The End of the Full-Time Job: How Fractional Work Finally Liberates Us (with WSJ Best-Selling Author Edie Goldberg, SHRM Foundation)

Discover the end of the full-time job and the future of talent management throughout the employee lifecycle with Edie Goldberg.
Daan van Rossum
Daan van Rossum
Founder & CEO, FlexOS
I founded FlexOS because I believe in a happier future of work. I write and host "Future Work," I'm a 2024 LinkedIn Top Voice, and was featured in the NYT, HBR, Economist, CNBC, Insider, and FastCo.
October 27, 2023
min read

Welcome to the new Future of Work podcast episode with Edie Goldberg.

Edie Goldberg is the Founder and President of E. L. Goldberg & Associates. She is a nationally recognized expert in talent management and the future of work. Her practice focuses on designing human resources processes and programs to attract, engage, develop, and retain Employees. 

Her clients are from all industries, from Fortune 10 companies to start-ups. Before starting her own firm over 20 years ago, Edie was a Global Thought Leader in the Human Capital Practice at Towers Perrin.

In addition to her strategic advisory work, she is the Chair of the Board for the SHRM Foundation and a member of the Board of Advisors for three Human Resources Technology companies.

Her book, The Inside Gig, stems from this deep look into how companies need to adopt new approaches to work given changing business dynamics.

In this conversation with Edie Goldberg, which you can download on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, and YouTube, we discover the following insights about the future of talent management throughout the employee lifecycle.

  • Employees Want Purpose: More than ever, employees want purpose and meaning. They want to impact their team, company, or the world positively. Similarly, learning and growing (as Daniel Pink says: Mastery) can be very motivating. Managers can ensure that people continuously learn. 
  • Remote Culture, Goals and Motivation: We're not always together in hybrid and remote work. The sense of belonging is the glue that holds everyone together. People want a place to belong, so company culture is so important. This is also why goals are important: working together toward a common objective. Managers can help employees by having meaningful conversations about setting and achieving goals, which drives motivation, engagement, and performance. 
  • Training Managers: We need better support managers for successful hybrid and remote teams. First, to help them understand that management is about getting work done through other people, training them to do it well, and then recognizing them for success. We should also separate the leader of the work and the leader of the people. These are different things that require different skill sets. Don’t make people take on work that drains them. 
  • Fractional Work: Talent marketplaces like Fiverr and Upwork connect people with work that matches their skills and interests. Edie believes we can apply that in a company too. Because we don’t know or leverage all of our employees' skills, experiences, passions, and interests. Even just giving them time to opt into projects they’re interested in could be a huge win for people, their teams, and the company.  
  • And I love Edie’s final note: If you’re not learning, you’re falling behind. 

You can find the full episode and transcript here:


Daan: You are very focused on designing programs and processes that help companies attract, engage, develop, and retain employees. How has that changed overtime and how should companies look at differently in 2023? 

Edie L Goldberg: What employees really want from their workplace is purpose and meaning. I come to work to do something that has some meaning, and to that end, they just want to have an impact.

It might be that I have a positive impact on my team, on our project, or on the world, but people want to make an impact. They want to do something important. They also want to learn and grow as individuals. That's very motivating.

Years ago, Dan Pink wrote a book called Drive, and he talked about autonomy, mastery, and purpose. Purpose already talked about. The mastery piece is all about continuing to learn and grow, and that is very motivating.

Managers don't have to create some big new process within the company, but helping the employees continuously learn is really important. And related to that, people want a place where they can belong. This is my team and my company. That's why company culture is so important. It's something that I belong to, something that I fit in with.

We've certainly seen, over the last couple of years, that belonging takes on a much bigger role. What is it that employees are seeking from a company, and what's important to employees?

Daan: Why is belonging growing in importance for companies? 

Edie L Goldberg: First off, we're seeing more diversity across organizations, which helps people feel like they belong.

The other thing is that in the past three or more years, we have moved to remote and hybrid work environments. We're not together as we used to be all the time, and that remote work situation can create a feeling of being disconnected if you're not really paying attention to it.

That sense of belonging is creating the culture, the glue that holds everybody together to create that sense that I belong here. This is my team. This is the work that we're doing collectively.

This is why goals are so important: they bring people together to focus everybody around a common objective.

It's a shared accomplishment and impact that we get to have together. All of that comes together to create this motivational sense with employees and also It's that stickiness; it's the glue that helps people feel like this is my tribe. If you will, these are my people.

I enjoy coming to work because I get to work with cool people doing important things.

Daan: That also links to your purpose, the impact that you want to make, and the growth that you want to see for yourself as a person and as a professional, and that doesn't sound that difficult.

