For specific parts of a company's operations, outsourcing work to outside employees may be a necessity. This is where the gig economy comes in! Instead of permanently hiring new employees, short-term contract workers or freelancers may be hired short-term to do a particular job.
Yet, while the gig economy does have its perks, one of its drawbacks is the challenge it poses in terms of employee engagement. This is largely because many of these employees work remotely. Lack of proper engagement and communication make it difficult for freelancers to build a long-term working relationship with their superiors.Another reason is that some freelancers work for multiple employers at a time, making loyalty harder to implement. While this can be difficult, there are still many ways managers can maintain the engagement level with freelance workers.
Be clear about your expectations
When it comes to hiring freelancers, it pays to be clear from the beginning about what you will be expecting from them. Harvard Business Review lists this as one of the many things you can do to better manage freelancers, explaining exactly what you want and when you want it helps prevent confusion down the line.
Furthermore, it also helps to provide them with context. Unlike permanent employees, freelancers won’t be around to learn the ropes through osmosis. You may have to spend extra time explaining to them the bigger picture, the goals of the company and how their work ties into it.
Companies should promote an inclusive culture and treat freelancers with the same level of respect as they would with permanent employees. Although HR guidelines and tax/legal purposes may require that there be a clear line between the two, there is no harm in including them in important meetings and conversations. Even something as simple as inviting them to a team lunch can work wonders for engagement.
Instead, companies often do many things to make their contractors feel like second-class citizens. This can range from giving them different-colored IDs or restricting their access to specific areas. Whether intentional or not, practices like these only serve to remind freelancers that they don’t REALLY belong and make engagement difficult. Try to include them as much as possible.
Develop specific onboarding strategies for them
Given the different needs of freelance workers, it is advisable to create an onboarding strategy that zeroes in on their concerns. Here, marketing technologist Michael Klazema suggests adopting a strategy that reflects the most crucial aspects of the onboarding process of full-time workers and adapts it for freelancers.
This even extends to establishing a unique vetting process beforehand, Yoss explains why a pre-vetting process is important for freelance professionals because aside from hard skills, there also needs to be a focus on a candidate's personality.
This could affect the freelance employee's interaction with other team members, which in turn could impact overall engagement. Similarly, it can also mean creating a unique training plan for them and considering different ways to include them in the wider company culture.
Joe Bailey, Business Development Consultant at My Trading Skills suggests that,
"As a hiring manager seeking to engage your freelance employees, you need to know what is driving them. During the hiring/interview process, ask them what drives them, what makes them feel productive, what about their work gives them the most satisfaction. From these answers, you should be able to develop a conducive working arrangement that keeps freelance employees highly engaged, and motivated."
Stay away from helicopter management
A big part of the reason that people are attracted to the gig economy is the freedom it promises. It’s not uncommon to hear stories of employees becoming freelancers to set their own hours and to work from anywhere they like.
That’s why it’s necessary to resist the urge to hover over them – remember that you may not be their only client. Remember that successful freelancers got to where they are because they are disciplined and self-motivated.
Nick Galov, the founder of hostingtibunal.com, says:
"One of the main reasons why people prefer working remotely is the flexibility which allows them to organize their schedules as they like. You should always have in mind the more benefits freelance workers have, the less likely they are to move to another job. On the other hand, this does carry a risk of workers becoming too relaxed and failing to meet all of the deadlines. For this reason, you need to be very clear with your expectations and the performance you expect. As long as these things are met, try not to interfere with workers’ work styles."
To put your mind at ease, it pays to heed the advice above and be clear about your expectations. If you still find yourself having to constantly follow up on projects after that, it may be time to hire a new contractor.
Ensure timely compensation
It’s easy for employers to confuse their temporary staff with large vendors and pay them according to a 60-to-90-day cycle, but this is a huge mistake. Just as with any other type of employee, freelancers also want to be paid on time, in accordance with the agreements you’ve made.
Fast Company advises that this is one of the best things you can do for freelancers, as not only will paying on time make them appreciate you more, but it also puts you in good standing within the freelancing community – making it that much easier to hire qualified freelancers later on.
Let them know how they’re doing
Freelancers want your input on how they’re doing. This doesn’t necessarily mean sitting down with them and having a formal performance review. In fact, it can even be as simple as taking a few minutes out of each day to go over what went right and what went wrong.
Don’t beat around the bush either – if they’re not hitting their targets or delivering low quality work, let them know immediately so they can shape up or ship out. Conversely, if they’re doing a good job then be sure to thank them publicly.
Show that you care
Of course, ensuring higher levels of engagement is easier if managers reciprocate as well. Show them that you see them as more than just workers by showing an interest in their lives outside of work. Congratulate them for major milestones in life like engagements, childbirths, etc.
Not only that, let them know about unique opportunities like workshops or seminars to show that you’re interested in their career development. Things like this are concrete ways to make them feel loved and respected. This doesn’t work just for freelancers.
As the work landscape continues to evolve, the skill of knowing how to engage with freelancers is becoming more relevant than ever. Just last year, 1 in 5 American jobs held by a worker were under contract. This number is only projected to rise, with estimates showing that half of the workforce will be this way within a decade. If managers and their companies want to keep up, it is important to heed these tips as early as possible.