Five Reasons A Chief Of Staff Will Be Your Best Hire

Today, the Chief of Staff (CoS) role has become common in corporations and startups — though it dates back centuries and originated in politics, government and military. CEOs and owners of growing companies, whether startups, small businesses, professional service companies, or agencies, are always short on time and resources. Even after hiring an assistant, senior managers and executives, CEOs and owners often find that their focus is still divided among too many different priorities. All too often, a CEO or owner needs more help than they are getting.

A Chief of Staff is very different from a virtual assistant (VA) and is also distinct from an executive assistant (EA). A VA is usually a freelancer who works on remote administrative tasks on demand while an EA manages your calendar, emails and other correspondence, day-to-day schedule, and travel arrangements. In contrast, a CoS thinks strategically and works independently. In addition, a Chief of Staff is often a part of the senior management team.

While no two CoS roles are the same, here’s why a Chief of Staff will be your best hire.

1. A Chief of Staff will save you time.

Most executives I’ve talked to who have hired a Chief of Staff say that doing so gives them a quarter to half of their time back. They also can get more done in the time they have left. This is because not only do Chiefs of Staff take day-to-day tasks off your plate, but they also create and implement systems and processes to help you get more chunks of focused time.

In a startup’s early days, your CoS may help you systematize your marketing plan, then manage your QA automation team, then move on to build a repeatable sales process, and then create an internship program. And that’s all while helping to manage budgets and prepare for board meetings. Your Chief of Staff should be a generalist who can go from one project to the next without missing a beat, allowing you to focus on strategic thinking and planning.

2. A Chief of Staff will improve the flow of information.

An experienced Chief of Staff will significantly improve the flow of information between departments that were previously siloed. Plus, they will also improve communication between you, your senior management team, and the rest of your staff. Your CoS will cultivate relationships throughout your organization, allowing him or her to give you unfiltered and unbiased opinions. Without ties to a particular department, you will also find that your Chief of Staff may become one of your most trusted advisors.

3. A Chief of Staff will help you make better decisions.

An experienced CoS will help guide and implement an objectives and key results (OKRs) process throughout your company. With more time on your hands and better information, you’ll be better equipped to think through important decisions. And with your Chief of Staff knowing your business as well as you do, he or she will be a wise and reliable counsel for difficult decisions.

4. A Chief of Staff will identify and reduce your costs.

A good CoS will identify areas for improvement and take action. For example, if your company is manually paying invoices and onboarding 1099 workers, your CoS may recommend implementing a contractor management solution (CMS) or vendor management system (VMS). Switching to a VMS or a freelancer management system (such as Liquid) should help reduce person-hours needed for these manual processes, reduce direct costs due to overpayments and late fees and help your team source pre-vetted talent across departments.

An experienced Chief of Staff will always be looking for operational inefficiencies like these, recommend solutions, and then implement them. And then your CoS will move on to the next project or opportunity.

5. A Chief of Staff will help you boost your impact.

The Covid-19 pandemic has accelerated the shift to the future of work. Companies are increasingly comfortable with remote work and relying on blended workforces of employees and on-demand workers. In this environment, the CoS role becomes even more essential, not less, helping you to more nimbly adapt and iterate to take advantage of opportunities.

A Chief of Staff will help you maximize your time, improve your decision-making, make the flow of information to you more efficient and help you reduce your costs. A Chief of Staff will have a direct positive impact on your business, particularly in areas that fall outside of scope for your other executives. In short, hiring a Chief of Staff will help you be a more effective executive, allowing you to build your company and focus on your vision.

It’s time to take your company to the next level. Define what you need in a chief of staff, then find that perfect match. The Chief of Staff is a role you won’t regret adding to your management team.

This article was originally published in Forbes.

Yolanda Lau is an experienced entrepreneurship consultant, advisor, and Forbes Contributor. She is also an educator, speaker, writer, and non-profit fundraiser.

Since 2010, she has been focused on preparing knowledge workers, educators, and students for the future of work.

Learn more about Yolanda here.

Increasing Mindfulness In The Workplace

Mindfulness matters. The ability to be present and mindful — to stay focused intentionally without passing judgment — is a 21st-century skill. Businesses with mindful teams are better equipped to compete in today’s ever-changing environment.

Mindfulness At Work

As most of us have experienced firsthand, stress and anxiety can take a significant toll on the mind and body. A study by the Kaiser Family Foundation found that nearly 40% of Americans feel that the stress of the pandemic has negatively affected their mental health. Not only is stress taxing, but it also increases inflammation and can lead to chronic diseases of the brain and heart.

