Surely, Dear Collectivity, from A Freelancer Full of Verve

The 20th of November is entrepreneur’s day.

American entrepreneur Lawrence Levels argues why, by 2035, more than 1 billion digital nomads will live on Earth, meaning freelancers and entrepreneurs who will travel as a lifestyle, working from anywhere on their online businesses.

As a freelancer myself and working with other freelancers, I have lately become concerned about the challenges these freelancers have to face on several levels in the context of East-European societies (predominantly Romanian).

 

The ghost of the communist collective in the20th century companies

First, I think it is worth noting how communism opposed the individual before 1989, and capitalism opposed communities after the Revolution. Which are the implications of this? Menis Yousri considers that Western society is increasingly oriented towards individualism, while Eastern culture suffers from the pressure exerted by the group on the individual.

In Romania, immediately after the Revolution, everything related to Ceausescu and his policies was thrown into the garbage, although some of them were good. They were not good because Ceausescu had some merit but because he was occasionally surrounded by competent experts whom he listened to for a while.

For example, a viable legacy of communism in agriculture preserved in other countries (for example, in Hungary) has been keeping associations of peasants to exploit more extensive lands in the rural area. By putting together resources and proportionally distributing the results, the agricultural disaster that followed in Romania did not occur in Hungary.

In fact, the problem is that group thinking and organizational cultures in Romania do not tend toward the community but towards the collective. So a result is a group, a bunch of people, usually picked in a hurry, without too much strategy (you know, for future long-term plans) and put to work together under the pressure of the group and more based on financial rewards.

(keep reading ↓)

Based on the principle of the force reaction equally opposed to the action, Romanians took back their individualism, ownership after the Revolution. They sought to compensate the orientation towards the community with the direction towards the individual. As a result, more and more of those who manage to become specialists, usually around the age of 30, have realized that they can manage to perform better by working from home, for whom they want and for more money. Even more, if they have enough confidence in their ability to master foreign languages ​​(especially English, German and French – international business languages), they can comfortably find clients from abroad.

A recurring social problem faced by freelancers is: how to become integrated by being accepted by way of affiliation to a group without compromising their values ​​and changing identity? Independence, autonomy, and efficiency are usually advantages that a freelancer has over an employee in a company and are key attributes of this person’s professional role. Usually, in medium and large companies, there is a particular policy to which the employee must adapt. On the other hand, in small and entrepreneurial companies, there is greater flexibility of the organizational culture to be influenced by the personality of those who contribute to the development of the company, even if they are not founders.

 

How much room is there for thinking diversity towards a joint goal?

One of the accusations sometimes brought to the freelancers by employees is that they inflexibly live in a “bubble”. In other words, unlike the capitalist habit of the neo-communist practice of being “embedded in a collective”, freelancers have, poor them, the ability to choose the environment in which they prefer to work and the assertiveness to refuse the clients and projects which do not suit them. When someone works in a collective (not in a community), they must learn when to speak and shut up because frustration, compromise, and humility are in high demand in a matriarchal society such as the Romanian one. After all, questions speak volumes about those who ask them. The freelancer is free not to be interested in such sports. Therefore, if (s)he trains his ability to ask questions, (s)he is likely to ask more helpful questions to the clients (s)he wants to work with. The desire to say something different from what is “regulatory” thus finds its proper place for creative manifestation.

Generally, Romanians live in a culture of apparent agreement, in which contradiction and disagreement are regarded as a source of conflict, misunderstanding, insult, disrespect, mistrust, ridicule, inferiority, superiority, unacceptability, falsehood, incompatibility, contestation, feud, discord, dispute, disagreement, dissension, blame, sanction, criticism, attack, admonition, denunciation, wrangle, quarrel, contradiction, infighting, split, confrontation, antagonism, incongruity and non-alignment, lack of harmony, rupture, animosity, subversion, bad-blood, fight, antinomy, ill-will, revolt, hostility, friction, struggle, battle, and even war. As a result, the alternative to disagreeing with someone is to gossip about him/her and/or “let him/her die stupid”.

Contradiction and disagreement are rarely seen as a source of progress, knowledge, difference, diversity, dissonance, debate, conversation, opposition, freedom of conscience manifestation, the divergence of opinions, paradox, improvement through amendments, the exercise of debate, and/or critical thinking, controversy, counseling, council, advice, public debate. These synonyms are not widely accepted, although they are also found in the dictionary.

