If you’re a business owner, it should go without saying that bringing freelancers into the fold can be a beneficial move for both sides. It’s understandable, though, if you’re a bit nervous about what it might mean for your company culture to have a number of “employees” who aren’t technically your staff. However, if you follow a few basic guidelines for how to include freelancers in your organization and ways to make everyone feel involved, your company may find a whole host of new perspectives – as well as a valuable source for providing quality work.
Embrace The New Corporate Culture
As mentioned in the whitepaper The New Face of the American Workforce, there has been a cultural shift over the last decade towards leaving the traditional office job behind. One of the lessons learned from the recent economic recession was that employment and job security can be fleeting, and sometimes it can be a much more fulfilling choice to work a job you love instead. For many, that means turning to the independence and freedom of the freelance world.
This quote from Apple’s Steve Jobs during a graduation ceremony at Stanford in 2005 still sums up how many are beginning to look at their career: “Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do.” In many ways, the great recession taught people that it can be rewarding to move away from a traditional job that they might not enjoy, and instead pick something that’s both enjoyable and independently profitable.
And so a new wave of freelancers began, and with them came a notable shift in company culture. According to Fast Company, freelancers (also known as contingent workers or contracted talent) now comprise over one-quarter of an average company’s staff, and one-third of the U.S. working population – and, in this 2012 infographic by Mavenlink, 40% cent of the American workforce will be freelancers by the year 2020 (with an expected rise to 50 per cent shortly thereafter)
How to Make Freelancers a Part of Your Company
Incorporating freelancers into your company culture means more than just operating with a larger workforce than the people you see in your office every day. It’s a relationship that needs to be recognized for how important it is to have skilled people working outside of the office’s walls. This post at American Express’s Open Forum blog has a good take on it: “Sure you’ll save on benefits and other full-timer expenses, but contingent workers also provide a fresh perspective that can help you hone your offering. Furthermore, because they’re removed from office politics, they have the ability to focus on the work without a lot of fanfare, which means that every minute counts as double.”
If you’re ready to bring freelancers into the fold, here are a few tips to help with their inclusion into your business:
Make them feel like an employee. Even if you have an entire staff in an office, it’s always worth taking the time to make your freelancers feel like part of the team. Freelance workers are accustomed to the worry that they could be replaced, so be sure to emphasize that their work is important to your organization and that they bring indispensable talent to the table. (The Open Forum blog post also suggests supporting your freelance talent by giving them opportunities to train within your organization, or to take courses that will help them refine their skills even further.) All of these efforts will leave a good impression on your freelancers, and they’ll be glad to come back and work for you again if needed.
Recognize their work – and be ready to give them more. No matter how many clients a freelance worker may have, they always want to know two things: that their contributions are appreciated and that they have a measure of stability. As a business owner, you can hit the mark on both of these things by giving them a steady stream of projects to work on. This shows that you have faith in their capability to produce quality work, and also that you’re appreciating what they’ve already done for your company. No one would keep a freelancer around who isn’t working up to industry standards, so by accepting their work and constantly giving them more to do, you’re reassuring them that you value their contributions and consider them to be a part of the team.
Keep communication lines open for feedback. If you haven’t yet had your freelancers asking for feedback, be ready to speak up and offer your opinions on the work they’re submitted. Also, this is a two-way street – ask them for feedback on how your relationship could be improved, and what the company can do to make them feel more secure in their position. There are a wealth of programs that facilitate remote communication, so offer to include freelancers in Skype calls, chats, and Google Hangouts. If you show that communication lines are always open to freelancers- and not just internal staff- then it goes a long way towards building a positive experience.
With more and more companies doing away with the conventional office structure, perhaps it might be time to consider the evolution of your working staff by including some freelance talent. It’s a cost-effective solution to staffing that can also add value when it comes to providing new perspectives and useful skills. In hiring freelancers, you’re not only taking part in a new age of company culture – you’re also showing business savvy in recognizing talents outside of the usual workforce.