Story, the two professors enlisted one team that built an app to help emergency medical technicians communicate with hospitals, and another that built a Web tool to help a consulting firm run workshops for clients. First is that the platforms tend to be highly dependent on data and computing power. [...] is the importance of well-established roles. Sociologists and organizational theorists have marveled for decades at the way disaster response teams or emergency room trauma units pull off complex tasks, even if they have never met before, because the division of labor is understood. Dave Summa, who worked on a team that the Business Talent Group assembled to advise a major agribusiness company on which markets to compete in, said it fell to him to define the questions that needed answering and the mode of analysis, while a colleague oversaw teams of workers who produced specific plans. When the writers, who composed short poems for each game card, first submitted their work, he and his business partner had one overriding impression: “Most of the content was really bad,” he said. [...] even if high-skilled workers like project managers and Web developers find they are well compensated on the open market, said Lawrence Katz, a Harvard economist, low-skilled workers tend to fare worse outside firms. Bernstein concedes that the anxiety is legitimate, though he says services could eventually dampen insecurity by playing a role that companies have historically played: providing benefits, topping off earnings if workers’ freelance income is too low or too spotty, even allowing workers to organize.

Article by By Noam Scheiber (c) Business and Technology News - Read full story here.