Managing an organization based on the principles of a collective is not something wrong, but something that can be improved – it’s just that to organize such a company based on community principles, its selection and recruitment must be made as with Google: constantly searching for people to match that already existing culture, the vision of the founders. That’s rather hard. And expensive.

 

A new century, the same mentality. A gloomy future.

This saying probably has some familiar resonances for many: “When you grow up, have a secure job in a unit, and make your father proud so that you do not live for nothing!”. It’s just that, most likely, the father delivering this speech is now unemployed or retired; one salary would certainly not be enough, let alone a pension, the units he is talking about have been shut down, and the highest job security is the one created by you because from there, as a rule, nobody else can fire you but yourself. Moreover, if their son/daughter were to work as freelancers, they would work half as much as their father and earn twice as much. Welcome to the 21st century! Pensions belong to a system of the past that is unsustainable considering the aging of the population, so those who think that they will be able to live off state pensions are deceiving themselves.

The social problem that some of these freelancers face is that, on the one hand, the cost of the comfort of working what you like from home is that they isolate themselves. But on the other hand, they need a community with other freelancers and entrepreneurs, whom from whom, and with whom to learn. Hubs appeared from this need for connection. However, in this case, I would like to point out that we are already (ideally) talking about a community, not a collective. Hubs nurture communities of people who gather around strategic interests for prosperity, profit, and development.

In reality, individualism does not mean selfishness, and community does not mean collectivity. Unfortunately, however, the mentality of people who are now 50-60 years old has been passed on to those who are now 20-30 years old, so the current generation of freelancers has difficulties finding a place (not a job) in the East-European society. Moreover, their widespread acceptance in the economy and society is conditioned by the change of identity. Thus, instead of encouraging them towards entrepreneurship and community development, the majority (especially the state) pulls freelancers back to organizations focused on community principles.

Many freelancers fail to admit that the standards used to assess their work and social identity are based on criteria that have nothing to do with them: future, capitalism, and community. The logical choice for a freelance position is just forward: toward entrepreneurship, community building, networking, towards company development. Many do not know this and prefer to choose a role again (more valuable financially, of course) within a company. In fact, so many changes have to be made individually that it should not surprise us that it is all the more challenging to transform, move, and mobilize society.

Finally, from an economic point of view, in the long term, most countries with such mentalities are heading towards self-destruction. The increasingly competent workforce prefers to an increasing extent to go abroad or at least work for clients from there. After all, traveling to work from anywhere in the world is cheaper or the same as if you were paying to be in Romania. On the other hand, those who prefer to remain employed only in companies usually grow to the point where they are allowed to (then either leave on their own or become limited), then are consoled with the idea of ​​a pension they will receive (in their idealistic hopes) from a bankrupt state and on the way to destruction.

I notice how more and more of those I am professionally connected with on social networks, whom I met face to face in Romania, have emigrated, and have thriving careers abroad. It is not a statistic but a subjective observation. Why? Maybe because outside Romania, they find some communities organized on professional criteria. Maybe because outside Romania, they work to be accepted as successful individuals due to individualism. Perhaps because they tend to have clients who appreciate them and pay them better than they were used to in Romania. Perhaps because they do not have much higher monthly maintenance expenses than in Romania, they certainly have higher incomes. Probably because freelancers and entrepreneurs are punished by society and the state in Romania instead of being encouraged. In fact, I think those who fully assume the position of freelancer or entrepreneur have managed to leave the Bed of Procrustes by which today’s security is assessed for tomorrow’s compromise.

Despite the “cruelties” stated in this article, I have nothing, particularly against medium and large companies. My criticism starts with the intention to encourage productivity (a term that sounds communist, but it is very capitalist) and to maximize the individual’s creative potential. There are, in Romania, on the one hand, certain companies where the communities and organizational culture thrive, and on the other hand, there is the majority. Which will have more and more competition (you know, from the billion digital nomads…).

Marcus Victor Grant

Communication strategy and human resources consultant

Text Copyright © Marcus Victor Grant 2016-present Translation by Cristiana Brezeanu of the article “Cu siguranță, dragă colectivitate, de la un liber-profesionist cu vervă“  previously published in Romanian in February 2017 on Economia Online. Text Copyright © Marcus Victor Grant, all rights reserved. Initially written in 2016. English version updated in 2021. 

The materials on this blog are subject to this disclaimer.

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