But when I think about goal setting and maybe OKRs, it seems like these big things that a company has to do, maybe with a consultancy over a long period of time, are ther some things that managers can tap into to create a better employee experience within their own team?

Edie L Goldberg: There has been some really great research from the Gallup organization talking about what drives employee engagement and, related to this issue, setting goals. When managers sit down and have conversations with their employees about what they're trying to create or achieve and where they really need help, and then help them achieve that objective, This is what drives performance and motivation in an organization.

If I just give you a set of goals and don't talk to you about them until the end of the year, those goals aren't really motivating. But if I'm having regular, meaningful conversations with you about your performance, how things are going, and what's getting in the way of you being able to do your best work to achieve the goals that you've set out for yourself or that we've set as a team,

Those meaningful conversations drive employee engagement and therefore drive performance, which is what managers and leaders care about.

It's really a well-embedded system, but having those conversations is what managers can do to both drive the productivity of their team and create a meaningful work environment for employees.

Daan: It's fascinating because I'm thinking about this idea of goals that are intrinsically motivating. You're not talking about the externalities of a salary, benefits, or whatever engagement activities you're doing; talking about the work itself should already be engaging and meaningful.

But then I think back about the average or normal manager: is everyone equipped to sit down and have a conversation about goals, especially first-time managers? Is that something that you learn over time? How do you get there?

Edie L Goldberg: That is a huge issue. Most managers don't have the skill sets to have those kinds of conversations with their employees.

They aren't necessarily selected to be managers because of their great managerial skills. They are selected because they're great technical leaders. We don't necessarily recognize and reward them for their great management skills. We recognize that it was worth it to get things done. So, 90% of your time is spent on individual contributor work. 10% of your time is spent managing your employees.

We do need to change or be more clear about the expectations of the role of a manager. Then provide managers with the training that they need to be successful in that position. And then recognize and reinforce their behaviors as managers.

It's about getting work done through people. Not doing the work yourself.

Daan: But that's always a hard shift to make because, as you said, you're coming from the individual contributor role; you're doing great work, and then at some point you say you're doing such great work that we're now going to distract you by having to manage people. That's a really difficult transition to make.

For managers that are in organizations where they're not being equipped or trained to become great managers, where would they get those insights and learn how to be a better manager? Or What is management even to start with?

Edie L Goldberg: There are so many things in there.

One is that I don't think we provide enough training to manage how to be effective in that role. In particular, in the last couple of years, when we switched to these hybrid and remote work situations, we didn't teach managers how to operate in those new environments. And that did managers and employees a huge disservice.

But we can provide them with perspective, with tools, with training, and with ideas about how to manage in these different environments. So training is absolutely critical, but there is something about the structure of the job.

In fact, a couple of years ago, I wrote a book, and one of the things I talk about in the book, because it's all about the future of work and how work has to change, is that we should be looking at the role of the manager and perhaps thinking about breaking it down into two jobs. One is the leader of the work, and the other is the leader of the people.

Daan: I love that. Can we double click on that? 

Edie L Goldberg: The leader of the work is perhaps the person who has that deep technical expertise and who's in charge of leading the project to achieve things.

But the leader of the people is somebody with a different set of skills. They're the people who are inherently interested in an employee's growth and development and talking to them about their performance, not necessarily on just one team but maybe across many teams, because maybe I work with more than one leader of the work; maybe I work on several projects, and they all have project leaders.

Now, if you will, my career manager, my personnel manager, or whatever labeled people manager is really just focused on helping me understand my performance, how to move my performance forward, and how to move my career in a way I want to learn and grow.

But leading the work and leading the career are two different things and require different skill sets.

So, I'm proposing that, as we look at the future of work, we might think of breaking down this role that we've traditionally called manager. Think about dissecting it into parts where we can leverage the best skills of people in the right way.

Daan: That sounds like such a great idea. I hope that companies can embed that in their organizations because you hear so much about how the leader and the manager of the future need to be more like coaches, they need to be empathetic, and all these things. That's really only for a very small percentage of people. Of course, there are some things that you can train, and there are certain skills that you can learn.

But having that intrinsic motivation to be that coach for people, to sit down with people, to slow things down, and to get people towards their goals and the impact they want to make—that's not for everyone; there is a very specific profile of people that could do that.

Edie L Goldberg: I don't want to be overly stereotypical. I happen to live and work in the heart of Silicon Valley, where there are a lot of engineers who have a lot of really great technical skills, but many of them are introverts, and the idea of coaching and developing my staff is not my strong suit or my interest.

