It is a challenging time for employees and employers right now. Although most of the currently large remote workforce will likely return to their offices after the pandemic ends, a significant number of formerly full-time employees may find themselves part of the gig economy, whether by choice or necessity.
With millions of people applying for unemployment in recent weeks, it seems likely that a large percentage of them may turn to freelance or contract work to pay bills until they can find a new permanent position. Many of these people may end up deciding that they prefer the gig lifestyle, however.
Either way, the gig and contract workforce isn’t going anywhere. It’s grown considerably over the last several years. According to a study commissioned by Upwork and the Freelancers Union, 57 million Americans freelanced in 2019 — about 35% of the workforce — compared to 53 million in 2014. The number of freelancers is only likely to grow even more as time goes on.
For this reason, employers may need to address the employee experience (EX) for their freelance and contract workers. In my role at my current agency, in addition to doing consulting work for the full-time workforce, I work with employers to ensure that freelancers, contract workers and hourly employees have an optimal employee experience. EX may not look the same for these workers as it does for full-time employees, but it is still important to make it a priority.
Remote Doesn’t Need To Mean Disconnected
In these days of increased remote work for all types of employees, this has relevance for everyone. Contractors and freelancers who work remotely can often feel more disconnected than others, however.
Make sure you provide tools and methods for them to communicate with you so that they feel like they’re part of the team and they can easily get information, ask questions and be included in conversations.
Tools like Slack are easy to add team members to, and they can be the next best thing to chatting with someone who’s sitting next to you. Also, using the video component of your conference call platform can allow everyone to see each other and build a better rapport. This may require a culture shift in your organization, as many people don’t feel comfortable being on camera. Try setting the example first by showing yourself on video, and you may be amazed by how it starts to change people’s behavior.
Provide Structure And Consistency
Great contractors and freelancers are self-disciplined and able to create a structure or regimen that allows them to be productive despite many potential distractions. You can easily see the difference between successful freelancers and less successful ones by the way they conduct and organize themselves.
That said, you can help ensure that a contractor or gig worker has a great experience working with you by providing a structure that they can rely on — even though they may not have as much access or interaction with you as your full-time employees do.
For instance, consider writing a handbook or set of guidelines that ensures that they are included in the right types of meetings and provided the best and most appropriate information at the right time. Sometimes it’s as simple as “out of sight, out of mind” for other teammates, and while they don’t intentionally leave contractors out of communications or meetings, they may not understand where and when those external team members are supposed to be included.
Providing structure and consistency for freelancers and contractors can improve their experience working with you, and it can improve your work output as well.
Be Mindful Of Differences In Financial Security
Remember that contractors and gig workers may not have the same financial security that your full-time employees have. While this might seem obvious, there are some big differences in how full-time employees and contractors and freelancers are compensated. While every employer is different, full-time employees generally enjoy consistent pay, employer-sponsored health insurance and retirement plans and paid time off.
Contractors and freelancers, on the other hand, typically do not get any of these benefits. While they might often be paid a higher hourly wage than a full-time employee doing the same type of work, they have to take care of many things with that additional money: They have to pay self-employment taxes, buy their own health insurance (which is often significantly more expensive than employer-sponsored coverage) and set up their own retirement plans. Self-employed individuals also weren’t eligible to receive unemployment benefits until recently.
Remembering and empathizing with this aspect of a contractor or freelancer’s life can help you understand their unique needs and concerns. You can demonstrate empathy by allowing for a little flexibility once in a while — if something comes up and they need to adjust their schedule, for instance. Knowing and understanding their unique situation can help you improve their employee experience.
While much of the emphasis on employee experience has been related to full-time employees, I believe it is time for companies to pay more attention to the growing contract and gig workforce and apply the same thinking to their experience.
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Author: Greg Kihlstrom, CommunityVoice