On the other hand, research at companies like Google, Aetna and Intel have shown that increasing mindfulness in the workplace can decrease stress levels while improving focus, thoughtfulness, decision-making abilities, and overall well-being. Mindfulness gives employees permission and space to think — to be present — leading to mental agility, resilience, and self-awareness. In addition, mindfulness can reduce emotional exhaustion, increase openness to new ideas, and develop compassion and empathy.

In this day and age, being able to stay calm and rapidly adapt to shifting circumstances with an open mind is and will continue to be a competitive advantage. Moreover, a mindful workplace can be a powerful tool for recruiting purposes. After all, if given a choice between a company that invests in its employees’ well-being and one that doesn’t, which would you choose? Similarly, increasing mindfulness at work may lead to higher levels of commitment at work and increased engagement, ultimately reducing costly turnover.

Here are a few (perhaps unconventional) tips for increasing mindfulness and wellness in the workplace.

Yoga And Meditation For Mindfulness

In 2018, the “Employer-Sponsored Health and Well-Being Survey” of 163 companies by the National Business Group on Health (NBGH) and Fidelity Investments found that 52% of companies offered mindfulness training that year. While there are many ways to offer mindfulness training, yoga and meditation are some of the more cost-effective methods. Yoga (which I’ve practiced for 25 years) and meditation are good for your mind and body, with benefits including stress management, concentration and focus, self-confidence, and overall fitness.

The past five years have seen an explosion of apps and programs for meditation and yoga: Shine, Meditation Studio, Headspace, Yoga Ed., and Calm are just some of the apps and training programs available for improving wellness and mindfulness. What I particularly like about Yoga Ed. is that it not only equips individuals with yoga and mindfulness tools to enhance their own wellness, but it also improves the lifelong health of the children and teens in their lives.

Moreover, workout apps like Nike Training Club, ClassPass, and Peloton also offer on-demand yoga and/or meditation classes. Most of these apps and programs listed above are relatively inexpensive and easy to implement via corporate partnerships — and certainly cheaper than hiring Jon Kabat-Zinn himself, who pioneered formal mindfulness training in the workplace, to run a corporate mindfulness seminar.

Brain Breaks And Unscheduled Time For Mindfulness

You probably think that long (boring) meditation sessions are necessary to achieve mindfulness. But research out of Wharton has found that even short — seven- or eight-minute — bursts of mindfulness results in more productive, helpful and pleasant employees. Even these short brain breaks have been found to increase rational decision-making skills and may improve attention and focus. Just a few minutes of mindfulness can increase “divergent thinking” to generate new ideas, an extremely valuable skill during times of uncertainty (and also a skill necessary for succeeding in the future of work).

I also recommend purposefully scheduling blocks of unscheduled time. These moments of planned solitude provide the silence needed to focus on higher-level thinking and stimulate creativity while increasing mindfulness. With the frenetic pace of our modern lives, it’s become harder to find quiet moments, hence the need to schedule them into our busy calendars.

Create Time For Mindfulness By Leveraging Automation

To make time for mindfulness, I’ve been relying heavily on automation. Technology is rapidly changing the nature of work, especially as artificial intelligence and machine learning become more sophisticated. These technologies are paving the way for automation of repetitive tasks — a little known cause of employee burnout. Research out of McGill University suggests that repetitive tasks impair judgment, aptitude for goal planning, capacity to focus, and risk assessment abilities.

I recommend taking advantage of the myriad of companies and services that increase automation, allowing your employees to focus on innovative thinking and other work that cannot be replicated by software. In particular, Zapier makes it possible for anyone to create automated workflows without code. I use this service to help automate marketing “busy work,” but there are thousands of use cases for every role and industry.

For example, services such as Coupa,, and Liquid streamline accounting through automated payment approvals. Automating your accounts payable processes will not only reduce errors but also increase productivity and the overall well-being of your employees. The more you empower employees to automate their repetitive tasks, the more mindful they can be about the work that matters.

Leading With Mindfulness

Similar to emotional intelligence, increasing mindfulness in the workplace starts from the top down. Lead by example by taking brain breaks and blocking out unscheduled time. Invest in automation software or services. Start with yourself and your executive team and the effects will trickle down.

Bringing mindfulness to the workplace is advantageous on several levels. After all, investing in the well-being and resilience of all employees is simply the right thing to do. But mindfulness is also a sound business investment that pays dividends. It allows businesses to decrease stress, reduce turnover, improve productivity, recruit top talent, and increase innovation.