So, I think it's recognizing and letting people lean into their strengths and not making them take on work that drains them. Managerial work is the bane of their existence. If we can look at work and parse it out so that people can lean into their skills, expertise, passions, or interests, then maybe we can think about doing that work differently.

Daan: That makes so much sense, Edie. I think this is such a great idea. You mentioned that I could be working for several managers and doing different projects. One of the things I'm extremely fascinated about is how, maybe in the future of work, we don't have a full-time job anymore, we split ourselves into multiple parts within an organization, or we may combine that with running a small startup on the side, doing something entrepreneurial, working for an NGO, or supporting a friend with a business. What could that look like in this fragmented future of work?

Edie L Goldberg: I mentioned earlier that I wrote a book three years ago called “The Inside Gig”, which plays into this concept and obviously leverages the external gig economy, where today people look for projects that match their skills and interests, and they can opt into those projects if there is a transaction involved.

I pay you to get that work done, but I think that we can actually apply that concept within a company as well. That's why my book is called The Inside Gig. We do not know or leverage all of the skills, experiences, passions, and interests of our employees. We hire people into a job, and then we put them in this box. That's your job, and these are the things that you do, and these are the people that you work with.

It limits them as individuals from leveraging all the skills and experiences that they have to contribute to the company's success. It also inhibits them from being able to demonstrate their interest in another area of the business to learn something new, maybe something that's of growing importance to the company.

My concept is that we can fractionalize some of the work that we do. We already work on project teams. This isn't anything tremendously new, but if we give employees some time to opt into projects that they're interested in, either because you hire me or because when I worked for Towers Perrin, I was in human capital practice, They also had a measurement practice.

It just so happens that I have eight semesters of advanced statistical training, and I happen to be a deep expert in research. So, I could very easily have worked on a project in this other part of the organization, but never was I ever considered for any of that work, even though research was my first love, because I didn't work in that part of the business. But I could have had value. And when they needed to get a project done and they perhaps didn't have anybody in my office that could do that work, they could have leveraged me.

Daan: Totally. That would have tapped into your passion and interest, and it would totally have helped in retaining you within the company. It would have made so much sense. So why not?

Edie L Goldberg: That was out of the box that I sat in. I think that we have a great opportunity to tap into the energy and enthusiasm of our employees to help them learn and grow by allowing people to work on different teams with different people. We simply learn and grow when we work with people who work differently from us.

The idea of doing project-based assignments within a company or small internal gigs—what I call it—provides an opportunity where employees can work.

Hotshot Communications, in India, has a program where, if you've been working for some period of time and you decide that maybe you don't want to work full time, you can choose the number of hours that you want to work and then you can work on project-based assignments.

Or let's say you are a new parent and you've taken maternity or paternity leave and you want to come back. You're not ready to come back full-time. You can come back and work on projects. Let's say the world is getting older. There are a lot of people who still want to work but don't want to retire because we're living longer.

There are ways in which we can help people work on projects where they can contribute their skills but are not necessarily working in a full-time role.

So, I think it really opens up possibilities about how we can better track talent, retain talent, and access the talent that we need by thinking about how work doesn't always have to be a job.

Daan: We have this preconceived notion of what is a job and what is a role, and that needs to go out of the window because people are unique human beings, and we need to integrate work and life better, and we need to make sure that we can adapt the job to our liking and to our life and not the other way around. That's the age that we live in, and it makes so much sense.

Another big topic is hybrid and remote work. We just released some research recently. We've seen a lot of research that shows that when you embrace a hybrid  or remote jobs, which again allows people to work more flexibly, to tailor the work more towards their lives, and to make sure that the things that they want to do and still make a living that a lot of things that we care about improve engagement, productivity, and retention.

But there are still so many companies that are holding back. Do you have any sense of why that is? Because you're doing the consulting, and I'm sure you're talking to a lot of people. What is that thing that's standing in the way of companies fully embracing a more distributed way of working?

I think you have some practical experience managing remotely.

Edie L Goldberg: One ties back to our earlier conversation about management skills. When we flipped the switch literally overnight to working remotely, there were some resources that only about 30% of company-trained managers have them operate in that way.

Daan: Even that strikes me as high, to be honest. 

Edie L Goldberg: It may be. So managers who aren't very good at managing jobs to begin with were all of a sudden thrown into this very difficult position of managing remotely. We just needed more support than they got.

That's one reason, and I think companies are basically pulling back because that's hard. It's the right thing to do, but it's hard and requires some investment to get it right.

The second thing that I see, particularly in my US-based clients, is a trust issue. There are some employees who are just knocking it out of the park, and they're doing a great job, and they're really productive.

