Small and medium-sized businesses that employ freelance, contingent, temporary and other gig workers find it necessary but challenging to keep such workers engaged in the corporate culture when they are not physically in the same location as other workers.
A 2018 global survey of 2,000 managers found that two-thirds of remote workers aren't engaged, according to HR advisory and research firm Future Workplace, which conducted The Work Connectivity Study. Critically, those employees were more likely to quit than people in a regular workplace.
Alex Nadal, a human resources consultant and assistant general counsel with Engage PEO, a national human resources solutions provider headquartered in Hollywood, Florida, says it's especially challenging to show such workers their roles in the grand scheme and to recognize them for their contributions.
“That's where you have a big disparity with workers who are in the office and workers who aren't," Nadal says. “You have to go the extra mile to make sure those employees are included."
Keeping gig workers such as freelancers engaged starts with cluing them in to company objectives and their role in achieving them, Nadal says.
“The most engaged people are the ones who have their personal goals aligned with the company," she says. “One of the things that can help with that is to make sure from the get-go that the freelancer identifies with the company goal and their role in that achieving that goal. Otherwise, they're just a cog."
One way firms can do this is by training during the process of on-boarding gig workers. Nadal says her company provides face-to-face training to new remote workers, including bringing them to headquarters and other company offices.
“For ongoing training to get someone acquainted with how we do things, a webinar is really helpful as well," she adds.
Recognition is another key component to keeping gig workers engaged, says Endrea Kosven, CEO and founder of EDK and Company, a Granada Hills, California, marketing communications agency.
“If they know they're a valuable part of your team, they are willing to work harder for you," says Kosven, who uses a half-dozen freelance designers, writers and other gig workers to provide her services.
One way Kosven does this is by sending gig workers personal notes and sometimes gifts for birthdays and holidays. At Engage PEO, Nadal says her company uses weekly departmental telephone conference calls to distribute recognition to deserving gig workers.
Face-to-face meetups between traditional and gig workers are more costly and time-consuming, but are also an essential part of maintaining engagement. Teams, including gig workers, meet often at client visits at Nadal's company.
And Kosven says she invites her freelance team to occasional social mixers at Los Angeles-area museums, food festivals and other venues.
“There was a recent exhibit at the California Science Center about dogs and we did an outing there," she says.
While face-to-face meet ups and training webinars provide reinforcement, technology plays a central role in communicating and keeping gig workers engaged. Nadal's company uses group emails heavily to ensure all employees are in the loop.
One of the things that can help with that is to make sure from the get-go that the freelancer identifies with the company goal and their role in that achieving that goal.
--Alex Nadal, human resources consultant and assistant general counsel, Engage PEO
Team collaboration and chat tools such as Slack, Flock and Facebook Workplace are used by many companies that employ gig and remote workers.
“Slack is probably our number one choice for communication with the office," says Dennis Theodorou, managing director of JMJ Phillip Executive Search in Troy, Michigan. “It allows all our employees to understand where the company is going.
Theodorou says the global executive search firm, which has offices in several locations, also employs Skype for Business and Zoom for videoconferencing. Video meetings help keep workers who aren't in the same office on the same page, he says.
Good intentions and up-do-date technology alone may not be enough to keep gig workers engaged. For instance, Nadal notes, coordinating departmental conference calls between workers on the East and West coasts requires flexibility.
“Sometimes even the time difference can be a factor," she notes. “You can't schedule the all-hands calls too early."
And while recent technology introductions that make it easier to communicate with workers have helped, Theodorou says being able to productivity of remote staff may be the most valuable change he's seen in managing people who aren't regularly in the office.
“Nowadays with all the software we use on the recruitment side, we can track call volume and clicks inside our application tracking system," Theodorou says. “We also have an app to monitor activity in our applicant tracking system."
Increased awareness of the extra attention needed to engage gig workers is helping small and medium-sized business owners keep freelancers, contract, contingent and other employees feeling part of the team. And the advent of improved technology for communicating with and monitoring gig staff promises to ease the task further.
“I have a feeling that it's going to become more prevalent to have freelancers and remote workers just because it's so accessible," Nadal says. “You really don't realize how much can be done remotely and yet still work really well as a team. I do think it's an area that will continue to grow."
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