Why You Should Invest in Your Contract Workers' Employee Experience
Contract workers have become the norm in many organizations, hired to execute one-off projects and augment the work of full-time employees. To unlock the potential and gain the loyalty of these temporary staff, provide them with an employee experience which is as good as that of their permanent peers.
All too often, contract workers have less than stellar onboarding, working, collaboration and offboarding experiences. These experiences may make them unwilling to re-engage with your organization and you forfeit an ongoing relationship with a skilled individual who already knows your business in turn.
As organizations find it more challenging to attract and retain talented workers, having ready access to groups of reliable and skilled freelancers continues to grow in importance.
Turn to Temporary Workers to Fill Your Talent Gaps
Global talent shortages have nearly doubled over the last 10 years, according to research released in early 2020 from the Manpower Group. Among the US companies polled, 69% reported talent shortages as compared with 54% of the entire worldwide surveyed audience of organizations.
"When team leaders, managers, or executives see a skills gap, they want to fill it fast," said Vaso Perimenis, head of human resources strategies and solutions at Ekstein Consulting Services. "If a company has a good understanding of talent pools within and outside the organization, it can more quickly find independent workers to fill identified needs."
At the same time, the future of work will see a shift away from full-time roles in favor of a more task-based approach performed by ad-hoc teams. In a 2020 worldwide talent trends study by consultancy Mercer, 77% of the polled executives said that they believe freelance and gig workers will substantially replace full-time employees within the next five years.
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Create an Employee Experience Tailored for Contract Workers
“The best organizations have a nuanced approach to allowing contract workers to be part of their organization,” said Sam Marshall, owner and director of ClearBox Consulting. “When it goes wrong, organizations treat contractors as wholly outside or wholly inside and give them employee-level ‘access all areas.’”
Contract workers' employee experience should sit in the middle of those two extremes. “Provide enough permeability to understand your organization and let them get the job done,” Marshall said. “But not so much access that onboarding them and security concerns around collaboration become a difficult hurdle to cross.”
Ensure that the employee experience you offer is empathetic in its recognition of contract workers’ unique needs and challenges.
“For instance, contractors often need greater flexibility in their schedules because they work with several different companies in order to earn their annual income,” said Greg Kihlstrom, co-founder of CareerGig. “This means that companies are flexible when it comes to when and how their contractors work.”
Some organizations don’t provide a good employee experience to contract workers because they fail to grasp the strategic value of temporary staff on their long-term staffing plan.
“Because the worker-employer relationship may be temporary, there is a reluctance to invest time and resources in the contract worker,” Perimenis said. “Some companies see the workers as filling a just-in-time resource gap versus building an independent workforce capability”
Make Onboarding Focused, Quick and Painless
The process of bringing a new contract worker into your organization should differ significantly from how you typically onboard a full-time employee. Provide a quick and easy onboarding which focuses on two key areas: what the individual needs to learn to be successful in their work and what they should know about your organization, said Kihlstrom.
“Because contractors need to get up to speed much more quickly than a typical full-time employee, this means that the company is intentional about creating onboarding specifically for contractors and freelancers,” he said.
Onboarding is where organizations tend to struggle the most in providing contract workers with good employee experiences. This can run the gamut from highly complex legal contracts to overly limited remote network logins to issues around enabling contractors how to execute basic transactions.
“The impact of problems here is twofold: It holds up the organization from being as agile as they could be, preventing them from bringing in help when they need it, and letting them go when they don’t,” Marshall said. “But the second invisible cost is that it can soak up many hours of employee time trying to help the contractor do their work. They end up being a PA to the resource that is supposed to be helping them!”
It’s worth noting that the employee experiences in such organizations may be equally bad for full-time workers. “The underlying causes are usually prevalent elsewhere in the organization — a lack of awareness of processes complexity and a lack of joined-up thinking across their practices and digital workplace systems,” Marshall said.
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Design and Implement a Great Employee Experience
“Recruitment for gig workers needs to be easy and fast, not drawn out,” Perimenis said. “From sourcing to selection to onboarding, it must be a matter of weeks, not months.”
