White Papers - Worker Support Systems

Problem Statement

With the explosive growth of teleworking and outsourcing, it is no surprise that our workforce is shifting from employment to contracting. Workers see an instant uptick in their take-home pay without all the payroll deductions, and being the optimists we all are, see a bright future of freedom and working for oneself. Employers also like the reduction of payroll overhead, as well as office space expenses, worker's comp, and a hundred years of growth in employee benefits. They also appreciate the removal of the pesky laws against unlawful termination, sexual harassment, employing illegal aliens, unpaid overtime, discrimination, and all the "socialist" rights workers have gained since Oliver Twist.

The internet has fueled this mass conversion to contracting through the outsourcing portals where employers can find workers from Pasadena to Pakistan, mostly the latter. The mantra is self reliance and trusting the labor market's supply-and-demand to determine the new workforce model. The result is often a faceless commodity of labor without the company water cooler available to breed human interaction, unstructured idea exchanges, or workplace loyalties.

Meanwhile, politicians and the public regulatory sector make a show of producing ever more laws to protect and benefit employees while proclaiming how a laissez-faire attitude to the internet will insure America's prominent position in that engine of high-tech prosperity. Almost as though they don't read their own statistics, they seem unaware that this approach helps a shrinking worker class while ignoring an emerging working class. This isn't just a morality problem but also a voter count problem. Aspiring politicians could safely ally themselves with 100K Ford workers at the expense of their 100 bosses, but what if the current shift converts workers to bosses?

Barely a generation ago, the pendulum swung to its apex of a largely unionized workforce with a culture of entitlements, but is now swinging so far in the other direction that even Ayn Rand might be concerned.

The eTaskBoard Solution

This is where eTaskBoard can and will be different. We are structured and aligned to right-size between the extremes of an outdated workforce bloated on entitlements and the emerging one left out in the cold with no worker support systems. Since the U.S. Internal Revenue Service has made a Form SS-8 determination that eTaskBoard hires contractors, each eTaskBoard's Coordinator has the flexibility to experiment and evolve the worker support systems best for their specialty. Because each eTaskBoard is most effective at under a few hundred workers, often many fewer, Coordinators have the ability, indeed the directive, to understand their workers as individuals, and can leverage this awareness to design a worker support system, a.k.a. benefits package, whose value-to-cost is optimized for their eTaskBoard.

An eTaskBoard of moonlighting physics professors or housewives, for example, may not benefit from medical insurance coverage already provided by their university or husband, whereas an eTaskBoard of software programmers would be disappointed to learn how much such coverage costs when purchased as an individual. In such a case, a Coordinator may offer or even require medical insurance coverage for his eTaskBoard workers to insure their productivity after medical emergencies. Such a savvy Coordinator understands the mindset of his healthy young software programmers, that they are indestructible and unwilling to forego any short-term income for medical protection. The Coordinator provides this worker support service not just to look out for the true needs of his workers but also the true needs of his eTaskBoard. Along the same lines, the Coordinator of an eTaskBoard for parolees may require periodic drug testing as a worker support service.

To wade through the components and options of worker support systems, Coordinators need solid HR skillsets and resources, most directly applicable from brick-and-mortar employer experience. For this reason, an eTaskBoard may even be fielded as a department of an HR firm with experience and procurement power for the needed worker support system components.

To design a right-sized system of worker support components, Coordinators need to begin by reviewing a comprehensive list of such components and their options. Some of the components, like medical insurance, will be obvious, but some, like time management training, may not seem self-evident even though we have learned how vital it can be to many eTaskBoards. Below is presented a list of such worker support components, mainly to show their surprising number and breadth. For more thorough coverage of each, as well as links to practical resources related to each, Coordinators should consult eTaskBoard's online knowledge base, particularly the sections to which only they have access.

Worker Support Components

The worker support system components (a.k.a benefits) are presented in alphabetical order since their priority order is to be determined by each Coordinator based on the specialty of their eTaskBoard.

