I’ve mentioned the many potential benefits that incorporating freelancers into your business can have on this blog before. Employees can build leadership skills by managing freelancers and maximize efficiency of production by taking advantage of short-term contracts.
Approximately 38% of the millennial workforce works freelance. As this work trend grows, expanding your business is very likely to involve hiring some independent contractors, that is, freelance consultants.
In taking advantage of these benefits, the challenge for traditionally structured organisations will be figuring out how to incorporate freelance workers into the larger company framework.
Here are my top tips for making the freelance economy work for your business.
How can leaders best incorporate freelancers with the permanent team?
In almost any successful future enterprise, work is going to involve collaboration. Keeping your permanent staff in projects with freelancers will lend a sense of continuity to projects and their ultimate objectives.
While your permanent team should be well versed in the mission and traditions of your business, freelancers bring a fresh perspective and sense of creativity to projects. Just remember that project challenges are bound to crop up, so it’s important to plan for risks before they happen, especially in a mixed team that combines freelance and permanent staff.
Reimagine your view of the Freelance worker
The onus is on you to ensure you establish an attitude of equality between permanent staff and freelance hires. Permanent hires bring knowledge that can take months and years to build, and important company know-how and cultural imprimatur. On the other hand, freelancers can bring in a breath of fresh air: new ideas and new skills.
It’s also important that you work to keep an even keel in mixed project teams. An article in the Harvard Business Review makes the point that there is often “…the common perception of contingent workers as somehow less important, less skilled, or less committed than ‘permanent’ employees…” It is key to eliminate this attitude up front.
Consider how you will introduce your chosen freelance hires to your permanent team and vice versa. Make sure you establish mutual respect for everyone’s skills and commitment: how you tackle this is really down to your leadership style.
Freelancing means short-term contracts, not short-term workers. Keep good freelancers on the payroll
A skilled freelancer is someone you will want to hire again and again. By bringing back stellar independent contractors, you ensure both consistent results and allow repeat freelancers to establish a rapport with your permanent team.
A freelancer who is familiar with your company structure and culture will also be able to switch easily between project teams. In this way, freelancers can also help to prevent information silos creeping up among your permanent staff.
Facilitate the transfer of skills between freelancers and your permanent team
Presumably, the freelancers you work with have skills that make them a valuable part of any project, as does your permanent staff. Once you’ve hired and re-hired a skilled freelancer and they have a working relationship with the permanent team, there is an opportunity for positive skill transfer between them.
For example, while a freelance copywriter may be able to point out the finer details of rhetoric for copy, permanent staff can apprise him or her on company-wide initiatives, skill sets, and strategic plans.
How can you make freelancers feel like “part of the team”?
When bringing on temporary employees, it can be difficult to help them feel like part of the team, especially if they are working with a lot of permanent staff. It may take several projects before a freelancer feels that they really know and understand the company, and is comfortable with the employees they’re working with.
It’s a tough ask, and many managers don’t even try to help freelancers break the ice, treating them as short-term resources with no long-term benefit (unfortunately, the business’s loss). However, the rewards are worth the effort.
Here are a few ideas on how you can create a friendly, work-positive environment for your freelance workers.
Consider creating a social-media based project space or use a Social Enterprise system and invite them to join
If you’re not already using a social enterprise tool in your business, you could set up a social media page or group meant just for the collaborators on any given project, and includes both permanent staff and freelancers. Encourage all members of the group to introduce themselves on the site and to keep the rest of the group up-to-date with their contributions through posts on the page.
Whether you choose to employ a social enterprise system or mainstream social media, a tool such as this could also serve as a safe space for team members to troubleshoot or ask for support or advice on aspects of the project.
Consider hiring freelancers who live near your company’s home base
Not only can freelancers feel excluded from the team due to their temporary status, they can also be separated from the company by hundreds or thousands of miles.
If your company is located in a large city, it’s likely that hundreds of talented freelancers live within an easy distance of your business. Consider looking for hires from this local pool of people.
By incorporating freelancers who live in the same city (not to mention the same time-zone), you will give the entire team something in common. Freelancers who live in the area could even come into the office for project-related meetings or brainstorming sessions. This is another great way to make sure freelancers feel invested and part of the team.
Provide hot desks or common work areas
Giving freelancers a space to work in your office can help engender a feeling of belonging, which also facilitates knowledge transfer and collaboration.
Even providing a common work area like a long trestle table (ala Facebook and Google office styles) allows freelancers to work in the office at least some of the time in comfort, and not feel like they are displacing other staff.
Freelancers who are able to work shoulder to shoulder with permanent staff have greater opportunities for incidental conversations that can lead to project break-throughs and faster speed to results.
Does your company frequently hire freelancers for projects? What tactics do you use to make them feel like a part of the bigger team? I would love to hear your thoughts.