The future of work is more than remote work. It is human-centered, where workers thrive and mindfulness, wellness, and well-being become more than just buzz words. The human-centered future of work is a movement and it starts with each of us.

This article was originally published in Forbes.

Yolanda Lau is an experienced entrepreneurship consultant, advisor, and Forbes Contributor. She is also an educator, speaker, writer, and non-profit fundraiser.

Since 2010, she has been focused on preparing knowledge workers, educators, and students for the future of work.

Learn more about Yolanda here.

Clearing The Calendar: How To Identify And Avoid Unnecessary Meetings

It isn’t easy to be working at full brain capacity with so much going on in the world. These are unprecedented, tumultuous times. It’s important to give your team the mental and emotional space that they need right now, as it is more important than ever to bring emotions to the workplace. Helping your team adjust to remote work by reducing the number of conference calls can also help to improve morale — and productivity levels.

Too Many Conference Calls

These days, work feels like going from one videoconference call to the next. Scheduling conference calls or meetings often feels like the simplest way to tackle business issues. Want to brainstorm ideas? Let’s hop on Zoom! Not sure which action items to work on? Let’s jump on Meet! Need a status update from your team? Time for a conference call! Unclear about what the project scope is? Let’s schedule a meeting!

Does this sound like your team? There is a time and a place for a videoconference call or meeting, but in the age of remote work, I’m hearing that many workers feel overwhelmed with conference calls. The future of work has accelerated, and millions of Americans are adjusting to working from home. Many team leaders are managing remote workers for the first time. In turn, a number of managers have asked me for advice on reducing the number of meetings so their team can spend more time working, instead of talking at each other.

Replace Conference Calls With Concise Written Communication

With remote work, clear and concise written communication becomes essential. In many cases, you can replace large conference calls with brief but comprehensive documentation or succinct memos with detailed appendices. If your team struggles with writing clearly, start with small adjustments to give workers time to learn and adapt.

Keep in mind that clear written communication is a sign of clarity of thought. Writing a detailed memo requires better thought and understanding of what is important and how things are related. When your team members have clarity of thought, it’s easier to rally your team around a common goal. Your employees will be thankful for fewer meetings, and your team will be more closely aligned on goals, project plans, strategies, and processes.

Consider this: Jeff Bezos has said that in meetings of Amazon’s executive team, before any discussion, everyone sits in total silence, carefully reading six-page printed narrative memos. These carefully crafted and edited memos allow the team to spend the meeting having more in-depth discussions — they make the meetings more productive. Bezos shared his tips for writing memos in an annual shareholders letter.

Other Alternatives

In other cases, you could replace your conference call with an email, Slack message, or an @ mention in your team’s project management software. Sometimes, it’s best to plan a solo brainstorming session to clarify your ideas before writing them down to share. Personally, I find that I do my best brainstorming while walking outside, getting some fresh air.

How To Decide Whether To Schedule That Next Meeting

Ask yourself these questions to help with your decision-making process for scheduling meetings.

Do I know why I want to schedule a meeting?
It’s tempting to schedule a conference call when you don’t know what to do on a project — it provides an illusion of progress. But if you’ve already had a meeting to plan and structure the work, spend some solo time thinking strategically. Evaluate the scope of work and the current progress toward milestones, and you should be able to start figuring out your action items and other progress that must happen. Then, ask yourself the next question.

Do I need input from colleagues?
Now that you’ve figured out the action items, you may find that you don’t need outside input. When this is the case, get to work instead of scheduling a meeting — at this point, that would be an inefficient use of your team’s time. On the other hand, if you need your team to provide feedback or answer questions before getting to work, move on to the next question.

Is a real-time conversation necessary to move the project forward?
If you need some feedback or additional information from your team, ask yourself whether you need a real-time convo. If not, you may be able to communicate over email or an instant messenger or group chat (I use Slack with my teams). In some cases, asking for clarification directly in your team’s project management software may be the best course of action. The more you allow your team to work asynchronously, versus in synchronous calls or meetings, the more chunks of time your team will have to focus on deep work. But if your specific questions do require a real-time conversation, then you may need to schedule a conference call or meeting.

Do you really need a face-to-face meeting versus a conference call?
I recommend videoconference calls versus audio-only conference calls. The addition of video makes conversations more effective because of visual cues — participants can read body language and easily know who is speaking. If it’s a quick question with only one person you know well, a phone call is probably best. But if it requires more discussion, schedule a videoconference call.