Organizations need to fully automate processes across the contract worker lifecycle so the experience is quick and smooth for the temporary staff, while not adding to the administrative burden of full-time staff.
“We’re increasingly seeing organizations use mobile ‘employee apps’ as a way to engage contract staff,” Marshall said. “They make onboarding and management of offboarding much easier, they give a window into what’s happening in a company, but they can be selective in what people have access to.”
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Think carefully about what’s involved in getting your contract worker operational and how to clearly meet those needs. You might consider creating a handbook which is focused on your organization’s expectations for contract workers and how they can best interact with their full-time peers and meet those requirements.
“Remember that contractors don’t have the benefit of extensive onboarding and training sessions, so you need to make core learnings succinct,” Kihlstrom said. “Greater knowledge of your organization will ultimately lead to a greater quality of work performed.”
Find the ‘Moments that Matter’
Marshall recommends that organizations use the same methods to create a great contract worker employee experience as they’ve used for their full-time staff.
“Pick out the ‘moments that matter’ for key points in the engagement, map them out, and see where the frustrations lie,” he said. “You won’t fix everything at once, but you can create a backlog of fixes and work your way through them as opportunities — such as a new HR system or a review of the contracts process — arise.”
Organizations need to put themselves in the shoes of contract workers and see what the current employee experience is really like. You may also want to survey contract workers for their opinions and insights as another way uncover where changes could be beneficial and appoint an internal evangelist for the contract worker employee experience. As Marshall said, “Crucially, I think someone needs to ‘own’ the problem and champion it.”
Create Experiences to Support Easily Repeatable Engagements
Once your organization has had a successful engagement with a contractor, make sure that the process for them to rebid for new projects and work with you again is easy and pain-free.
“There is a great degree of efficiency that can be gained when rehiring a good contractor, so simply basing hiring decisions on cost and time estimates from a group of new contractors who don’t know as much about how to work with the organization can often be misleading,” Kihlstrom said. “A great contractor or freelancer is realistic about their ability to work with an organization and their working knowledge of existing processes, systems, and even internal politics is hard to put a price on.”
Your organization may also be the beneficiary of a contract worker’s diversity of experience thanks to the work they’ve performed for other organizations.
“When a company provides a good employee experience to its contractors, it increases their loyalty and helps them to prioritize requests from that company,” Kihlstrom said. “There are many types of work in which freelance or contract talent is very much in demand, so building trust and loyalty is key.”
Use Employee Experiences to Grow Contractor Loyalty
If a contract worker finds all aspects of their experience working with your organization to be superior to that with their other clients, they may well prioritize the work they do for you. They may also be more ready to take on additional work with your organization when that opportunity arises over retaining their engagements with clients with not-so great employee experiences.
“They will also be great advocates for your organization to other fellow contractors or even potential employees when you need them,” Kihlstrom said. “This creates a network effect and can help you when you need to scale up quickly.”
As contract work opportunities increase and the gig economy expands, top performing temporary staff can pick and choose their clients. Providing a good employee experience helps make your organization more appealing as an employer.
“This isn’t just about goodwill: being easy to work with makes your contract suppliers more efficient, so they get more done for the rate you pay,” Marshall said. “In turn, it is more satisfying for the temporary staff too: you enable them to make a real difference rather than wading through bureaucracy to complete simple tasks.”
Revisit Employee Experience Now in Advance of a Broader Gig Economy
The pandemic has caused companies to recognize that current work constructs are unsuited for the demands of the modern workforce,” Perimenis said. “We will continue to see a shift toward gig work as talent models are reconstructed to allow for alternative work arrangements that serve both people and companies well.”
A great first step towards broader use of temporary workers is to offer them a great employee experience so they can perform optimally. At the same time, that employee experience helps lay the foundations for a productive long-term partnership between contract workers and your organization.
About the Author
China Louise Martens has been fascinated by how individuals and organizations choose and use business software for over 20 years. To dig deeper, she’s interviewed and profiled end users, developers and executives as well as software vendors and IT observers.