Remote working and the possible adoption of a four-day week is a regular topic of conversation, showing that there are different ways of structuring the world of work than the current status quo. In my view, discourse about the four-day week provides a valuable route into a conversation about rebalancing the scales away from the traditional employer-employee model and towards new and diverse ways of structuring a workforce and workplace.
As a part of our interview series called “How Employers and Employees are Reworking Work Together,” we had the pleasure to interview Albert Azis-Clauson.
Albert Azis-Clauson is the CEO and Co-Founder of UnderPinned. Before starting UnderPinned, he trained as a dancer at the Royal Ballet School and then studied for a Philosophy of Science degree at UCL. Albert previously ran a media and arts company that helped young emerging artists, before founding UnderPinned when he was 22.
Thank you for making time to speak with us about the topic of our time. Our readers would like to get to know you a bit better. Can you please tell us about one or two life experiences that most shaped who you are today?
Of course. I’ll start with an introduction! My name is Albert Azis-Clauson and I’m the CEO of UnderPinned.
I suppose one of the main life experiences that shaped who I am today, and ultimately fed into my work ethic, is the time I spent training as a dancer at the Royal Ballet School — which taught me discipline and that criticism is a gift, alongside highlighting my own ability to communicate across different mediums and think with creative vision. I then studied for a degree in Philosophy of Science at UCL, where I fell in love with computer science and problem solving.
The second life experience I’d say shaped who I am today was starting UnderPinned at 22 — where I was fortunate enough to raise £1m in my first year as a graduate, to support the growth of the business. I started UnderPinned with a vision to create an online community where freelance workers could connect and share insights, and benefit from a wealth of knowledge and resources needed to build a freelance portfolio, manage clients and projects, and produce invoices and contracts. UnderPinned is dedicated to helping people build their own successful businesses, not only in the creative economy, but in sectors like financial services too. We provide the tools and resources required to support people to commercialise their skills and make things easier and more accessible for their clients too.
With both the experiences I’ve listed, I made the conscious decision to go against the grain. This way of thinking not only defines who I am as an individual but is further testament to what I see UnderPinned as doing for the freelance sector. With UnderPinned, myself and my co-founder Jack took a risk, in pursuit of trying to find an accessible route to building success in the future of work. That focus on having a constructive discussion surrounding the future of work has been turbo-charged as a result of the pandemic.
Let’s zoom out. What do you predict will be the same about work, the workforce, and the workplace 10–15 years from now? What do you predict will be different?
That’s a good question. For me, I think one thing that will remain a constant thread running through our understanding of the workplace/workforce is the value we place on finding a balance between our work and our personal life. This topic has been a core tenet in the debate around ways of working, for years. It’s so important because it has such a significant impact on employees — in terms of their desire to stay working within a certain industry or for a particular organisation — but also in terms of their output as an employee, such as their productivity and ‘passion’ for their job.
This is why it’s important to recognise that the future of work is one that centres around the individual as much as the company — and that we must create the right ecosystem to benefits both. I’m passionate about building that ecosystem and supporting individuals to commercialise their skills and challenge businesses to treat their project-based workers in the proper manner — because ultimately the future of work is hybridised. That’s good for the freelancers, but it’s also good for companies too, who otherwise risk missing out on the value and talent of freelance workers who could be game changers for their business.
What advice would you offer to employers who want to future-proof their organizations?
Get with the programme. Start to listen to your employees. Create an environment where they feel they can be open and transparent about their goals and objectives — both professionally and personally. From there, you can join the dots and seek to get the most out of your workforce, whilst supporting their own personal development objectives.
Hunt for diversity. Diversity is the key to success in all sectors, as the more diverse inputs you have, the better your outputs as a business. The freelance economy offers a plethora of voices and contexts that can be harnessed by companies to secure their future as an industry leader.
