What Contingent Workers Really Want

More and more companies today are using contingent workers (aka freelancers and contractors) to fill performance gaps. Whether they use these workers to manage peak business needs, fill critical roles on complex projects, or to handle the extra work that comes in a rapid growth stage, contingent labor has become a critical workplace strategy. And it’s only going to increase as companies see the benefits of using these temporary laborers.

According to a recent study by Ardent Partners, temporary labor use will increase by nearly 30 percent over the next three years, and 62 percent of organizations cited contingent labor as a ‘vital component to achieving their primary goals and objectives’ in 2014.

Yet companies aren’t going to achieve those goals unless they create better processes for attracting and managing this unique category of workers. The best contingent laborers don’t come on-board for a single project then disappear. They often become a part of the corporate culture, returning on a regular basis for specific projects, or to support the need for subject matter experts on an ongoing basis. Consider the programmer who oversees software updates, the writer who produces annual reports, or the trainer who supports every change initiative. They may not be full-time, but they are still a vital part of the company, and should be treated accordingly.

While legally, you can’t provide these workers with same benefits or oversight of full-time staff, you can demonstrate to them that they are valued members of your team through competitive incentive programs, effective communication strategies, and the reliability of future work.

As a contingent laborer myself, this is what I (and most of my colleagues) look for in a temporary assignment, and what we are willing to provide in return.

Give them feedback

Like any employee, contingent laborers like to know when they are doing a good job – and when they are screwing up. This can be especially important for remote team members who work in isolation and don’t have the opportunity to ask quick questions, or gauge reaction to their work mid-progress.

Letting them know they are on track, or what they can do to improve, ensures you get the best quality work from them the first time around, and prevents the need for last minute rework requests — which nobody likes. It will also help you build a stronger rapport with your contingent team so they feel comfortable coming to you with questions or requests for feedback as soon as problems arise.

Pay them promptly

Contractor don’t rely on a steady paycheck, but they do rely on being paid promptly by clients based on the agreed-upon terms of their contracts. Whether it’s 30 days, 60 days, or “upon publication,” contractors build their financial planning around expectations that checks will arrive on time. If you delay payments, or your contractors have to fight with your accounting department over every invoice, they will be less productive on current projects, and unwilling to work with you in the future.

Alert them to future work

Subject matter experts can be a hot commodity in today’s market, and their contingent status means they will go wherever the work takes them. If you want to be sure that your expert is available for your next critical project, give them a heads-up.

Contingent workers like to be able to plan their year as far in advance as possible. Letting them know you will have an assignment for them six months down the line, or confirming that you will have a certain amount of work for them every month or quarter gives them stability, which can be a valuable commodity when you aren’t sure where your next project will come from. It can help you win their loyalty, and ensure you have the assets in place to get your project done when the time comes.

Give teams a chance to coalesce

Whether you are assembling a group of all contingent workers, or bringing a few temporary experts onto an existing team, they need time to develop relationships and protocols for getting work done. On IT projects in particular, teams don’t achieve full productivity until they have had a few weeks to get to know each other, to understand each other’s strengths and weaknesses, and to develop a working rhythm.

To streamline this process, introduce teams during the planning stage of a project, create opportunities for them to meet face-to-face, and encourage them to establish processes for working together. You can also improve the ramp-up time by using the same combination of contingent and permanent workers on future projects. This allows them to sidestep the ‘getting to know you’ process, and ensures you have a team of experts who already understand your culture, expectations and reporting requirements.

Pay their rates

Many contingent workers can command high rates because they bring hard-to-find expertise to a project while allowing their clients to avoid the risks and ancillary costs that come with full-time employees. These contingent workers don’t get benefits, or paid time off, or technology allowances. And you are not obligated to employ them for one day longer than their contract stipulates. That is a valuable scenario for companies that want to maintain a level of agility while keeping overhead costs down.

So don’t nickel and dime them. If you want quality outputs and the benefit of temporary expertise, you have to be willing to pay for that privilege. Expertise comes at a price, and if you insist on low-balling your people, you will likely end up with ‘experts’ who have less experience and less ability to deliver the value you want in the time frame you need. You get what you pay for with contingent labor, so factor that into your projected costs.