The rise of the gig economy means that freelance workers now make up a large and growing part of the U.S. workforce. Roughly 56 million Americans worked as freelancers in 2018, and most do so for the flexibility and balance this work can provide, rather than out of necessity. Employers are benefiting from this trend, too, as an abundance of on-demand talent allows them to optimize labor costs, minimize overhead, and ultimately boost productivity.
This type of work relationship isn’t without its challenges, however — for freelancers or the companies that hire them. Working for yourself can no doubt be exciting and extremely fulfilling, but it is a psychological battle for many. These workers have to sacrifice the sense of security that comes with a salary and a defined career path, and they tend to be more susceptible to burnout and stress as a result.
If you’re leading a company that relies on temps, contractors, freelancers, independent consultants, or any other form of contingent worker, you’ll get more out of the relationship by striving to make it a symbiotic one.
Give and Take
Your first order of business is to make sure your freelance workers feel like part of the team. Maintaining a strong relationship with the people who work for you will only mean good things for your company. Workers who can rely on the ongoing support of an organization while simultaneously realizing the benefits of freelance employment are workers who can do their best work. That’s a huge competitive advantage for you.
To ensure your freelance workers feel like part of the team, you should be doing these three things:
1. Don’t leave your contingent workers in the dark.
You wouldn’t ghost a full-time employee who sits across the office, and you shouldn’t leave your off-site freelancers in the dark, either. It will inevitably be easier for employees working in proximity to communicate with one another than it will be for gig workers who are geographically separated and juggling assignments for multiple clients. A lack of clear communication will be especially problematic for gig workers and can lead to productivity-hampering stress.
There are countless channels that your employees can use to communicate not just with each other, but with your contingent workers as well. Work with your people to identify the tools that make communication as easy and frictionless as possible for team members working with freelancers. Tools like Slack or Fuze could be the answer. After choosing your tools, set clear expectations for how they should be used — this will be key to maintaining smooth communication. For instance, managing communication with your contingent workers through email could lead to urgent requests being overlooked or deprioritized, meaning projects get delayed. Your communication best practices might instead direct employees to use Slack for time-sensitive matters, email for freelancer feedback, and your internal workflow software for managing freelancer assignments.
2. Be thoughtful about how you utilize freelancers.
When it comes to full-time members of your team, you’re likely thoughtful about putting the right people in the right places to propel your company forward. Your approach to selecting and managing gig workers should be the same. Using freelancers wisely means knowing exactly how they fit into your overall company objectives. To accomplish this, Innovative Employee Solutions (IES), a leading nationwide provider of contingent workforce solutions, recommends tracking freelancer usage across departments or business units, taking into account metrics like average pay rate, agency markup expenses, average project length, and others.
Until you look at the big picture, you won’t know whether you’re putting the right freelancers in the right positions, as you do with your full-time team. You could overlook that one particular department has a need for more assistance from your contingent workforce or that another department isn’t really using all of the freelancer budget allotted to it. There’s no reason to conduct a sweeping assessment manually, as there are plenty of contingent labor management software platforms that can automate the process and provide you with actionable insights. These will be irrelevant, though, if you’re not clear on precisely what you’re trying to accomplish with your freelance workforce.
3. Offer gig workers whatever benefits you can.
The best contingent workers are typically bombarded with opportunities, and if you want to continue working with yours, you may have to offer more than just good pay. While government statute may prevent you from offering as robust a benefits package to workers categorized as freelance as you do to your full-time employees, you should strive to provide what benefits are feasible. Even with regulations surrounding health insurance, some companies are finding ways to help their contingent workforce. Uber and Etsy, for example, have partnered with Stride Health to serve as a health insurance broker for gig workers. While freelancers still foot the bill, this approach offers them greater accessibility to and guidance regarding health insurance.
Not that good pay is immaterial, of course. In most cases, you’ll still save money by working with freelancers rather than hiring in-house talent to perform the same work, so don’t nickel and dime them. Providing prompt and fair pay, along with advanced notice of potential future opportunities, can make valued gig workers view you as a priority client. Similarly, presenting them with opportunities to tackle new projects or learn new skills will make your organization a desired destination for freelancers. Andrès Tapia of Korn Ferry suggests setting up knowledge-sharing sessions between your contingent workers and members of your staff as one way to actively facilitating the former’s professional development.
Freelance work isn’t the wave of the future — it’s today’s reality. So make the most of your relationship with your freelancers by developing a strong foundation for effective communication, being thoughtful about how you use contingent workers’ talents and capabilities, and offering them what benefits you can.