Learn To Work More Independently

By Vickie Elmer

With so much work turned over to independent contractors, you may think that your fireworks finale skill-set could be your ability to work independently.

The other push toward a worker who can manage themselves is the continued pressure for companies to maximize their profits, which means a manager who used to supervise five people now may oversee 25. So independence counts now, perhaps like never before.Approximately 16 million people earn a living as independent workers, consultants and freelancers, according to MBO Partners, which recently launched a networking site for them. That estimate is a big increase from the 10.3 million independent contractors counted in 2005 by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. (That tally does not include temporary and on-call staff.)

Yet every one of those independent workers needs to nurture their collaborative side, too. Too much independence and your reputation turns down, trending toward inaccessible or loose cannon or worse. Too little independence and your job may be in jeopardy.

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So here are three tips, in honor of Independence Day, on the tightrope between independence and teamwork:

1. Embrace the duality.
Most fireworks displays are combined with music or a carnival or picnic. Likewise, pair up your ability to work independently with an eagerness to collaborate and support your team. Learn to toggle effortlessly from your focused, driven independent tasks and your collaborative ones. If you are the kind of person who needs time to adjust thinking or mindset, schedule 15 or 20 minutes before a team meeting and focus on how you will share and interact with others.

2. Give yourself advantages.
Most people don't take enough time to consider how to play to their strengths. Those who do already are ahead of the crowd, no matter whether they're an independent CPA or a project manager who supervises a remote team. If you're outgoing and able to juggle 37 tasks and people simultaneously, you may be happier and more successful if your job involves customer service or a large crew.

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3. Ask for feedback on your independent tasks.
If you've been working as an independent contractor for three months, it's time to see what's working and where you could step up your game. If you have been working from home two days a week, sit down with your boss and also your peers to get their perspectives on any balls that are dropped or any cues you're missing.

Even for the most independent of jobs, communication is key. Make sure you share your progress reports, insights and ideas. And do make some of that communication face to face. As a freelancer, I try to schedule a visit in person to my major clients at least once a year.

All this could assure your independence continues to be appreciated and rewarded.

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