With the growing gig economy and increase in number of workers choosing freelance or contract positions, some studies estimate freelancers will account for the majority of the workforce during the next decade. A recent Bureau of Labor Statistics report predicts a less extreme rate of growth in contract work, however, if you manage people, there is a good chance you will be called on to manage contractors.
Start with relationships
“People who work with you on a contract basis are not so different from those employed by your organization,” suggests Anne Loehr, author, future-of-work expert and SVP with the Center for Human Capital Innovation. “You still need to build strong work relationships, be clear about work expectations and keep the lines of communication open. What may differ is exactly how you go about forging those connections, especially if folks work remotely.”
Freelancers and contract workers help organizations remain nimble as workflow and skill requirements change. They can also provide fresh perspectives. Freelancers tend to work on a per-project or hourly basis whereas contract workers are often hired for a specified (contracted) period of time to perform a variety of tasks. Just like team members employed with your organization, they want to use their full range of talents, connect with those who can support their work and have input about how best to meet project goals.
Knowing how to manage non-permanent workers effectively can ensure their contributions increase group performance rather than distract or detract from it. Consider these guidelines to lead these team members effectively.
Clue them in on workplace culture. Even if they work remotely, they need to understand how formal or informal the workplace is, how senior leaders are addressed and attitudes around deadlines and personal responsibility. They may not be part of casual Fridays, but freelance staff need onboarding that includes access to computer systems, email addresses and a basic understanding of office politics and hierarchy.
Be specific and clearly articulate expectations. Spell out timelines, budgets, quality expectations, how they will work with other team members and where they should go when questions and problems arise. Then make sure they have access to the people and resources internally they need to do the work.
Keep in touch. “One of the biggest mistakes leaders make in managing freelance staff is frankly forgetting about them,” Loehr says. “Even if they are out of sight, don’t let them be out of mind. You will likely need to be even more intentional than you would with employees with regard to scheduling regular check-ins, progress reports and trouble-shooting so you can set them up for success.”
Include contractors in relevant meetings and conference calls. “You can’t leave them out in the cold and expect them to be up to speed with your needs,” Loehr advises.
Recognize results. Just as with employees, contract workers benefit from constructive feedback and recognition for a job well done. Strive to evaluate tasks in a timely manner to ensure they are on the right track. And, remember to recognize the contributions of contractors so they feel invested in the work, the team and the organization.
Remember, freelancers are likely working for other clients as well. If you want them to accept repeat assignments with you, and to share good things about your organization within their network, show them you value them.
Check the details. Work with HR and your in-house legal team to ensure relationships with freelance and contract employees are clearly articulated and understood. “There are specific classifications and tax implications around the work status of freelancers,” Loehr explains. “Make sure you understand how many hours they can work, whether they can sit in on company meetings, and how and when they will be paid.”
“Your job as a leader is not to know everything, but rather to build a team with a robust range of skills and expertise and then to manage in a way that maximizes individual input and group performance,” Loehr says. “Knowing how to make contract and freelance workers an effective part of that mix is a critical skill that contemporary leaders must possess.”