Spend an adequate amount of time preparing for the videoconference call to make it as efficient and productive as possible. Write down goals for the videoconference and desired outcomes, and prep and send out materials in advance.

In some cases, you must communicate face to face and in person. We won’t be able to cancel all meetings, but we can do our best to make the most of them.

Hopefully, with these questions in mind, you’ll be able to reduce the number of conference calls and meetings your team has to attend while increasing your team’s productivity (and morale).

This article was originally published in Forbes.

Interested in the Future of Work? Join the Work of the Future #FutureOfWork Facebook Group.

Yolanda Lau is an experienced entrepreneurship consultant, advisor, and Forbes Contributor. She is also an educator, speaker, writer, and non-profit fundraiser.

Since 2010, she has been focused on preparing knowledge workers, educators, and students for the future of work.

Learn more about Yolanda here.

Top Tools for Remote / Distributed Teams (Working Remotely)

For most of my career, I’ve worked remotely with clients across the country. While my friends put on makeup, get dressed in business casual attire, and commute to the office, I sometimes work in pajamas (or sweaty athleisure after a morning workout).

As a co-founder of FlexTeam, I manage our team of 300+ executive-level consultants — all working remotely as independent consultants / 1099 workers. At FlexTeam (and at Liquid), we believe working in this way (building companies with a dynamic “liquid workforce” that can easily be scaled up or down) is the future of work.

To seamlessly communicate and work effectively with remote / distributed teams, whether traditional W-2 employees or part of the liquid workforce, you need the right technology and tools. I’ve tested out dozens of email, phone, video chat, and web-based collaboration tools so you don’t have to.

Here are the tools I’ve found most useful for working remotely / distributed teams.

Team Communication

When working with a remote team, communication is of the utmost importance. Slack gives remote teams the ability to communicate in a modern day work environment while allowing users to creatively express themselves through emojis, gifs, and status updates. One of my remote / distributed teams can’t get enough of the party parrots custom emojis.

You can communicate in private direct or group messages, or slack channels. Slack channels can be set to private or public and allow you to keep conversations organized, while reducing the number of emails your team sends and receives. Also, slack allows many apps and integrations within your slack team to increase your team productivity (and/or happiness, depending on the integration)! My favorite feature is the ability to mute channels and set “do not disturb” times — the ability to control notifications feels so satisfying.

I’ve tried other alternatives — Atlassian’s Stride and HipChat, which have been discontinued; Microsoft’s Yammer; and Ryver — but slack is still the gold standard. I use slack everyday with multiple different remote / distributed teams.

Collaborative Documents

I use Google Drive and G Suite (Gmail, Google Calendar, Docs, Sheets, Slides, Keep, etc) on a daily basis. In fact, most of the tabs open on my browser are from one of Google’s many products. Sure, Google Drive (and Docs, Sheets, and Slides) has its flaws. But I haven’t found a better tools for real-time online collaboration on files. I’ve tried Microsoft’s Office 365, Zoho, Quip (recently acquired by Salesforce), Dropbox, Box, and others. Admittedly, I need to spend some time testing out Dropbox Paper. Still, I’m mostly satisfied with how Google Drive behaves.

My favorite feature is setting expiration dates for view or comment access to files. This allows me to share files without having to remember to go back and remove access.

I couldn’t work with my distributed / remote teams without Google Drive and G Suite.

Document Storage

Google Drive is hands down what I prefer for collaborative documents. But there are many more file types that can’t be edited directly in Google Drive. For those files, and for long-term storage and retrieval of documents, I use Dropbox. (Confession: until three months ago, I used a combination of Box, Dropbox, and OneDrive for various purposes before finally committing to Dropbox.)

Whether it’s logos and design files, or contracts and other PDFs, I like the ease of shared Dropbox folders. Sure, it isn’t perfect, but I’ve yet to find any tech solution that is. Dropbox makes sharing files easy and syncs to every device (web, mobile, pc, mac). And best of all, the syncing is seamless and doesn’t use up all the RAM on my laptop.

Plus, it’s free to start with 2GB! And if you upgrade to a paid plan, you get tons of additional features — features that you’ll be happy to have for managing your remote team. One of the most important ones, in my humble opinion, is version history. As of October 2019, Dropbox Basic or Plus accounts can recover any file deleted or changed in the last 30 days, while Dropbox Business accounts bumps that up to 120 days, and Dropbox Professional accounts gives you 180 days!

