Me freelancer. You…?

Me freelancer. You…?

23rd July 2021 0 By Nandini

At the end of the ‘work year’, or more accurately, at the beginning of the ‘great holiday’, is perhaps is a good time to reflect upon how some things have gone. Not evaluate. Reflect.

In this spirit, one experience, which clearly brought to the fore that twenty years in the Netherlands haven’t (yet) eliminated the Indian in me is worth noting. It had to do with my first experience of free-lancing for an organisation. It’s a Dutch one with an international clientele. Communication on expectations and responsibilities from both sides, and the details about the fee were covered by a few emails and one phone call that lasted less than ten minutes. Then came the contract, digitally into my inbox, which I returned, signed, in the same manner. In the contract was a date of delivery for the assignment, and a clause that I should not expect anyone from the organisation to supervise my work. In some work contexts, I have been observed, evaluated…judged – given tips on how to improve and asked what I need to get from point a to point b. Here, I was to be trusted as a professional to do my job and hand in the finished product at the end of the given period, with no one looking over my shoulder. After I had signed it, I went to work. Diligently.

About fifty percent of the way into the assignment, I began to have thoughts like these….‘what if I come to know after I have delivered that this is not what they had in mind? Isn’t it a bit late then? Although the contract clearly states that I should not expect to be supervised, aren’t they interested in knowing if the deadline will be met? Should I send them an update?

Considering and reconsidering and growing increasingly uncomfortable with the absence of (micro) management, I decided to speak up and say something. So I sent the person responsible for the project a sample of the work and asked if this was along the lines of what she was expecting to see at the end of the given period. I received an automatic reply that she was busy and would take time to answer emails.


The ‘Indian’ in me thought, this feels strange. While I completely get the meaning and the idea of ‘afspraak is afspraak’ – the Dutch way of communicating ‘an agreement is an agreement’, and that, having signed the dotted line, I was to disappear, do my work and deliver with no demands on anyone’s time except my own – the discomfort of not having anyone look, assess, or even answer my question freaked me out! I didn’t need to be supervised or managed…just reassured that the organisation and I were speaking the same language that we were on the same page. And this wasn’t to be had.

Of course, one could argue that the matter has more to do with organisational culture, or the culture of work as practiced by different sectors, and the whole thing had nothing to do with ‘Indian’ or ‘Dutch’ culture. Perhaps it’s a mix of all of these. It can be puzzling, especially if one thinks (as I claim) that one understands the ‘host’ culture, in this case ‘afspraak is afspraak’ and communicates that too, as well as knowledge of Dutch, but acts outside the agreement, like I had.

Here are a couple of questions for you, the reader to mull over, hopefully, while you are NOT thinking about work:

  1. Do you think the automatic reply had anything to do with the demands on the time I would be making to the person responsible for the project from within the organisation?
  2. What do you think happened next?