How to onboard freelancers

Freelancing has grown in popularity amid tight labour market, but are you providing them with enough training?

How to onboard freelancers

Freelancing has never been more popular and with very low unemployment figures, contractors are in demand more than ever. What is concerning however, is the lack of training companies provide freelance experts with regards to systems, software and background information for people who often take on senior positions of up to 12 months – or in some cases – even longer.

Contractors are often forgotten about when it comes to job specific training and are expected to pick up the reigns instantly. This can lead to confusion, interrupted workflow and lower than expected productivity, as the contractor struggles to navigate their way around the relevant software and the intricacies of the organisation.

“In many cases, senior contractors are hired to fill a very specific gap in the business,” Peita Lane, chief people officer at Sekuro, said. “They bring their own intellectual property and often this means organisations expect a ‘quick fix’ for the financial outlay. 

“Depending on the size of the business, they are often coming in to set up a specific function or business unit, meaning it can be difficult to impart practical knowledge about the job when you don’t already have the skill set internally.”

Read more: How well do you really know company culture

Therein lies one problem. Organisations throw problems at contractors and expect an immediate fix without necessarily supplying them with the tools to complete the assignment. They can also be inundated with pointless meetings that only delay their ability to focus on the task.

“What this means is organisations sometimes ‘gatekeep’ information and treat contractors differently under the assumption it’s not relevant for them as they are only there for a fixed time,” Lane added.

“Whilst contractors need to be adaptable, learn quickly and have enough transferable skills to identify what they need from an organisation to be successful, we can’t expect them to pick up on internal systems and processes without any training, as is sometimes unfairly assumed.

“Historically, there has been the assumption that contractors are hired for their skills, not their entire self, or what they can contribute to the team. What this means is organisations sometimes ‘gatekeep’ information under the assumption it’s not relevant for them as they are only there for a short time.”

Not investing in contractors from the outset means most companies have missed an opportunity. Yes, they bring in certain skills and experience, but if you don’t assist someone from day one with practical training and imparting information about software packages and cultural norms, then you are not allowing them to flourish.

They might also start looking for other opportunities where they are treated like a full-time employee from day one.

“Treating the onboarding process of contractors differently to full-time staff means they are less likely to share their expertise and knowledge and take it with them when they leave because there is no formal process for information sharing set up,” Lane said.

“Organisations can’t see a contractor as a ‘set and forget’ solution to a problem. They need to be prepared to invest the time to answer questions and provide the contractor with what they’ve identified as critical to success.”

One of the most ways for companies to embrace a contractor is to have a strong written brief – specific to the job role – on the first day they arrive. Too often contractors are bombarded with a plethora of background information to read with no real focus on what is important and where the problem lies.

This only causes confusion and ultimately hesitancy. They also walk into meetings where technical detail is discussed at length with no context around the topic from when the problem started to whose responsibility it is and how it fits into the bigger picture.

“Whether you're a contractor, part-time, or full-time employee, it's important to set people up for success from day one and continue human-centred support throughout their employment lifecycle,” Geoffrey Smith, CEO of Australian Spatial Analytics, said.

“Every employee has individual needs, strengths, and areas for development, yet businesses often take a one-size-fits-all approach for staff, regardless of their level of experience or style of contract.

“At Australian Spatial Analytics, for example, we provide structured, mentored, and in-depth on the job training so each employee then gets the individual support needed to succeed based on their interests, abilities, and the tasks at hand.”

While you employ a contractor for their specialised knowledge and experience, that doesn’t mean they have expertise in other areas or understand the complexities of the project that they are working on.

“I don’t think anyone can contribute successfully immediately,” Smith said. “Starting a new job is hard, particularly for those with social and communicative barriers. Focus on the purpose and values of the organisation so the contractor can start to feel a sense of belonging and understands how their contribution will support the bigger picture. The technical success that follows will be of more value.”

Contractors have a lot to offer, just make sure you create the right environment for them to thrive. After all, they want to succeed, as much as you want them too.

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