That way, if any member of your remote team (or a client) accidentally deletes a file (or worse, infects the file with malware), you can rewind and recover what you’ve lost!

Quick Video Chat

Working remotely, it’s easy to fall back on email, IM, or even slack instead of meeting in person or talking on the phone. Regular video conferences can help you reconnect with your remote team — allowing you to build a more effective working relationship.

I recommend (formerly — I’ve tried skype, Google Hangouts,, and many other video conferencing tools. They’ve all failed me on more than one occasion, usually cutting out video and/or audio part way through a meeting; sometimes they have failed to connect altogether. uses WebRTC (real time communication) and provides a beautiful, smooth, and polished alternative to everyone’s default video chat platform, Google Hangouts. It uses HTML5 only (no flash) and there are no sign-ups. No plugins needed, unless you want to screenshare.

Unfortunately, the free version limits you to 4 participants so you’ll need to pay up (or use another tool) if you need to talk to more than 3 other people at one time.

Side note: has a much better product than but unfortunately their free version limits you to 2 participants (so it only works for one-on-one video calls).

Conference Calls

I used to love for team or client conference calls. But I switched to UberConference (when T-mobile stopped supporting calls to phone numbers) and I’ve never looked back. It has all the features you might want, from custom hold music to free call recording, local dial-in numbers to mobile apps — it has everything. I love that it makes it easy to call in to conferences from the app. And now it also supports video conferencing (with screen sharing) for $15/month.

I use UberConference for conference calls with my remote / distributed teams as well as with clients.

Phone Calls and Voicemail

Google Voice began as a startup called GrandCentral, which Google purchased in 2007. I’ve been using this product since 2006, when GrandCentral was founded.

It’s a simple way to get an extra phone number to share with clients or your remote team — especially when you don’t want to share your personal cell phone number (or want to share a number with a local area code). You can use this separate phone number to answer calls, receive voicemails, and even send and receive text messages!

Full-featured Phone System / Team Phone Number.

When it comes to business communications (especially with clients or customers), phone calls are still king. Whether you’re resolving a client issue, making a sale, or fleshing out details, sometimes phone is still best. If you need a full-featured VOIP (voice over internet protocol) phone system, I highly recommend Dialpad. It’s a big upgrade from your traditional PBX network, especially for remote / distributed teams.

Dialpad delivers crystal-clear phone calls to the devices you already use (computers and mobile devices). It’s easy to set-up new users and you can quickly see what calls have been made and when. Plus, it has great iOS and Android apps and integrates easily with UberConference (my preferred conference call tool)!

Project Management

If you’re like me, you’ve got a million projects going simultaneously. But whether you’re working on just a few projects or many, team communications need to be super clear when you work with remote / distributed teams. As the founders of Asana put it in a blog post “the bigger your team, and the bigger your mission, the bigger your coordination problem.”

In my humble opinion, Asana and Trello are the best tools for project management — whether you work in a remote / distributed team or a traditional work environment.

Asana enables teams to track and manage the progress of projects within a shared workspace. At a more granular level, tasks can be created to keep track of individual components of a larger project. Users can add tasks, assign them to team members, set due dates, comment, and share relevant documents. The result is a highly customizable platform for project management. I find that the free version is usually sufficient for most teams — it supports up to 15 team members, unlimited task projects and conversations, and access to limited dashboards and search functions.

Trello was originally a web-based list-making application, which has evolved into task management app based on the Kanban system (a system originally developed by Toyata for for lean manufacturing, but that has become widely adopted by tech startups and other companies). It allows you to have a visual overview of what your remote / distributed team is working on and who is working on it.

Think of it as a whiteboard that you can fill with post-it notes.

The free version of Trello gives you 10 team boards, but only allows you to use 1 power-up (additional features and integrations that make Trello much more useful).

Now, whether to use Trello or Asana? I recommend you try both to figure out which is best for your remote team’s needs. You might find you want to use both for different cases.

Webinars and Video Conferencing

If you’re putting on webinars, there’s nothing better than Zoom. Zoom has a great free version that allows you to host conference calls and video calls, and supports screen sharing, making recordings of video and screen shares, and more. The only problem is that it limits calls to 40 minutes (though you can easily just start up a new call immediately after your call ends).

But where Zoom shines is hosting webinars. Sure, Google Meet (or Hangouts) is okay, too. And I do like when talking to 3 or fewer participants. But if you are hosting multiple panelists with many viewers, Zoom is the tool to use.

