Companies should give freelancers the same onboarding as staff
As the definition of the word “employee” becomes more nuanced, so too should the processes for incorporating various employee types into the workforce.
Providing a complete onboarding and training program to temporary, contract, contingent, gig, or freelance workers may seem impractical, but providing none at all could cause significant damage to a company’s reputation, employer brand, and internal processes.
According to Deloitte’s “2018 Human Capital Trends” report, which surveyed more than 11,000 business and HR leaders around the world, 37% anticipate a growth in contractors, 33% expect an increase in freelancers, and 28% predict an increase in gig workers by the year 2020. Today, however, only 16% have an established set of policies for non-traditional workers, only 32% track the quality of contract work, and only 29% track compliance with contact terms. Overall, only 45% of HR and business leaders provide these workers with training, and only 54% offer formal onboarding.
“You can’t keep contractors and freelancers to the side in a company, you have to treat them as part of your overall workforce ecosystem, and figure out how they’re going to play with your full-time employees,” says Erica Volini, Deloitte’s U.S. human capital leader and coauthor of the “Human Capital Trends” report.
Volini likens today’s changing workforce to the outsourcing wave of the recent past. “The companies that looked at the outsourcer as a partner rather than a vendor were able to make those relationships last longer, because they became part of the way the company did business, rather than a vendor on the side,” she says.
Choosing not to onboard can be dangerous
Beyond extending the working relationship and potentially improving the quality of the work, Volini says not properly orienting all staff member types with internal processes, expectations, and culture could pose a threat to the business.
Contract, freelance, and gig workers are often employed to complete specific tasks, but Volini says it’s important to demonstrate how that task fits into the company’s broader workflow and goals. This process becomes even more vital for temporary workers that are tasked with customer-facing activities.
“You can’t have these individuals not understanding your company’s mission, vision, values, how you want the customer experience to be felt,” she says. “So then the question becomes, how do you onboard these individuals in a way that they will reflect those values in every interaction they have with customers? Otherwise you’re hurting your customer brand.”
Temporary staff members that don’t interact with customers directly can still impact the company’s reputation, says Volini. “Once they work for your company in any capacity, they have the right and will talk about your company and your employment brand on websites like Glassdoor and others, so they will have an impact on your overall employment brand.”
Start with the basics
Onboarding full-time staff can be a multi-week process, but onboarding freelance and contract talent doesn’t necessarily require the same sort of commitment. Those working with non-traditional work types should, however, ensure they have the basics covered before commencing any formal work.
“Some of the steps that you can put in place from an onboarding standpoint don’t necessarily need to be really time consuming,” says Diane Domeyer, the executive director of creative talent staffing firm The Creative Group. “Just having a consistent process for how you inform the team, how you welcome the project professional, how you set their expectations and measure their performance, those things can be done in building blocks to ultimately benefit the organization if they put the time in upfront.”
Beyond setting timelines and expectations for temporary and contract staff, Domeyer says it’s important to designate at least one employee familiar with the project to help answer questions along the way. “Make sure you’ve got a point person or a leader that is the liaison and support for their time on the project who can not only help them direct their work but also assimilate to the team and the culture and the structure of the organization,” she says.
Adjust according to the nature of the work
The amount of time, effort, and resources that are dedicated to onboarding freelance, contract, and gig workers should ultimately come down to the length and nature of the engagement, according to Michael Solomon, the cofounder and managing partner of tech talent agency 10x Management.
“If you’re bringing someone on for two weeks and you’re never going to need them again, it’s a very different situation than when you’re bringing someone on for six months and it might go longer,” he says.
Solomon also believes that the level of sophistication in the onboarding process should be dictated by how closely the freelancer is working with the organization. He explains that the process should be more thorough and well defined for those expected to complete tasks independently, as opposed to those that will remain in constant communication.
“This is to me exactly the kinds of things you want to do in the onboarding, deciding, How frequently do you want to be checking in? How often do you want updates? How often do you want to see what? Who are the people that need to sign off on it as I complete steps? These are all things that become crucially important,” he said.
Not only will answering those questions help set expectations, but they should also help the employer determine the extent of upfront onboarding that is necessary.
Always have an exit strategy
The most crucial expectation to establish during onboarding is unfortunately the one that is most commonly overlooked: the process of smoothly transitioning the workflow back in-house following the conclusion of the assignment.
“You want to make sure part of your process includes the passing off and the winding down, so that you have everything needed for the next person to work on this project,” says Solomon, adding that expectations surrounding the handoff should be set at the beginning of the work term.
“Thinking about not just onboarding, but offboarding, when they leave, how are you closing the door with them from an employment relationship standpoint?” adds Volini, who recommends a “slimmed-down” version of the typical exiting process for full-time staff. “Understand their perspective so that you’re understanding how they’re feeling about the company when they leave, what they might say about the company, and what might be improved moving forward.”