Find out how to create an inclusive dynamic with independent contractors while staying in compliance with employment law.
Here's what you need to know:
- When freelancers don’t feel empowered to ask for the information they need, disconnects can arise
- As you endeavor to make your freelancers feel like a part of the team, make sure that you’re not crossing legal boundaries
- One way to do this is to be clear that the opportunities you’re providing to engage further as a team member are optional
- Ways to include freelancers as part of the team include offering a comprehensive onboarding experience and inviting them to use your company’s communication software
- Show your appreciation and share positive feedback with freelancers and consider extending perks and benefits to them
When there’s work to be done but it doesn’t make sense to create a full-time or even part-time position for it, independent contractors can be the solution. Somewhat synonymous with freelancers, independent contractors are valuable contributors to businesses big and small.
But, especially if you’re new to working with freelancers, it can be tough to know how to handle that relationship. They’re not technically a part of your team, but it can very much feel like they are oftentimes.
And that makes sense! They make important contributions to your business. And over the course of many projects over many years, they can start to become a part of your team.
But this isn’t always the case. One mistake that many companies make is not fully or adequately integrating their freelancers into their business.
This can happen for a number of reasons. Sometimes it’s because managers and other employees don’t know how to work with freelancers because the company doesn’t have training or policies in place.
Sometimes, especially with newer freelancers, the freelancers themselves don’t know how to navigate the relationship.
Whatever the reason, fractures can take place. And these fractures often manifest as miscommunications. Because staff members may assume that freelancers have all the same inside information they do, things can fall through the cracks. When freelancers don’t feel empowered to ask for the information they need, disconnects can arise.
So how do you create an inclusive dynamic with freelancers? How do you make sure they’re effectively integrated into the teams they’re working on? Well, because of employment law, it can be a delicate balance to strike. Luckily, finding that balance is more than doable.
Understand (and follow) applicable employment law
There are legal differences between employees and independent contractors under employment law. Because employees are entitled to certain benefits and employers have to pay taxes on their employees, companies can be penalized for misclassifying workers who should be employees as independent contractors.
If you’re hiring for “permalance” positions — roles that have (or nearly have) full-time hour requirements — then you’re treading towards hot water. So, the first step in making your freelancers feel like they’re a part of the team is, oddly, recognizing that they legally are not.
There are certain things you cannot do or ask of an independent contractor. For example, you cannot direct when and how they do their work outside of loose deliverable guidelines like deadlines.
As you endeavor to make your freelancers feel like a part of the team, make sure that you’re not crossing legal boundaries. One way to do this is to be clear that the opportunities you’re providing to engage further as a team member are optional. When it comes to working with freelancers, it’s a 2-way street.
Offer a comprehensive onboarding experience
Give your new freelancers a run-down of how things work at your company. Introduce them (even remotely) to the people they might need to be in touch with across departments like HR and finance. This way they know where to go to get questions answered and needs met just like any other employee would.
Then, onboard them onto the specific project or projects they’ll be working on, too. Give them information and background on the client and previous projects before this one. The key is to offer them context so they can make the best informed decisions possible.
It might seem like you’re putting a lot of effort into someone who you’re only going to be working with for a limited amount of time. But the best freelance relationships are repeat ones. If you want to re-hire a freelancer for other projects in the future, they’ll be ready to hit the ground running because they already know your business and the team they’re working with.
Plus, even if you’re just working with a freelancer on 1 project, it still pays to arm them with information. Otherwise, you’re going to have to spend your time answering their questions directly or directing their queries to the appropriate place.
They’re still going to have questions whether or not you onboard them. Onboarding just helps them be able to better answer and solve questions on their own without always having to go through their main point of contact.
Invite them to use your company’s communication software
With that out of the way, let’s move on to actually making your freelancers feel like part of the team. One way to do this is to invite your freelancers to your company’s Slack channel and other communication services.
Even if it goes above and beyond what they need for 1 project, being on a client’s Slack can help give valuable insight into contextual information about your company, its culture, and how things work.
Finally, whether or not your freelancers want to join your Slack, make a concerted effort to keep them up to date with the projects they’re working on. Let them know when major milestones are and let them know when things change.
Show your appreciation and share positive feedback
Above all else, give your freelancers positive feedback. So often, freelancers only hear about what needs to change or what isn’t working. They rarely get the chance to hear positive feedback because they don’t have the same development conversations that employees do.
So, make sure that you’re making a concerted effort to share positive feedback along with the other feedback they’re getting.
So, make sure that you’re making a concerted effort to share positive feedback along with the other feedback they’re getting. Then, as always, make your appreciation of their work clear. Especially in instances where freelancers go above and beyond, make sure they know that you appreciate their effort and hard work.
If your team gets an award or special recognition for work that a freelancer has contributed to, make sure that they’re a part of it. At the very least, make sure that the information on the success of their work reaches them.
Extend perks and benefits to your freelancers
If your health insurance has the option for adding independent contractors, why not extend the offer to them? While a freelancer won’t be able to get the same kind of tax-free access to premiums that traditional employees enjoy, these options are typically still more affordable than those on the open marketplace.
Especially if you plan to work with the same crop of freelancers on future projects, extending your company benefits to them is a major way to keep them happy, coming back, and feeling like a real part of the team.
But benefits aren’t the only employee perk you can consider extending to your freelancers. When you cater lunch in, conduct all-hands meetings, or host off-site retreats, invite your freelancers to them. Be clear that they’re not expected or required to go, but that they’re very much welcome to join.
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Keep in mind that each freelancer is different
The last thing to remember about freelancers is that they’re all individual people. Each freelancer has unique motivators and unique ways of working.
Not only are you legally required to respect those boundaries, but it’s in your best interest to understand them the same way you would any other employee. The best managers understand what motivates their employees and how they want to work. Do the same for your freelancers.
While it’s critical that everything you do falls in alignment with employment law, the rest can be fairly simple. Making freelancers feel like a part of the team just isn’t at the top of everyone’s minds. By making sure you’re making a concerted effort to do so, you’re already headed in the right direction.