401(k) and IRAs
Since the IRS has ruled that eTaskBoard workers are contractors, eTaskBoard cannot provide a a 401(k) or IRA retirement savings plan to its workers. The IRS code, however, allows, even encourages, business owners, as employees of their own companies, to establish 401(k) and IRA plans for themselves. As contractors, most eTaskBoard workers are classified as qualifying employees of their own companies. The main reason they don't establish 401(k) or IRA plans for themselves is an unfamiliarity with the policies, procedures, and benefits of doing so. Coordinators who become competent in the subject, with the help of retirement planning specialists, can streamline the process for eTaskBoard workers to the point that it resembles an employer offering a 401(k) or IRA benefit plan. As an ancillary benefit, Coordinators can point out that a 401(k) or IRA plan set up this way will remain under the eTaskBoard worker's control, unlike 401(k) or IRA plans administered by an external employer. Also worth considering are Simplified Employee Pensions (SEP) which are a cross between a 401(k) and an IRA, but require much less paperwork and have a higher limit than an IRA.

Business Address
A minor point but also a minor cost, providing an eTaskBoard worker with a business card after a short vesting period has a solid ROI on pride and loyalty. Including the use of the physical business address on the card brings a collection of benefits. Most teleworkers operate out of their home. Whether requesting a product catalog, filling out forms, applying for a loan, or just appearing more legitimate, they sometimes need to put a location other than their bedroom. An eTaskBoard that has a physical business location can accept mail to the attention of anyone at that location. Such postal mail can be forwarded or scanned and attached to email to the teleworker as an eTaskBoard benefit. Its cost can be passed on to the teleworker, but given the shift away from postal mail, its cost will be small and shrinking such that Coordinators may decide to lump it into their own postal costs. For an eTaskBoard operating out of a bedroom, the online knowledge base provides information about how to secure a physical business address for less than the cost of leasing even a small office.

Custom Benefits Planning
A Coordinator who engages in dialog with each eTaskBoard worker about their lifestyle needs will at the least learn valuable information about the worker. Commonly, the Coordinator will discover opportunities to leverage the purchasing power of a business to provide a benefit to the worker as a conventional "cafeteria plan" or to experiment in unconventional ways. The eTaskBoard knowledge base has a list of creative options to suggest, such as to open a procurement account for a worker unable to qualify for a credit card, to fund it with wage distributions, and then to use the corporate credit card to purchase products online as directed by the worker. Key is to use the suggested list to stimulate the worker's thought process and to present eTaskBoard as an agile business willing to consider creative options to cement the working relationship.

Dental Insurance
See Group Insurance.

Disability Insurance
Since the public sector would be forced to provide at least some assistance in most cases of long-term disability, they offer or subsidize insurance plans to prevent unfunded worker disability. This can take the form of voluntary contributions of a self-employed eTaskBoard worker, or through eTaskBoard if a qualifying policy can be negotiated with an insurance carrier.

Disability Support Products & Service
The physically disabled form an important component of any teleworking specialty, in fact, they form a captive eTaskBoard workforce if their inability to commute is severe enough to make eTaskBoard their only viable work option. Common PC accessories already familiar to the disabled will go most of the way to overcome disabilities, but a Coordinator familiar with accessibility options can overcome much of the rest. The process begins with an openness during the interview to discuss the disability, a review of the eTaskBoard knowledge base in this area, and then implementing solutions as simple as automatically adding to every task's "In the Loop" field the care giver of a disabled worker.

Drug Screening
Although not normally considered an employee benefit, Coordinators can nonetheless present it as such with the idea that it provides respectable colleagues from among high-risk worker demographics, for example, recovering drug users.

