Diversity and inclusion have been at the forefront of  2020 headlines. The concept not only applies to in-house talent and how companies hire, communicate with, and reward their employees. It extends to the people who work as independent contractors to support and grow your business — the teamlancing squad.

Teamlancing is the future of freelancing, defined as “the practice of collaborating with a networked team (or networked teams) of freelancers to achieve a common goal.” For example, your content marketing teamlancers may include marketing technology experts, SEO/SEM consultants, graphic designers, content writers, and research analysts — all with a common goal of generating qualified leads and growing sales.

Your teamlancing ecosystem must represent a wide range of experiences, skills, and perspectives if you want to deliver the best results.

With cross-generational teamlancing, the truth is in the results.

The proof is in the results

A Harvard Business Review study clearly shows that companies around the globe have seen measurable growth as a result of engaging a wide range of talent:

“Companies with above-average total diversity, measured as the average of six dimensions of diversity (migration, industry, career path, gender, education, age), had both 19 percent points higher innovation revenues and 9 percent points higher EBIT margins, on average.”

Yet, many companies, especially in the technology sector, have an “age problem,” according to MarketWatch. Gender, ethnicity, and sexual orientation are all on the radar screen when companies select talent — staff or freelance. But age discrimination is the “last ‘ism,” as it is just starting to be addressed by the media.

Age discrimination lawsuit settlements have cost companies from $2.85 million to $250 million. How does that ultimately apply to your teamlance tribe?

COVID-19 and its aftermath will accelerate teamlancing.

Companies have recently laid off millions of people — including entire groups of content marketing, graphic design, and writing staff. Many will find that relying on people who are not employees can help them scale their businesses without the added expense of benefits, ongoing salaries, and other overhead costs.

Plus, this staffing model enables companies to match the specific talents they need with the people who have them.

Experts worry that layoffs may result in less in-house diversity because companies sometimes retain people who are in the “inner circle,” leaving minorities and older employees out in the cold. So how do we make sure that the same type of thinking doesn’t impact the teamlance ecosystem?

An age-diverse teamlancing community has all these skills:

An age-diverse teamlancing community has all these skills.

Content marketing involves a wide range of skills — creative and analytical. Technology and digital media have changed the tools we use to create and share content, and video and other visual media are more critical than ever.

But many marketing and writing principles are timeless, such as:

  • Knowing your target market at an intimate level and how to appeal to them
  • Embracing the value of brand consistency and credibility
  • Having the right combination of technology and analytics to measure the effectiveness of programs
  • Moving quickly and precisely to meet a market need.

Freelancers of all ages must keep their skills fresh to compete today. People who grew up in the analog era must become familiar with a new range of content creation tools. Professionals who are new to the industry must hone their skills of specific business sectors, learn how to adapt to different writing styles, and become adept at using language most appropriate to the reader or viewer.

Each generation brings unique superpowers to the team.

First and foremost, making sweeping statements about any age group is, in itself, discriminatory. When you assemble your teamlance ecosystem, do your best to remain “age blind.” What skills do you need to grow your business, create compelling new content, or meet a specific market need? Hire for the expertise and talent — not the date on the birth certificate.

To that end, I’ve defined the various generational segments by experience, rather than a decade.

  • The Pros: Many writers who have been laid off from traditional media outlets have turned to careers in public relations, social media, and content creation. They are often fast, fluent, resilient, possess strong research skills, and are adept at dealing with criticism. Seasoned graphic designers have usually learned to adapt their design styles to a wide range of projects and media. The pros are often most likely to have experience across multiple industries. They may not be as fast or fluent with specific technologies, but smart and motivated professionals are open and quick to learn.
  • The Up-and-Comers: These people have either been working on their own for a while or have had a range of different company experiences. They have faced business challenges and can apply their learning to new opportunities. Perhaps they have had leadership experience and are used to collaborating with others.
  • The Newbies: With college or grad school under their belts, they often enter the marketing and content worlds with unbridled creativity and curiosity, as well as essential digital skills. They have never known a world without technology. But learning how to apply it to a business goal effectively is a skill they must hone. With experience comes insights, and knowing how to write to a wide range of audiences and demographic groups takes time to master.

Karla Campos is the Founder of Social Media Sass and producer of a 500-person social media conference. The event planning team was comprised of freelancers ranging from college students to professionals 65+. She attributes the success of the event to cross-generational collaboration. “Picture a knowledgeable football coach and the athletes. That’s is what the experience of the cross-generational team felt like for the Social Tech Live conference,” Campos says.

