In my last blog post, I wrote about how hiring gig workers can give your firm a competitive advantage.
- Freelancers and consultants boost capacity during peak periods
- They offer specialized skill sets that you may not have in your own talent pool
- Paying them only for the work they produce helps you keep costs down.
But it can be challenging to manage a dual workforce—with employees following one set of rules and procedures and gig workers requiring an entirely different governance structure. As you look to hire contractors to boost your competitive position, you may want to think carefully about how you integrate gig workers into your workflow and your business.
The first thing to recognize is that consultants are not the same as employees, and you can’t treat them as such. Consultants follow a different set of rules. They get paid differently. They’re generally engaged for a short period of time, which affects their outlook, approach to work and loyalty to your firm.
Depending on the contract, they may be juggling you and other clients at the same time. For this reason and others, freelancers like to work with a lot of autonomy. In many cases, consultants have chosen to be gig workers because of the flexibility it offers.
Consultants fall outside the onboarding structure of human resources, so you may have to come up with alternative governance rules and management principles to successfully oversee your freelance workers. Here are some things to keep in mind:
Although consultants may be operating independently, they still need to answer to someone inside the organization. It’s best to make it clear who the consultant reports to, even if they’re working off-site. Ideally, the internal person is empowered to make decisions about the nature of the consultant’s work, and to make project approvals or changes. Likewise, the consultant needs to know who, within the organization, they should turn to if they require clarification on their work.
Good communication is important for any team function or talent pool. But it’s especially important when dealing with freelancers, who may not have the same visibility as employees do into your organizational workflow and corporate goals. Where possible, integrate your contract workers into your email, instant messaging or conferencing tools. If you have regular planning or touch-base meetings with your employees, include the freelancer or consultant as much as you can. If you have off-site workers, be sure to give them feedback—positive or negative—to offer encourage motivation and provide direction.
It’s also important to be transparent with employees where consultants are concerned. If employees don’t understand the freelance fee structure, for example, or that gig workers only work set hours of the day, it could cause tension between your full-timers and your contingency workers.
If you’re using consultants as a cost-saving measure, be sure you have a realistic, but established schedule. Spend time up front briefing the consultant on expectations, focus and the purpose of the work. Have established deadlines, including interim deadlines or check-in points to make sure costs don’t skyrocket.
Consider your dealings with consultants as you would any other business-to-business transaction. Gig workers generally invoice only for the time they work. If you want them to stick around for a while, you’d better make sure you’re prepared to pay them in a timely manner. Let the freelancer know up front how and when you expect them to bill their hours. Build this into the contract. If you know accounts payable moves at a snail’s pace, give the freelancer options to send in their accruals or invoices well in advance of their expected pay date. Offer a clear indication of how long it takes to process each invoice. With gig workers, time is money. They don’t get paid for downtime, only for the time they work. Unlike employees, consultants are much more willing to walk out the door and find the next contract if they go too long without being paid for their services.
Unless the work they’re involved in is top secret, consultants generally want a say in how, where and when they do their work. Creatives frequently work at odd hours of the day. Management consultants may need to set meetings outside of regular business hours or out of the office. Many freelancers blend work life and private life seamlessly, taking business calls during lunch, or booking a massage in the middle of a work day. If your expectation is bum-in-seat eight hours per day, using a consultant may disappoint you. In fact, many employers are now finding flex work arrangements is the expectation of most employees, not just freelancers.
Test out your comfort level with flexible work arrangements by hiring gig workers in your talent pool. It may also help you to become an employer of choice for longer term employees.