Financial Planning
Traditional employee benefits like unemployment insurance, paid vacations, sick leave, and retirement plans take on new meaning for teleworkers. eTaskBoard workers can choose how (un)employed they wish to be, as well as suffer under-employment when they are ready to work. Being insured against unemployment becomes nearly impossible when unemployment is defined so subjectively. Since a teleworker can choose to work from a vacation destination, even part-time during a vacation, time off for a vacation becomes another subjective call. Much the same can be said for (not) working while sick. eTaskBoard workers can ease into retirement at will, in fact, retired part-timers make great eTaskBoard workers. The best response to this entire class of needs is the financial planning that yields an effective mix of financial resources, including liquid assets available for emergencies. 9-to-5 employees switching to eTaskBoard rarely come with skillsets and experience to develop such financial plans. Fortunately, a community of financial planners exist, some with skillsets and experience in just this kind of planning. Coordinators can establish group accounts with such financial planners to customize a plan template for each eTaskBoard worker and then to encourage adherence to them.

Group Insurance
Although eTaskBoard may find difficulties obtaining group coverage with insurance carriers accustomed to companies with regular employees, teleworking is becoming popular enough that progressive carriers are willing to consider any arrangement that passes on economies of scale to any entity that can deliver volume policy sales. Key is that Coordinators need to become familiar with several complex industries in order to provide viable options to their workers, including insurance support options provided by the public sector based on financial need.

Guidance Counseling
Conventional companies provide an organization chart with career growth options vertically up the chart as well as horizontally. eTaskBoards come with a growth path in terms of labor rate, but not in terms of promotions and career changes. For that, Coordinators need to get involved on an individual worker basis and put in place appropriate support services. The process can begin with either fee-based or public sector career guidance counselors. If an eTaskBoard caters to entry-level workers, for example, the Coordinator should pre-arrange relationships with eTaskBoards catering to expert-level workers as part of a career migration path. Workers may belong to more than one eTaskBoard, and Coordinators need to be alert to other eTaskBoards well matched to their under-utilized workers. The Coordinator of an eTaskBoard focused on medical transcription services, for example, can point an under-utilized Native American to an eTaskBoard focused on his tribe's workers across skillsets.

Legal Assistance Plans
This works the same as the employee benefit. The Coordinator negotiates a support package with a law firm offering such group plans. They rarely care whether eTaskBoard workers are contractors or employees. A significant plus is if the law firm will agree to working tasks using the Task Meister component of eTaskBoard, thus providing process familiarity and task visibility to eTaskBoard workers.

Life Insurance
See Group Insurance.

Loan Counseling
Most personal loan applications are tailored to old-world employees, particularly mortgage loans and auto loans looking for standard employee paystubs. Such loans are possible for the self-employed, but the qualification requirements are more difficult. This will undoubtedly improve over time as contracted teleworkers become more common, but until then, Coordinators can arrange third-party loan counseling to eTaskBoard workers. With planning and positioning long before they need a loan, eTaskBoard workers can present themselves as much better loan candidates later.

Medical / Health Insurance
See Group Insurance.

Need-Based Assistance
Just as some backward financial institutions penalize loan applicants unable to produce a "proper" paycheck, outdated financial need criteria based on similar criteria may allow eTaskBoard workers to qualify for assistance from the public sector. Unemployment assistance, for example, may be available to workers transitioning to eTaskBoard as long as tasks are structured so the worker continues to be available for employment. Coordinators who understand need-based assistance programs, some national, like food stamps, some regional down to the county level, can effect a net income increase to the workers in their charge. Particularly relevant are the retooling programs focused on transitioning workers from jobs classified as shrinking, often due to foreign competition, into growth industries, which eTaskBoard can easily claim. Also, Coordinators can negotiate favorable terms for many of the other benefits on this list (financial planning, legal assistance, loan counseling, tax planning, tuition reimbursement, etc) if applicable need-based criteria are leveraged.

Paid Vacations
See Financial Planning.

Profit Sharing
With Coordinators responsible for the profit of their eTaskBoards, they also have discretion regarding profit distributions. Most online resources describing and recommending profit sharing policies and procedures for employers are applicable, except those concerning legal issues. Profit sharing arrangements to contractors are less restrictive in terms of disclosure and other employee protections, the implication being that contractors come more savvy than employees regarding profits, risk, and related issues, which may or may not be true for eTaskBoard workers.