What comprises an ideal teamlance?

What comprises an ideal teamlance?

Hiring an entire internal team of people of the same age, race, experience level, and industry background would ultimately result in stagnant thinking. Similarly, contracting exclusively with people and groups that look and think like you or fit a perceived notion of what types of people perform best in a particular role can hamper work quality and business performance.

Companies that honor “two-dimensional diversity” (people with different life experiences and demographic profiles) are 45 percent more likely to capture market share and 70 percent more likely to enter a new market.

Check your biases at the (virtual) teamlancing door.

When I was in my late 20s, I hired a 60-something traffic director for a busy marketing services team, reporting into me. She was, without a doubt, the best person for the job. The group I was managing was responsible for hundreds of complex projects and any time, and I needed an experienced right hand who was calm under pressure, and fearless in following-up with the company executives. Admittedly, I was probably awkward and insecure at times when we worked together, but that was valuable work and life season for me. Authentic leadership is age-blind.

Fast-forward to 2020. I often work for and with professionals who are a third my age. To make relationships like that work, you must start by asking yourself, “What do these people know that I don’t know?” “What skills, talents, and perspectives can they bring to this project that will ultimately expand my thought process?”

Never assume that someone will be “overqualified” or “too expensive” for the project at hand or think that entry-level professionals can be “hired cheap.” People approaching retirement may be choosing projects based on lifestyle flexibility and the appeal of the assignment. Look at each team member as an individual and understand what motivates them.

When assembling your teamlancing superhero squad, consider the skills each person brings to the project or the strategic mission. Make sure they all respect each other and are open to amicably resolving conflicts. Like any group, a natural leader will emerge. He or she could be 20 or 70.

"You'd get along well with my mother" (and other things not to say):

“You’d get along well with my mother” (and other things not to say)…

I have heard that statement more than once. Sometimes it’s prefaced by “This may sound creepy, but….” I do not doubt that I would get along with co-workers’ mothers, but I find it mildly offensive. I’d rather be compared to a successful innovative CEO than someone’s mom. Similarly, any statement at either end of the age spectrum that typecasts a co-worker based merely on age is no different than putting someone into a preconceived bucket because of gender, religion, or ethnicity.

Some professionals of all ages assume that older workers’ technology skills are stuck in the 8-track tape era and that they can’t learn new skills. In short, that’s just not correct.

Some seasoned teamlancers are tempted to do what I dubbed “gensplaining.” When an experienced professional talks down to newbies in a way that sounds like a lecture or a scolding, building mutual respect and trust becomes more difficult. Similarly, the “eye roll” when a co-worker is slow to learn a new technology or doesn’t know a particular term is disrespectful and off-putting. Humor can often be a great way to build camaraderie across generations, but be sure that the rest of the team shares your sense of whimsy.

Says Charlotte Japp, founder of CIRKEL, a global organization that fosters cross-generational collaboration:

“I think working with multi-generational teams has taught me to be a better leader and communicator. There’s a certain language that you speak among peers with the assumption that everyone understands the same references and language. However, when you’re working with someone from a different age and life perspective, you realize that there’s no room for nuance or confusion.”

Commit to cross-generational teamlancing.

First, take an honest look at the composition of your own company and the external resources in which you invest. Is it a truly diverse team?

  1. If your team is homogenous, think about its evolution. Examine your recruiting and hiring policies.
  2. Educate your decision-makers about the inherent dangers of age bias and the opportunities that may arise from having many decades of perspectives.
  3. Watch your mouth. Things you say, even in jest, may reveal your hidden biases. Do not make sweeping generalizations about generations or use pejorative or biased language to describe an age group.
  4. Be respectful of different learning styles, but never assume older workers are incapable of expanding their knowledge base or are slow to learn.
  5. When disagreements arise due to differing perspectives, jump in and mediate. If necessary, invest in formal communications and collaboration training.
  6. Share success stories and reward people for cross-generational collaboration. The definition of diversity is rapidly expanding, and you want to build a truly inclusive culture.

Above all, call out age discrimination — at either end of the spectrum — when you see it. We can all tackle this ‘ism (ageism) together if we raise awareness and confront bias head-on. You’ll build a more robust teamlancing ecosystem, and your bottom line will see the benefits!