Internal Wiki / Shared Truth

Notion is a relatively new tool (founded in 2016). The company describes the app as an all-in-one workspace for note-taking, project management, and task management. I find that it’s great for note-taking and collaboration with markdown support that also integrates tasks, databases, and wikis.

Notion is incredibly versatile and I can think of dozens of different use cases. I highly recommend playing around with it to figure out how to integrate it with your distributed / remote team.

Manage, on-board, and pay 1099 workers / freelancers

Oftentimes (but not always), remote / distributed teams are made up of 1099 workers / freelancers engaged in project-based work. So I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Liquid, a new all-in-one solution powering the liquid workforce (full disclosure, my project-based consulting firm FlexTeam is also the team behind Liquid).

Liquid streamlines the way you onboard, manage, and pay your liquid workforce. It’s currently in limited free beta, with new features added every day. Let me know if you’d like an invite to our free limited beta!

Other tools worth exploring

Here are a few other tools that I don’t use, but have on my list to explore and evaluate.

Miro (formerly RealtimeBoard) is a self-described “visual collaboration platform for teams who want to collaborate faster, more easily and deliver better results!” From what I can tell, this is a collaborative white board tool that also incorporates video, chat, presentation, and sharing. And it integrates into slack and other tools! My preferred collaborative white board tools had been Limnu — but because they nixed their free plan, I’m open to exploring other alternatives.

Confluence by Atlassian is another shared workspace platform. Originally created as a wiki and documentation tool for developers, it has potential applications for non-technical teams collaborating on content. To me, what’s intriguing about Confluence is the $10 one-time fee for a self-hosted solution.

Okay, that’s it for me.

To make cross-functional teamwork effortless, you have to use the right tools for collaboration. Whether you work out of a coworking space, at home in your pajamas, at your local coffee shop, or in your roaming RV, I hope you found this list helpful!

Let me know in the comments what tools I’ve missed for remote / distributed teams (or what I got wrong)!

Yolanda Lau is an experienced entrepreneurship consultant, advisor, and Forbes Contributor. She is also an educator, speaker, writer, and non-profit fundraiser.

Since 2010, she has been focused on preparing knowledge workers, educators, and students for the future of work.

Learn more about Yolanda here.

FlexTeam  is  a mission-based micro-consulting firm, co-founded by Yolanda Lau in 2015, that matches talented mid-career women with meaningful, challenging, temporally flexible, remote project-based work opportunities. FlexTeam’s clients are businesses of all sizes across all industries and sectors. FlexTeam’s most requested projects are competitor / market research, financial models, and investor decks. FlexTeam is also the team behind Liquid.

Project-based Work for Work-Life Fit

My dad is a surgeon. Specializing in transplants, he was always on call and rarely home. As a teenager, I vowed to find work that would allow me to spend time with the family I hoped to one day have.

My journey to find work-life balance led me to MIT where I studied Chemical Engineering and Biology (I took a detour on the pre-med path). During college, I was almost always employed part-time. I worked at a retail shop on Newbury Street; I tutored students enrolled in Introductory Biology; and I supported Women’s Recruitment efforts for MIT Admissions. It was in my role at the Admissions Office, where I was on a team that created MIT’s first online resource for prospective female undergrads, that I saw the advantages of working independently and remotely on project-based work.

Then, graduation came and it was time to get a job. I stayed on campus to start my career at the MIT Technology Licensing Office. Working to commercialize MIT-developed technology through licensing agreements with startups and passionate entrepreneurs (along with the traditional big corporations) opened my eyes to entrepreneurship. And it gave me an intensive education in intellectual property, negotiation, business development, marketing, branding, product development, alternative dispute resolution, trademarks, accounting, communications and public relations, and much more.

So after a two-year stint at the TLO, I went off on my own path. I co-founded a real estate development, investment, and property management firm, where I focused on operations. That led to other business opportunities, which led me to what I’ve been doing for the last decade — helping people start new ventures and helping those small businesses grow.

I’m so thankful that I’ve been able to make a living by doing meaningful work, while also having time for what matters in life — family and friends.

But not everyone is so lucky.

I’ve seen too many friends make the difficult choice between a fulfilling career and time spent with their children. Some have chosen to return to their jobs on a part-time basis, only to find that their responsibilities are closer to full-time at part-time pay. Others have chosen to jump back in head first, relying on loving grandparents or nannies to help with family responsibilities. And some have chosen to stay at home for now and hope to return to a career when their youngest kids reach school-age. Of those in the last group, many are using volunteer roles to keep up their skills or work a few hours a week at hourly jobs that don’t utilize their education or experiences.

