In a world where collaboration is king, getting your staff to work well together is critical. Happy hours, open office environments, and corporate away days have been popular strategies for encouraging some kumbaya in the past.
However today, 39% of the US workforce are freelancers, which means they aren’t in the office, they aren’t necessarily working the same hours as your contracted employees, and they may not have the same loyalty to the business. In this reality, how can companies encourage a holistic working culture?
Don’t Forget to Send Freelancers an Invite
Freelancers don’t have to come to the office happy hour, but that doesn’t mean they don’t want to! If you’re planning an office event to encourage workers to form deeper relationships, there’s no harm in inviting your freelancers, too. If they live close enough, or if the get together can be virtual, they may be happy to attend.
The same is true for professional get-togethers. Don’t leave freelancers off the invite for the weekly round-up, or for a meeting where you’re making important announcements about product releases or messaging. After all, the more the freelancer knows about the business, the better, and they may be happy to get involved. Mark the invite as “optional”, and make sure to include an agenda so that they know what they will be opting into.
Keeping freelancers on the invite list makes them more visible to other stakeholders across the business, and shows everyone that they are important and valued — making it much more likely they will feel part of the team.
Provide Tools for Communication and Collaboration
If all of your in-office or full-time employees use certain tools and productivity software, make sure freelancers have the opportunity to use them, too. Invite freelancers to the Slack channel, especially the one that’s for cat memes, not just for pressing deadlines. Add them to the Miro board so they can brainstorm and whiteboard with others during meetings. Make sure freelancers have system access to all the same tools, so they aren’t locked out of a meeting due to technical errors.
Remember, some freelancers might be resistant to working with your software suite, and that’s fine, too. After all, if a freelancer has 7 clients, and each one chooses their own productivity board, juggling between Monday.com, Trello, Asana, ClickUp, and smoke signals may not be particularly productive for them.
Ask Freelancers For their Opinions
64% of freelancers say that their job makes them feel lonely. As well as including them in team meetings and corporate away days, make sure you’re asking them for their feedback and opinions.
Your freelancers are at a unique vantage point. They likely work for multiple businesses that are similar to your own, and get a view of what works, what doesn’t, and how to boost business growth in your exact industry. This is a powerful voice to have at your table, and yet many organizations discount freelance talent in strategy meetings or conversations.
Of course, freelancers will need to be careful about what they share in terms of intellectual property or trade secrets, but we’re not talking about Coca Cola’s freelancer heading over to Pepsi with an ingredient list. Instead, consider how a freelance developer may have been involved in dozens of cloud migration initiatives, or a freelance instructional designer may have created hundreds of customer or partner learning programs. Ask them what their experiences and best practices are with the current company objectives — and show the rest of the team that freelancers are a resource that can be tapped to see success.
Communicate Roles and Responsibilities
Some companies find there is friction between employees and freelancers because there is limited transparency into each party’s role. Full-time employees look to freelancers and wonder:
- Am I being replaced? Is this a new strategy where full-time employees will be phased out?
- Will this freelancer know how we work? What if they force their processes on our team?
- Why do they get this interesting project, while I have to do all the hard work and admin?
On the other side of the coin, freelancers are likely to be concerned with issues such as:
- Will anyone take my opinion into consideration, or am I seen as less important than full-time staff?
- Will the company drop me if I get something wrong, or don’t fit in? After all, they don’t have termination laws to consider.
- Will employees tell me everything I need to know, or will I need to scramble for knowledge sharing and information?
As a leader, it’s really important to address these concerns, and explain to your internal team and your freelancers exactly why you’re using this strategy. Discuss the challenge with your employees, explaining that you have a looming deadline and you need more resources quickly, or you’ve realized you have a knowledge or skills gap that needs filling. Invite them to brainstorm with you how you can approach this challenge, so that onboarding freelance talent feels like a choice they were a part of, not something that’s happening to them.
Provide the same clarity to the freelancer, explaining exactly what role you want them to fill, and who other critical stakeholders are in the team. Make it clear what the scope of their role is and if relevant — when the project term will be complete. Ensure they have a point of contact who can stay on top of knowledge sharing, and include them in the roadmap and the development plan for their projects and tasks.
Getting the Best Out of Freelance Talent and Full-time Employees
Freelancers are an essential part of today’s economy, with the number of people looking to work independently growing every year. Today, freelancers solve many challenges for businesses, filling skills gaps, offering niche expertise, and providing a cost-effective way to scale teams up and down in line with demand.
However, to make a success of a freelance strategy, businesses need to be able to promote strong collaboration between independent contractors and full-time workers. Transparency, honesty and the right technology is a great place to begin.
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