Over the past two decades, the rise of the gig economy is one of the most significant changes transforming the workplace. Where previously freelancers and contract workers were considered less than ideal because of their independence, these workers are now often an ideal fit for our increasingly remote and decentralized workplaces. These independent professionals bring high-skilled but cost-effective talent to organizations on an on-demand basis.
But what role does company culture play in making gig workers a happy and productive element of your workforce?
Instilling Awareness of Company Values and Culture in Gig Workers
Research by Glassdoor indicates the productivity of new employees improves by more than 70% with a positive onboarding experience. If anything, onboarding is even more critical for gig workers, freelancers, and contract workers, who often work remotely and have limited time to assimilate into the company. Yet, these workers often receive less consideration regarding onboarding, training, and support than permanent employees. Additionally, gig workers may be disregarded or treated with hostility by employees. These factors can combine to diminish their effectiveness and result in a poor experience of your organization.
Onboarding should provide gig and temporary workers with context for the work they’ll be doing. The systems, people, and other resources they will be working with can help set them up to be successful. For example, it can make sense to find ways to include them in company events and to allow them to “join the conversation” by giving them access to communication platforms such as Slack and Microsoft Teams. You could even consider setting up a buddy system that pairs gig workers with full-time employees able to answer questions and make the necessary introductions.
Offering temporary workers rewards and perks that align with organizational goals and values can make them feel part of the bigger team and help steer their efforts productively. Plus, regularly seeking feedback from your alternative workforce regarding their experience can help you fine-tune your hiring and onboarding processes, as well as workflows.
Don’t Forget Full-Time Employees
While welcoming gig workers into the organization, leaders must be aware of the impact a temporary workforce may have on employees and company culture. Permanent staff may view an initiative to incorporate gig workers or freelancers as an expression of leadership’s lack of confidence in in-house skills. They may feel excluded from desirable roles when experts are brought in from the outside and potentially question the organization’s desire to further their own professional development, since this usually requires training costs and pay increases. Employees may fear their jobs will be outsourced and that they will either be replaced or forced into freelancer-style contracts with less financial security.
To counter any resentment or anxiety, leadership should be as transparent as possible about the decision to engage gig workers. For example, explaining what work will be undertaken by freelancers and how they will fit in with in-house teams can make it easier for staff to absorb their new co-workers and help them be productive and feel welcome.
Where opportunities exist for employees to learn from freelance experts, formalize this upfront as part of the freelancer’s role. Having permanent staff play supporting roles such as process documentation and testing will expose them to skill and knowledge transfer opportunities.
Where possible and appropriate, incorporate freelancers into existing reporting structures and projects. Also be sure to include in-house teams in the decision to employ extra capacity and the onboarding process of temporary team members. Creating a sense of ownership within the team will help employees feel invested in successful outcomes.
Gig Workers as Brand Advocates
Besides being valuable supplementary resources, gig workers can become strong brand advocates for you as an employer. They may work for multiple companies in a year, coming into contact with other gig workers and employees in similar industries. If they’ve had a positive experience working for your organization, they can spread the word among other desirable future workers, helping you attract talent.
So, take time to understand what your freelancers want. As you won’t have the same time and opportunities to get to know them as well as permanent staff, try being direct from the outset. Understanding why freelancers choose to work independently and what they hope to get from working for you will help you engage with them. Then do everything you can to make the engagement mutually beneficial.
Creating an engaged workforce of gig workers and retaining connections with “alumni” can build a reservoir of skilled talent for you to draw from. You will have positioned your organization to remain agile, relevant, and staffed to handle what the market throws at you.