It’s likely that many of your company’s most valuable workers don’t go to the holiday party. They don’t receive benefits, nor do they spend their time at any of your offices regularly.
They are the freelance workforce: A hidden group that has evolved from part-time workers to anyone who doesn’t appear on the company payroll. In an age of mass specialization, they’re everything from tax accountants to regional salespeople; call center reps to seasonal retail workers. They’ve grown to more than one-quarter of an average company’s workforce and one-third of the entire U.S. working population.
But their priority to companies has yet to match their influence. While many companies have a freelance labor policy, there’s a gap between how much they’re depended on compared to how they’re incorporated into company culture and decision-making.
It’s time to close this gap. Freelancers need to be a motivated, encouraged, and valued part of your company’s day-to-day operations. Here are several ways to make these free agents a more productive and connected part of your team.
The courtship of a freelance worker should mirror the recruiting process for any full-time employee: Meaning it addresses a clear need and is conducted with a high degree of activity and engagement.
In a business world where ideas are now our greatest assets, take the perspective that great ideas–produced by great talent–can come from everywhere. If there’s a particular skill set available within the freelance market, then recruit that talent just as aggressively as a full-time employee. They’ll join your team valued, integrated, and informed.
Most companies have a precise idea of their number of full-time employees, but that picture evaporates when looking at their freelance workforce. A consolidated viewpoint clearly identifies the talent and skill gaps that need improving. Addressing that need involves first understanding the existing policy for bringing on freelance help, and then developing a pipeline of talented candidates and vendors and interacting and engaging with that pipeline consistently.
Bringing freelance labor into the onboarding and managerial processes creates a spirit of open dialogue. As initial outsiders to your business, they often need a conduit to information more than their full-time counterparts. They also have a unique degree of outside experience that provides a fresh perspective into a process or decision.
The open working relationship should also extend to a shared attitude among full-time and freelance employees. Business outcomes are generally not results by specific entities–there is a broader group of people that contribute to a project’s success or failure. This should be reflected by the way freelance workers are measured, evaluated, and attributed.
Many companies think of their freelance labor as a faucet that turns on and off. While they rely on a variety of specialties at certain times, few things in business are isolated needs. There’s a high likelihood a similar skill set will be needed in the future. When it is, the best choices are people with positive experiences and feelings about the company.
This requires a shift in mindset and priorities. Freelance laborers are becoming long-term investments and partnerships. While their working commitment to a company may ebb and flow, their moral and mental commitment to a brand should remain consistent.
What began as temporary help has become a permanent fixture in a productive, modern workplace. But a blended workforce requires new approaches to how we interact and manage our freelance labor.
The hidden workforce should not be invisible to your company’s communication, camaraderie, and culture. Allowing freelancers to become a valued and included part of the team provides a solid and substantial gain from a fluid level of investment.
—Mike Ettling is global head of Cloud & On-Premise HR at SAP.