A study in 2005 by Sylvia Ann Hewlett and Carolyn Buck Luce found that 37 percent of highly qualified women have voluntarily left work at some point in their careers, and among mothers, that statistic rises to 43 percent. Pew Research estimated that there were over 370,000 highly educated and affluent stay at home moms in 2014. And it’s been well documented that those who choose to take a break from their traditional career are financially penalized when they return to the workforce (the “motherhood penalty”). According to the Center for Talent Innovation, women lose 16 percent of their earning power when they return to work, and one in four returns to fewer management responsibilities.

But my unusual career has shown me there is another way.

Project-based consulting.

Short-term project-based work with clear milestones and deliverables could allow mothers (and fathers, as well as daughters and sons caring for elderly parents) to find work-life fit. These caregivers could continue to earn an income, keep their skills up-to-date, while retaining time to care for their families. Those who no longer need to worry about the long-term costs of leaving the traditional workforce are happier and more satisfied; and happier caregivers lead to happier families, and a better society.

Project-based consultants are more efficient and productive, as productivity goes up for highly motivated workers in a part-time results-oriented environment. Moreover, project-based consulting provides businesses with highly qualified (might I say, over qualified) freelancers at a discount. The attractive price is one of many reasons to hire freelance consultants.

I’m not the first to espouse the mutually beneficial nature of project-based work. In a 2013 article for the Atlantic, Paulette Light wrote:

Project-based work provides many benefits to both businesses and those re-entering. Freelancers don’t hit the bottom line as hard as because they aren’t paid benefits. With clear project descriptions, deadlines, and compensation, more moms who may be overqualified for a position might decide that they are willing to help out with a project because it meets their needs in the short term. I am sure that many moms will even step up to do a project even at the cost of their family because the timing is only temporary. As the business and the mom work together more, maybe a full-time job will come of it when all parties understand the value.

I think it’s safe to say that the benefits of project-based work are clear, for mothers, families, and businesses.

So let’s quantify the benefits.

The Power of Parity by McKinsey Global Institute

In 2015, McKinsey Global Institute found that advancing women’s equality in North America and Oceania alone could add $3.1 trillion to $5.3 trillion to the GDP in those regions by 2025. By increasing the number of women in the workforce, reducing the motherhood penalty, and improving gender equality using 12 other outcome-based indicators, the potential increase to GDP in this region is equivalent to the current GDP of Japan or Germany.

A recent study by Danielle Lindemann, Carly Rush, and Steven Tepper found that artistic careers — that is, those in performing arts, design, art history, writing, film, the visual arts, and music — did not have the wage penalty associated with motherhood that is found in most other industries. They theorized that this lack of penalty was due to the flexibility in employment as well as the project-based nature of artistic work. So increasing the number of women engaged in project-based work would surely decrease the motherhood penalty, getting us one step closer to gender wage parity.

Now let’s go back to the statistics of highly qualified women — previously defined as those with a graduate degree, a professional degree, or a high-honors undergraduate degree — who have left the traditional workforce. In 1982 to 2013, 44.1 million college degrees were granted to women. Let’s assume that five percent attended the top 40 schools and that 37 percent of women voluntarily leave work; that leaves 815,850 highly educated women between the ages of 24 and 55 who have left the traditional workforce.

Let’s say that project-based consulting could allow these women to work as much as they want to. The average American with a full-time job works 47 hours per week. Let’s assume that the working moms in this country spend 28 hours per week on family responsibilities, as they do across the pond. So if we assume that moms want to work only as many hours as is the difference between normal full-time employment and is needed to fulfill family responsibilities, that means moms would be happy to spend 19 hours per week working. That seems low to me, given an informal survey of friends who are moms. My unscientific survey leads me to believe that mothers would like to generally work from the hours of 9am to 1pm, or approximately 5 hours a day, leaving them time to drop the kids off, pick them up and take them to after school activities, and take care of all other tasks to run a household. So we can guess that moms would like to work 19 to 25 hours per week.

Now, independent consultants earn an average annual salary of $97,000. Let’s assume the average independent consultant works 40 hours per week and takes 6 to 8 weeks off each year. (What’s the point of working for yourself, if not to finally take time off? Besides, taking vacations results in lower stress as well as more happiness at work and home and greater success at work.) So, if each of the 815,850 highly educated women who have left the workforce were able to work 19 to 25 hours per week and earn income proportional to the average independent consultant’s salary, they could be earning about $46K to $61K each year. That income could allow families to be more stable, to create emergency funds.

