In 2006, the last time the federal government counted, there were 42.6 million independent or contingent worker in the US, which was about 30 percent of the workforce at the time. That is expected to increase to 40 percent of the workforce by 2020.
Regardless of the exact figures today, there’s no denying that the workplace is rapidly changing. Gone are the days when a company solely relied on in-house teams. Today, they turn to the so-called contingent workforce.
You can’t blame them. Contractors have unique skill sets that your current workforce may not possess, and you may only need them temporarily. That will save you money in the long-run.
Unfortunately, business owners tend to treat their contractors differently. As a result, this discourages a collaborative and productive work environment. However, that can be avoid if you make your contractor workers feel included by taking the five following steps.
1. Don’t treat them like second-class citizens.
I don’t think that this is intentional. It’s just something that business owners and leaders do subconsciously with subtle status differentiators. For example, having different colored ID badges, being able to access company resources like the gym, or getting invited to company events.
Whether they’re working remotely or physically next to your full-time staff, researchers have found that contractors and freelancers want to feel like a part of the team.
Instead of treating them like second-class citizens, give them the same ID badge as your in-house team. Allow them access to your company’s resources. Invite them to join your company’s newsletter and attend company events both in and out of the workplace.
Even if you have contractors who work remotely, technology like Skype, HipChat, Slack, and Periscope has made it possible for them to be included in important meetings and social events. You could also set-it-up so that your virtual contractors can work on a nearby co-working space. Even though they’re not in your actual office, it still has that office environment that they don’t at home.
At the same time, this may give off the appearance that your contractors are full-time employees. And, while that is a valid concern you’ll want to consider because of employment laws and HR guidelines, inviting a contractor to a team meeting or lunch shouldn’t be a problem.
Related: Everything You Need to Know About Hiring a Freelancer
2. Build a relationship offline.
Unlike a full-time staff, your brought-in contractors to work on a specific or time-sensitive task or project. Other times it’s because you hired contractors to fill a temporary position. Regardless of the situation, contractors have more flexibility and less security then full-time employees.
In other words, even though your contractors may be able to work from home, they also may not have a long-term position at your company. Because of this precarious situation, it’s vital that you reach out to them and build a relationship offline from the get-go.
The most effective way to accomplish this is by scheduling frequent face-to-face time with them. This could inviting them to company social events, meeting them for a cup of coffee once a month, or catching-up with them over the phone every week. I find even when people can’t make the event they appreciate being invited.
This can foster a sense of belonging. It gives them a chance to interact with you and your team. Additionally, it gives you a chance to provide feedback on where they can improve and how they’re helping move your company forward.
Related: The 15 Best Freelance Websites to Find Jobs
3. Get them involved locally.
Whether your contractors are in your local area or 3,000 miles away, look for ways for them to be representatives of your company. If there is an upcoming industry event or conference, ask them if they would be interested in attending. It’s an effective way for them to feel like they’re a part of the family.
This also saves you time and money since you don’t have to travel, while also giving them a chance to network professionally.
Besides industry events and conferences, encourage your contractors to speak at a school’s career day, attend job fairs, or sponsor their membership to a professional organization. You could also sponsor a Meetup or a networking happy hour where they’re the ambassador of your brand.
Related: Top 5 Ways Freelancers Can Stay Competitive in the Gig Economy
4. Offer skill development programs.
Employees, and millennials in particular, want to work for an organization that offers professional development opportunities. In fact, 87 percent of millennials stated that development is important in a job.
Your contractors are no-different. They also demand opportunities to learn and hone new skills. That’s because if they don’t they won’t be as professionally relevant and competitive. While this is up to them, at least provide advice and suggestions based on what you offer your full-time employees. If there’s an online class your employees are required to take, give your contractors the information on the class. You could also notify them that as a contractor, online classes can often be written off as business expenses.
Another option would be pay for the contractor to attend a workshop or conference and share the key insights with the rest of you team at a future team meeting. I personally give access to places like Treehouse to any employee that wants to learn different skills.
Related: Gig Economy Platforms Are Creating A New Class of Entrepreneurs
5. Show your appreciation.
As John Amodeo, Ph.D., MFT, notes in Psychology Today, we “thrive on positive feedback from our environment.” This is mainly because this makes us feel valued, which in turn “reinforces a positive sense of self-worth.” Furthermore, when we’re appreciated we feel more connected to the individual issuing the recognition or praise.
You can show your contractors how much you appreciate them by having them participate in certain events, delegating key tasks to them, and asking for their input. Also explain how they’re contributions are helping you achieve your company’s goals and objectives.
And, most importantly, don’t forget to give kudos. This could be simply thanking them, giving them a shout-out in the next company newsletter, or a monetary award with a bonus.
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