It makes business sense to treat freelancers like permanent staff

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Talented freelancers are a valuable resource for any company reliant on plugging a skills gap, yet can often feel excluded

Assigned at the earliest opportunity to provide return on investment, they are widely treated as a fleeting expense. In turn the relationship between company and freelancer can be transactional, robotic and very impersonal.

According to a recent survey of HR directors by Robert Half UK, the increasing need for flexible resourcing solutions, more cost-effective budgeting, and specialist skills will see interim professionals play a much greater role in the workplace over the next five years. Undeniably freelancers will continue to be a valuable on-demand resource for businesses of all sizes.

As freelancers play a bigger role in helping organisations grow, investing in their engagement becomes as important as that of permanent staff. In the on-demand economy companies need to seriously consider what they can do to integrate contractors and ensure workplace happiness and productivity is maintained throughout the entire team.

Freelancers can be seen as unwelcome competition among in-house staff, unwittingly eliciting disruption and hostility. Preservation of intellectual property and ensuring that client confidentiality is maintained are also risks. But these issues highlight just how critical it is for businesses to build strong, transparent and trusting relationships with their contractors.

No complicated mechanisms are needed to make this happen; it all comes from creating a culturally inclusive environment that brings a sense of unity and cohesion to piecemeal teams.

Temporary as the arrangement might be, recruiting a freelancer should reflect the hiring process for any full-time employee. Consider whether their attitude, outlook and skills complement the culture and dynamic of the in-house workforce. This can make all the difference in designing a harmonious team and encourages respectful, productive interaction between both temporary and permanent staff.

We set out clear guidelines on how to work with freelancers. Then we ensure that integration with the team occurs before they come in for the workload briefing. This is usually done over lunch or coffee as well as via a wider company welcome through internal email and social media. The sooner contractors start understanding the business and the clients’ needs, the sooner they will appreciate the vital role they play in the bigger picture.

With their unique outside experience freelancers are able to put a fresh perspective on a problem or process, so encouraging their contribution in team meetings nurtures an inclusive culture and embeds the message that everyone’s ideas matter.

Finally, as you would with your permanent team, show gratitude and give praise where credit is due. Transcend the transactional nature of the company-contractor dynamic by ‘giving’ beyond a fee. Incorporating ways to support employees and freelancers to get the most out of life (and not just work life) is really important. We use a staff engagement scheme with Perkbox that gives recreational and practical benefits as well as fun relationship-building days that encourage integration with in-house staff and foster a positive work culture.

These are just a few fundamental ways you can drive employee engagement to not only ensure that the contractor-company relationship is a happy one, but that this in turn creates a halo effect over your in-house team. Extending employee engagement to freelancers lays the foundations for a fruitful, sustainable, professional partnership built on mutual respect and trust – the ingredients needed for creating a happy, satisfied and ultimately productive workplace.

Lyanna Tsakiris is co-founder and employee engagement director at Station Rd. Marketing

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