All the research has said productivity went up across the board, but there are still some employees where productivity didn't go up or productivity went up, but the manager said, “Oh, it's because they had access to this technology, and I'm not quite sure it was because of them or because of the technology.“ They discounted what the employees were doing, and I can't see it. Therefore, I can't manage it, so I'm not sure that they're working.

I spoke to a C-suite executive the other week, and he said, I call him and find him Fridays. Everybody works remotely on Fridays. Is anybody actually working? Can you actually pick up a phone and call anyone and actually get them? Or, Oh, I was walking my dog, or whatever it is. So, I think, particularly from senior management, there's a lack of trust.

This is a real problem, and we have to figure out how to overcome it. This is research from Microsoft, and it's absolutely fascinating because they actually use their own technology to understand exactly what's happening. But it's a concern about innovation. So, we were connecting with our intact teams, and those bonds got to be really strong.

That was really great. Except for what happened, we became insular and stopped connecting with people outside of our regular team, and so that cross-pollination of ideas, those serendipitous meetings that people always talk about—that's actually not necessarily how innovation happens. Innovation tends to be a bit more purposeful.

But innovation does happen when people from different backgrounds come together to talk about a particular topic. And particularly during the pandemic, that wasn't happening because I was sticking with my work group. And I think that is a big reason why a lot of leaders are pushing back on remote or hybrid work now because they're saying it's getting in the way of innovation.

It doesn't have to get in the way of innovation if we are intentional about how we work together. But if you're going to wait for this just to happen, it's not going to happen, and therefore that's, I think, why they're pulling back.

Daan: Once again, the keyword really is intentionality. It's not to say that with these new working models, the things that we previously did in the office cannot be done. It takes a rethink, design to your point, and an intentional approach to get the same things done. In many ways, we've used the office as a crutch, where the things that we wanted happened organically. They happen by default, and now we actually have to orchestrate them. Okay, but that's fine.

Edie L Goldberg: Intentionality is the key word, and I've given some talks on this before, but if we can make our culture stronger by teaching managers how to be more intentional with their behaviors, how to think about how individual behaviors reflect on the company culture, and how to reinforce the values that the company has.

But it all takes intentionality. It has to be purpose-driven, and it won't just happen serendipitously.

Daan: Which means it takes more work, and when we're already feeling overworked, stressed, and busy, these are the things that we don't do, and therefore, we complain that the system isn't working.

But we need to sometimes take the time aside to prepare for the next chapter, which is obviously happening. Do you see some companies that are doing this particularly well, or just elements of it?

Edie L Goldberg: I think a lot of the companies that were remote first to begin with understood the need to embed their culture and day-to-day behaviors. And so they were always really good at that.

I've worked with some clients where that has been the focus of our work when they were thinking about our hybrid strategy. How do we bring people together for moments that matter, as opposed to everybody having to be in the office? So, then we all sit in a Zoom meeting that's not motivating.

There has to be a greater purpose behind the why, where we are, and what's important about that. And so, after crafting that experience, I think we're at this great inflection point where, if we don't just try and rely on the crutch, we have to go back to the office because it was easier. We can really take on and bring forward the improved productivity that we saw at the beginning of the pandemic.

A little bit of my concern is that some of that improved productivity was because we were just working all the time because we had nothing to do.

Daan: Exactly. We were worried for our jobs and we were trying to survive. 

Edie L Goldberg: Yeah. So there's been a lot of negative around stress and burnout around that.

But I think that if we only have people come together when it really matters, now you get this increased productivity because I'm not driving my car for an hour to work or an hour home. I have more time for my mental health, to exercise, to be with my family, or to do something that brings me joy.

There are many great benefits to learning to effectively work, but we have to embed those new behaviors because it's not just going to happen naturally.

Daan: It's not just going to happen, but this is your call to action if you're listening to start implementing some of those remote first principles.  Edie, I think we could talk for a lot more hours, but we are at the end of the time for today. I just wanted to ask you if there was one piece of advice or one wish for humanity that you could put on a billboard, what would it be? 

Edie L Goldberg: I'm going to give you two things.

One is always learning because the world is constantly changing, and if you're not learning, you're falling behind. The other is probably being kind to others. I think that's so important right now.

Daan: Beautiful. Couldn't be a better note to end the conversation. Thank you so much, Edie, for being on today. 

Edie L Goldberg: Thank you for having me. It's been a great pleasure. 

Daan: It was great.

You Might Also Like …

All articles about

Future Work

A weekly column and podcast on the remote, hybrid, and AI-driven future of work. By FlexOS founder Daan van Rossum.