Collectively, that’s $37.6 billion to $49.5 billion worth of paid work that project-based consulting could enable. And that’s just the 815,850 women with degrees from the top 40 colleges who have left the workforce.

Imagine how high that number would be if we did the same calculation for all women with college degrees who have left the workforce; all 16.3 million women. That increases those values to $751 billion to $989 billion.

Then imagine if we added the increasing number of men who are choosing to stay home.

What now?

For caregivers seeking work-life fit

If you are a caregiver who has left or wants to leave the traditional workforce, update your LinkedIn profile summary to state your interest in project-based work. If you are already doing project-based work, mentor would-be project-based consultants. Those who have a gap in their work history will need help understanding current business practices, coaching to regain their confidence, assistance with resume writing, and support to determine how their skills translate to clearly defined projects.

Take advantage of MOOCs like Coursera, EdX, and NovoEd, and resources like OpenCourseWare, Khan Academy, Code Academy, and Skillcrush to keep up your skills and acquire new ones — I’m passionate about lifelong learning / continuous education.

For business leaders who want to support work-life fit

If you work for a small or medium sized business and are in a position to retain project-based consultants, use your social capital within your company to do so. Then, convince your peers to do the same. Your employer will thank you.

If you own a business, start engaging highly educated and experienced moms (and dads, as well as daughters and sons) who have left the traditional workforce on project-based work. Like me, they could perform strategic analyses, craft a go-to-market strategy or customer acquisition strategy, assess your competition, determine where to cut costs, generate blog posts, manage your social media, guide you through a difficult negotiation, or help you decide whether to enter a new market or create a new product. Others could help you create financial models, craft a marketing or communications strategy, write PR pieces, assist with legal issues, plan events, and help with the hundreds of other things small businesses need help with. Small businesses like yours are the economic engine of our country, driving innovation and growth.

Still not sure how project-based consultants could help you manage and grow your business? Contact me and I’ll be happy to help you brainstorm.

Whatever the project, be clear with your goals and expectations to ensure you will be happy with the results.

Sites like HourlyNerd by Catalant, SpareHire, MBA and Company, Hillgate, Toptal Business (formerly Skillbridge) and 79 Studios’ own FlexTeam make it easier and more affordable for small businesses to find highly qualified project-based consultants.

Of these, only FlexTeam focuses on moms who have left the traditional workforce. Regardless of the method you use to find workers, helping to make project-based consulting commonplace will help more people find work-life balance, which will surely benefit us all. This is the future of work.

Yolanda Lau is an experienced entrepreneurship consultant, advisor, and Forbes Contributor. She is also an educator, speaker, writer, and non-profit fundraiser.

Since 2010, she has been focused on preparing knowledge workers, educators, and students for the future of work.

Learn more about Yolanda here.

Books to Live By

Confession: I spent New Year’s Day 2019 reading one entire book and starting a second (John Maeda’s The Laws of Simplicity and Mitchel Resnick’s Lifelong Kindergarten: Cultivating Creativity through Projects, Passion, Peers, and Play, both published by the MIT Press, in case you were curious.).

I’ve always been a bit of a bookworm. Ok, more than a bit. I was the strange girl who spent hours upon hours in libraries and bookstores, who had shelves upon shelves of books. I’d read on the subway, waiting for coffee, and sometimes even while walking. It’s no wonder I never excelled at sports.

As I child, I loved reading adaptations of classic novels — at that age my most prized possession was a pocket-sized electronic dictionary. In my teens, I continued loving fiction, especially historical fiction. In my twenties and thirties, I’ve come to enjoy non-fiction, particularly biographies, business books, and books on science (think Oliver Sacks or Mary Roach) and positive psychology (science of happiness).

I have a ton of favorites, so many (about 50 or so) that I usually break them down by category. Of those, there are a handful that I live my life by (and by handful, I mean that only in comparison to the 600+ books I own). These are books that I turn to over and over again for guidance and advice; books I frequently recommend.

Books that guide my life, personal and professional:

Books that have shaped my vision for building companies:

What books have shaped your views and guide your life? I’m always eager to discover new books.

Yolanda Lau is an experienced entrepreneurship consultant, advisor, and Forbes Contributor. She is also an educator, speaker, writer, and non-profit fundraiser.

Since 2010, she has been focused on preparing knowledge workers, educators, and students for the future of work.

Learn more about Yolanda here.