With the pandemic increasing people’s desire to pursue more passion-led projects and branch out into different ways of working, retaining a rigid and traditionalist mindset is only going to leave you dry when it comes to retaining a diverse and talented workforce. It’s not that you want your business to be full of individuals all wanting to have their own ‘side hustle’ — but you don’t want your business to be devoid of these types of workers entirely. The reason for this is that a more diverse workforce, made up of as wide a variety of skills sets as possible, is the key to a successful business. Why risk losing these individuals, when the solution is simple — look towards supporting more agile forms of working, such as freelancing.
What do you predict will be the biggest gaps between what employers are willing to offer and what employees expect as we move forward? And what strategies would you offer about how to reconcile those gaps?
Again, I’d lean towards the point above — it’s the push and shove between an employee and their employer for the freedom to remain part of a business, whilst equally seeking out wider opportunities that appeal to the individual’s own passions and desires for progression in a different sphere.
We’ve all read the headlines about how the pandemic reshaped the workforce. What societal changes do you foresee as necessary to support a future of work that works for everyone?
I think it’s about redressing our approach to ways of working to identify the middle ground between being entirely independent and being a full-time employee and highlighting that ways of working aren’t as polarised as we think they are.
With UnderPinned, we are currently working on a freelance charter, which we see as a tool for businesses and freelancers alike, with regard to setting a standard of best practice on how we approach these newer forms of agile working.
More widely, I think the ongoing debate around a four-day working week will only further cement our desire as individuals to want more control over the time we have, to get more out of our days and free up more time to focus on things that are important to us.
What is your greatest source of optimism about the future of work?
Honestly, I would have to say the response we’ve received personally as a business, with regard to investments and partnerships. We’ve partnered with several universities in the UK who have agreed that, in order to stimulate a more open discussion on what individuals want from the future of work, we need to present the issue to them at an early stage — and truly provide enough information on freelance and hybrid working as legitimate pursuits.
Engaging with students during the course of their studies is a great way to not only plant the seed of a career that involves a hybrid approach to working, but it also allows many to ‘test the waters’ whilst they are still studying — meaning they get a tried and tested approach to freelance work. This tackles any issues of anxiety in ‘breaking away’ from full time work, in the pursuit of freelance opportunities and lets people know if it’s the right path for them to take.
It seems like there’s a new headline every day. ‘The Great Resignation’. ‘The Great Reconfiguration’. And now the ‘Great Re-evaluation’. What are the most important messages leaders need to hear from these headlines? How do company cultures need to evolve?
To encourage a better future for work, businesses need to take ownership of standardising and improving the terms of engagement and support systems for freelancers as an ever-increasing percentage of the workforce are made up of independent workers.
Far too often freelance workers face significant problems when dealing with companies, including late payments, IP infringements and a lack of transparency and clarity around contract terms. UnderPinned — the flagbearer for the hybridised workforce — will soon be inviting businesses, large and small, to sign up to our voluntary code as an indication of their support for their freelance community.
A better future for freelancing, is a better future for businesses.
Let’s get more specific. What are your “Top 3 Trends To Track In the Future of Work?”
- The growing number of financial services and business services freelancers — freelance work is no longer seen as purely the domain of the creative economy. While many think of freelancers either as ‘passion-led creatives’ or gig economy workers working within huge global companies on ‘zero-hours contracts’, there is a growing cohort which consists of management consultants, architects, engineers, and other white-collar professionals that command top dollar for their services.
- Remote working and the possible adoption of a four-day week is a regular topic of conversation, showing that there are different ways of structuring the world of work than the current status quo. In my view, discourse about the four-day week provides a valuable route into a conversation about rebalancing the scales away from the traditional employer-employee model and towards new and diverse ways of structuring a workforce and workplace.
- While a conversation on the need to revise the current approach taken towards promoting alternative forms of further education and training has been on the UK political agenda for years, at UnderPinned we are tracking the disconnect between education and entrepreneurship which means that most young graduates would not look at going freelance fresh out of university. We are working with universities to change that, supporting students of all ages to learn the skills needed to work for themselves.
Our readers often like to continue the conversation with our featured interviewees. How can they best connect with you and stay current on what you’re discovering?
Thank you for sharing your insights and predictions. We appreciate the gift of your time and wish you continued success and good health.