Meet the Tempreneur

In the recent past, a part-time job was primarily a stepping-stone to full-time work with all the associated benefits.

In the last decade, however, many employees began viewing project stints as a refreshing departure from the capriciousness of Corporate America. They witnessed employers' revolving-door approach to staffing—and consequently ratcheted down their own loyalties, changing jobs more frequently.

Now with the recession easing, 2010 may officially mark the start of the decade of a much less committed relationship between employer and employee. Owing to the disappearance of job security, the desire for greater independence, and the emphasis many baby boomers place on smelling the roses, more senior professionals are becoming what I call "tempreneurs."

Tempreneurs are managers who seek a temporary schedule that makes it unnecessary to put all of their eggs in one corporate basket. They are independent contractors with an entrepreneurial spirit. When employment reaches respectable levels once again, these project consultants may have to be cajoled into working full time.

So what does this mean for establishing and maintaining a corporate culture of continuity, cohesiveness, and productivity? From a leadership standpoint, it seems imperative that businesses maintain a core of employees, but react to external and global influences with some agility to remain profitable.

Contingent Workers

Technology has made it feasible and economical to work with virtual teams. LinkedIn has enabled the lightning-speed assembly of teams and supply chains. Employers, if they're wise, don't want the peaks and valleys of hiring and firing. It's bad for business, not to mention customer loyalty.

All these factors contribute to greater reliance on contingent workers—and in many cases, the tempreneur. Firms are now adopting a variety of strategies to organize and manage contingent workers. They have to become adept at leveraging the talents of tempreneurs, yet treat them as valued team members.

Ultimately, perhaps both sides are getting what they asked for. And as is the case with any two entities that negotiate terms of a working relationship, both sides will have to compromise.

A tempreneur is not driven by a necessity to make ends meet between full-time jobs; it's a personal career choice. Temporary workers go from project to project, usually on-site. Entrepreneurs, on the other hand, have made a career decision to work for themselves, most often off-site. Tempreneurs constitute a new and improved hybrid of the temp worker and entrepreneur. This is a stronger, wiser, more resilient employee.

While they are different from most workers of prior decades, tempreneurs do cross over in certain instances. For example, tempreneurs must collaborate and work on a mutually agreeable schedule with the client, much as consultants do. The differences?

Tempreneurs are more senior than the average temporary worker.

Most temps require much more supervision than do tempreneurs.

Consultants are slightly more senior than tempreneurs (many work directly with CEOs), and they leave much of the execution to the client.

Since tempreneurs are not as senior as consultants, they can more affordably fill the voids in staffing.

Tempreneurs make it easier for their clients to contend with business ebbs and flows.

The trend toward "tempreneurship" began in earnest in 2001, during the dot-com bust. As the last decade unfolded, project consulting became "the great escape."

Today's contingent-worker labor pool is made up of many categories: temporary workers, independent contractors or freelancers, outsourced employees, part-timers, and consultants. When companies are in the full hiring mode again, there will likely be budgeting for long-term use of these contingent workers like never before. It's easy to forget that employers, too, were traumatized by the recession. They suffered the decimation of their bottom line and payrolls, leading to a desire for a paradigm shift to more flexibility.

Long-Term Appeal

With the focus on greater competitiveness and cost-containment, including real estate, travel expenses, and changes in project peaks and valleys, not to mention fixed payroll expenses, the tempreneur has long-term appeal. Further supporting this trend is the rise of entrepreneurship. Many startups are underfunded, making the tempreneur option more desirable, the proverbial best of both worlds.

Now factor in more sophisticated technology, providing a "facsimile digital community" for those working off-site. Video conferencing is bridging the gap and facilitating a greater person-to-person connection. Social media sites such as Facebook and LinkedIn create a sense of community formerly found only in a physical office. And the proliferation of cellular networks, smartphones, and air cards makes mobile offices more mainstream. Plus, employees can socialize without in-person watercooler chats and happy hours.

Clearly, regular full-time employees will never vanish. And there are regulations that your HR department will help you comply with when hiring and classifying workers as contract employees. But 2010 marks a unique time when the U.S. workforce and management face each other with a challenging shift in the relationship they once had.

It can be for the better. Start by understanding that each side must first set a foundation of goals and expectations, with an eye toward mutual gain and trust that's more than "temporary."

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