Working Alone Together At Akron's OSC Tech Lab

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Recently, we reported on the shift by employers to use more freelancers and independent contractors for production and services.  Technology has made that a lot easier to manage on both ends.  Freelancing also presents fresh challenges.  In part two of the series, ideastream Reporter David Molpus picks up that thread.

Technology workers such as web designers and app developers dominate the freelance and remote-worker labor force but other fields are catching up - accountants, lawyers, communications consultants and many more.  Rachael Krantz lives in Akron but works for a company in Pittsburgh called "imagine careers."

KRANTZ:  "Our mission is to help people find and connect to companies they actually are passionate about working for."

STOCKBURGER:  "I'm rick stockburger.  I work for a consulting firm called Escayls here in Akron.  I worked on community outreach for them to kind of change the mindset of what transportation organizations do."

KNAPP:  "My name is jonathan knapp and the name of the company is Coffee and Code."

Knapp calls his business a "digital consultancy."  He took the name from the two activities he did most in college - drink coffee and write code.  

One thing all three really like about working this way is the freedom that often comes with it.  Knapp, who's been at it nine years and built up a client base that has included Fortune 500 companies, says if he had a staff job, he'd have to take whatever assignments are thrown at him.  Working as an independent he just does the parts of a job he most likes.

KNAPP: "I get to solve a lot of different problems and I get that for a whole slew of clients.  Once the complicated parts are done, I can point them in a direction they can take their existing team and run with it themselves.  So I can move on to the next brainbuster and try and work my way through that."

As exhilarating as that can be, freelancing does have its hazards.   Here's Rick Stocburger again - the communications consultant.

STOCKBURGER:   "I''ll have maybe four clients come at me all at once and then maybe I won't have a client for 3 or 4 months.  It's interesting in that respect and, frankly, terrifying at some points.  I mean I have a new wife, an 8-month old daughter so there's all that going on."

Stockburger says his previous time in the military helped prepare him for today's idiosyncratic workflow.  There "hurry up and wait" is often standard operating procedure.

Here's another caution, says Rachel Krantz:   No matter what your skill, there's a continuous self-marketing aspect to independent consulting.

KRANTZ:   "You have to go out and actually find those clients that you can do work for.  They're not going to just come to you. So there's a lot more paperwork on that side of things billing clients, doing your own sales.  There's a lot of work with that."

Krantz, Stockburger and Knapp are all in unrelated businesses but they actually work side-by-side -- at least some days of the week.  They, and others, pay a modest rent for shared space at a building near the University of Akron campus.  It's called the OSC Tech Lab.  

Nick Petroski says he got the idea about a year ago after discovering that he had to get out of the house, even though he's an introvert.  He figured others out there also needed an escape from working at home.

PETROSKI:  "You go stir-crazy. You're gonna start talking to your pets and its gonna go, it's gonna go south fast."

In the lab, some sit along a conference table lined with laptops and cell phones. Others have small rooms of their own.   Either way, there's easy going camaraderie  - someone nearby to talk to who gets the freelance culture.  A way of life for a growing number of workers. 

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