November 5, 2020
10 Min Read
In the ever-changing landscape of business in the digital age, a strong team culture offers much-needed stability. By “culture”, we mean the values, beliefs, and behaviours that shape your team; the social patterns that define your interactions; the goals and vision of your company that provide a united focus for all your team members.
While maintaining a strong culture isn’t easy – 87% of organisations say that culture and engagement is one of their top challenges – it certainly pays off in your bottom line. In fact, highly engaged teams have shown 21% greater profitability, as a result of increased presence and productivity among employees.
As the writers at Harvard Business Review observe, “when properly aligned with personal values, drives, and needs, culture can unleash tremendous amounts of energy toward a shared purpose and foster an organisation’s capacity to thrive.”
However, what happens to your culture when you bring in workers who are unfamiliar with it, who won’t be present to learn your office rituals, and who may not be around long enough to get their heads around those unspoken norms, behaviours, and values?
That is: What happens when you bring in freelancers?
Freelancers have much to offer businesses in terms of their flexibility, expertise, and cost-effectiveness, but if you want them to integrate into your team and learn your culture, a little extra thought and planning is required.
In this article, we address the challenges associated with building a strong team culture with freelancers and how they can be overcome in successful blended teams.
Many of us have, at some point, travelled to a foreign country and experienced what it’s like to try integrating into a new culture. We’ve felt the pressure of trying to express ourselves in an unfamiliar language – and the embarrassment when we say something entirely different to what we intended.
Likewise, companies that hire freelancers have challenges to face when it comes to helping them integrate into the team and teaching them the “language” of the organisation.
The first issue with freelancers and culture is actually about your existing employees. They might feel threatened by a new outside contractor in their field: Are our jobs safe? Are we about to be replaced?
So, it’s important to involve your employees in the decision to hire a freelancer, rather than simply springing it upon them. Ask their views and explain exactly that the freelancer is being called in. This will prepare the ground for the introduction of the new team member and avoid unnecessary conflict.
The nature of their job means that freelancers are used to working alone, managing their own time, and being their own boss. Although this often provides them with incredible drive and productivity, it can mean that they struggle with the demands of team-working.
The challenge, then, is to balance the independence of the freelancer with the need for unity and collaboration in your team.
The events of 2020 mean that many of us are no longer strangers to the concept of remote working. However, for freelancers this tends to be their usual practice. For businesses, hiring a remote freelancer has the obvious advantage of being able to source top talent from anywhere in the world.
However, when the freelancer is not physically present in your office and interacting with your employees on a day-to-day basis, it can be difficult for them to learn the unspoken rules and values that define your team culture.
Freelancers are often hired by a company to fulfil a very specific and perhaps highly technical role. Because you’re looking for these specialised skills in a contractor, the talent pool can be limited. When you throw cultural fit into the mix, it may prove difficult to find a candidate who fulfils all the criteria.
Can you take the risk of hiring a skilled candidate who may not integrate well into your team?
Many organisations hire freelancers for a particular project, which may only take a few weeks or months to complete. When the freelancer is only a temporary sojourner in your business, what motivation is there for them to engage with your goals and values?
And is there really enough time for them to get to know their fellow team members?
The majority of freelancers juggle multiple projects for multiple clients at any given time. In this situation, you may find yourself competing for their attention and struggling to get them to commit to deep investment in your team culture.
So, with all these challenges in mind, how can we work to build a strong team culture that thrives not in spite of freelancers but because of the unique advantages they offer?
To convey your culture to your freelance workforce, you need to be confident about the defining qualities of your culture – and you need to model those qualities when you interact with contractors.
Let’s take a look at how you can build a strong culture in a team with employees and freelancers.
When you’re going through the process of interviewing prospective freelancers, keep in mind the kinds of soft skills that will help the candidate to integrate more smoothly into your team. That might include good listening skills, empathy, or even sense of humour!
Test whether or not the candidate is a team-player by taking a look at their work history. Or you could run a (paid) test project to find out how well the freelancer would work with your current employees.
You can also use a trusted freelancer hiring platform like Traktion, to find freelancers who have been pre-vetted for both technical expertise and interpersonal skills.
Once you’ve found a freelancer with a good fit, make sure you take the time to onboard them thoroughly. Don’t be tempted to overlook this step if they’re only going to be with you for a short time; in fact, in that case, onboarding is even more crucial, because it helps them integrate faster.
The onboarding process should involve a full introduction to the company, its goals, how the freelancer’s project fits into the overarching strategy, and the kinds of behaviour expected from team members. It may also help to pair the new freelancer up with a seasoned employee who can be their key point of contact for questions or concerns.
As with, well, just about anything in life, good communication is paramount to building a strong blended team that includes both employees and freelancers. At the beginning of the freelancer’s contract, they should have clear communication about what their role entails, the resources available to them, and who their closest co-workers will be.
During the course of the project, it’s important to facilitate regular communication between the freelancer and their team members – whether that’s through weekly online team reviews, chat tools, or social video chats. This is not just necessary for efficient management of the project but also for building up a rapport between in-house and remote colleagues.
Your team managers should have the right training on how to lead blended teams and the challenges this involves. They should be aware of the kinds of conflicts that can arise and how to resolve them.
The most important quality your managers should have, however, is empathy. They should be able to put themselves in the shoes of each individual team member in order to reach a secure understanding of the team dynamic.
A strong team is one where the contributions of its members are recognised and valued. Because your freelance staff are often with you for the short term, you need to work extra hard to show them how important their work is to the vision of your organisation and that you appreciate their time and effort.
More than that, you should also make them feel a true part of the team by including them in company events and activities. In this way, you’ll not only improve their level of engagement in the organisation, but it will also be easier for them to integrate again if you call upon their services in the future.
Showing the freelancer that they’re valued will, in addition, encourage them to prioritise their work for you over less demonstrative clients.
We’ve talked a lot about how freelancers can present a challenge to team culture, but let’s not forget that their “disruptive” influence can actually be a powerfully positive force in your organisation. It’s easy for us to get stuck in a rut and assume that our culture is working fine for everyone, when in fact there can be weaknesses and employee dissatisfaction brewing.
So, when you hire a freelancer, take advantage of their outsider’s perspective: ask them what their impressions are of your culture and what they’d change. Give them the opportunity to be honest. You might discover something to help you revolutionise your culture – for a stronger team in the long term.
If you’re looking to hire the world’s best freelance marketing talent, try Traktion. It’s totally free for the hiring company, and all freelancers are pre-vetted using data and real-world results.