Retirement Benefits
See Financial Planning.

Sick Leave
See Financial Planning.

Social Networking
Initially underestimated by most teleworkers, the social alienation of working alone can have profound productivity consequences after prolonged periods. Chasing the Fedex driver to talk sports, for example, grows into a time-consuming twitter addiction or just an escape out the door since the boss isn't watching. Anticipating this, Coordinators establish corporate accounts on Facebook or My Space where teleworkers present their social data, hobbies, and interests with an eye to promoting after-work interactions, face-to-face when possible, online otherwise. Coordinators also pay the nominal fee to establish eTaskBoard guilds on MMORPGs (Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Game) such as World of Warcraft, Second Life, and Sim City (simulation) where the team spirit also builds loyalty among project colleagues and toward the eTaskBoard itself. Lots more info on policies and procedures regarding this in the eTaskBoard knowledge base, for example, on ways to keep such guilds dark during work hours.

Tax Planning Consulting
This works similarly to the employee benefit with the same name, but its value to the worker is greater. As a contractor, eTaskBoard workers have many more options for tax deductions and income sheltering strategies than employees, but they often won't know about that, especially if they are newly arrived from a career as an employee. Implementation requires the Coordinator to negotiate a support package with a tax accounting, tax preparation, or tax consulting firm.

Time Management
This is arguably the single most important non-pay benefit an eTaskBoard can provide its workers, and one whose value new workers may not appreciate until their goals are not met regarding billable hours. The transition from a life-long efforts-based work culture to a results-based one is more than just traumatic. Most eTaskBoard workers are simply unprepared to take charge of their own work time without a boss's encouragement. They arrive untrained in how to plan their day, restrict interruptions, prioritize, and get tasks done. Coordinators must become experts at providing this worker support component from strategies down to tactics as detailed as what kind of radio station to (not) listen to in order to maximize productivity. The eTaskBoard knowledge base has plenty of resources, but it is by no means comprehensive. There is no substitute for Coordinators maintaining ongoing online research and education in the field of time management and workforce productivity, to become participating members of that learning and application community, to cultivate a network of specialists and consultants, and to use the eTaskBoard platform to experiment and advance their hands-on expertise. Teleworkers newly wounded in the school of hard knocks may seek out an association with eTaskBoard primarily for this benefit.

Tuition Reimbursement
Besides the tutorials and tests that are part of eTaskBoard, Coordinators may decide to provide part or full tuition reimbursement for targeted online or computer-based classes, the same as employers. eTaskBoard'stask reporting system is useful to spot trends of skillset requirements and to target education to gain skillsets to meet those growing requirements.

Unemployment Insurance
See Financial Planning.

Welcoming / Onboarding
Almost all of eTaskBoard's workforce relations can be automated through the software developed for that purpose, but that doesn't mean personal contact is to always be avoided. Such personal contact is most valuable when workers first join eTaskBoard, when a reassuring human can go down a list of orienting activities using the eTaskBoard chat system as well as virtual meetings to instill a sense of community and to insure an understanding of policies and procedures. If eTaskBoard workers originate from a geographic region bounded enough for centralized meetings, a quarterly in-person meeting is worth considering, particularly during the formation of a new eTaskBoard.

Although classified by many companies as employee benefits, services such as a rich selection of wage disbursement options and skillset testing are not listed above if they are intrinsic to the operating modules of the eTaskBoard software.

Conclusion

Coordinators considering all this may be asking themselves, "If I provide enough of these worker support system components, how am I any different from a regular employer?" The answer may be that in a sense they are not. They may evolve the "regular" next generation business entities where the cost of entry has never been lower, and the definition of employer and contractor will be limited only by the creativity of each Coordinator.

In summary, eTaskBoard may become the platform on which future workforce models are incubated, experimented, and evolved.


   
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