Independent talent – including freelancers, contractors and consultants – can offer your company advantages that are hard to come by in a traditional workforce, such as access to on-demand expertise, staffing flexibility and cost control, to name a few. The independent workforce is growing, with more Americans choosing to go independent for the many advantages it offers, such as better work-life balance and the opportunity to build a career out of a skill or passion.
Independent professionals are experts in their industries who operate as their own business entities, providing high-value skills to clients. If businesses want to engage the very best of this talent, they need to think proactively about how to attract and retain these individuals. Here are three tips to consider when incorporating independent talent into your workforce.
1. Offer independent professionals various ways to engage with your company.
When engaging independent talent, one important thing to realize is that independents are not a one-size-fits-all type of worker. For example, some independents meet the numerous legal qualifications to be classified as a "1099 independent contractor" in the eyes of the IRS, but others may have different preferences and requirements when working with a client.
Some may be happy working under a standard W-2 employment status. Others may want to work as a 1099 independent contractor but lack a few of the provisions that would qualify them for this work status. For instance, they might not meet certain business insurance requirements or have an active professional website. In this case, it can be risky to simply engage the worker as an independent contractor, because it can make your company liable for worker misclassification.
On the other hand, a strict engagement program that classifies all workers the same across the board can leave a large percentage of independent workers unhappy. They may choose to take their work elsewhere or look for ways to circumvent the classification, again putting your company at risk.
When engaging independent talent, it is important to take these needs into account and consider ways your company can provide flexible and varying engagement options. Because engaging independent talent isn't a straightforward process due to the many nuances, complexities and regulations surrounding worker classification, businesses often benefit from partnering with a third party to manage engagement and provide these flexible options. For example, if a worker wants to be classified as an independent contractor but your compliance team finds that their status is not clear-cut, a third party can work with them to make sure they are fully qualified before they begin working with your company.
Once you've agreed on the terms of employment, a scope of work (SOW) outlining an independent's specific responsibilities can provide a clear timeframe and payment terms for both you and your independent workforce. Even if things change in the future, setting expectations ahead of time provides a framework for both parties to work from.
By supplying flexible engagement options, companies can both ensure compliant engagements and attract the very best independent talent, who are drawn to work with a client who lets them work the way they want.
2. Rethink the onboarding process with independent talent in mind.
The vast majority of independents say that a fast and efficient process for setting them up for work is an important factor as they decide which clients to work with. It's important to keep top talent satisfied, because these independents have a lot of choice in where they work and who they work for, and you want to be at the top of their list. A good onboarding experience is a big part of keeping independent talent satisfied, and this process can begin before talent is even engaged.
Take a look at your current website and make sure that the language it uses applies to independent talent as well as traditional employees. Work for independents should be clearly advertised and easy to find, not hidden in a link at the bottom of a careers page. Websites that have a clear value proposition for independent talent make the engagement process more welcoming and straightforward.
After engaging talent, make sure they understand the ins and outs of working with your organization. Educate them on how payment works, what engagement documentation they can expect to receive, and what type of background checks they will need to complete.
Remember, independent workers function like independent businesses – your relationship with them is B2B. Independents may have multiple clients with different onboarding requirements. Most independents have choices in how they work and who they work with. Attracting top independent talent is easier when there are fewer pain points in the process, and that starts with clear instructions.
One useful way to do this is through a welcome page on your website that is specifically for independent talent. This page can provide information about upcoming roles and responsibilities or key contacts within your organization. A robust onboarding program can build the foundation for a strong relationship and set the stage for a successful project.
3. Don't underestimate the value of good communication.
Communication is a huge driver of satisfaction among independent talent. To ensure that projects run smoothly from beginning to end, it is important to lay a good foundation for communication from the start. Managers and independent contractors should talk with each other before the project begins to set goals, review expectations and set a defined plan for communication. Every manager and project are different, so it's best practice to establish a mutual understanding of what type of communication is expected – including how and when – each time a new project begins.
Be sure to discuss the best channels for the different types of communication you wish to incorporate. For instance, a biweekly status meeting might take place over the phone, whereas a larger deliverable might require a video chat to walk through details. There is a wide variety of communication tools available, like shared workspaces and folders that can facilitate project activities. Talk about the tools that would work best for the purposes of your project, and then make sure everyone has access to them and understands how to use them.
If a contractor is working with multiple departments in your organization, it might be helpful to establish a single point of contact within the company. Having to ask for signoffs from several different employees can slow a project down. Funneling communication through one person prevents response time from delaying a project.
Overall, remember to be responsive. Responding to small problems before they become larger issues can prevent major headaches down the road. Provide timely feedback; be sure the contractor knows what they are delivering, when, how and to whom. A clear project scope acts as a communication guide and reference for any questions that arise.
As unemployment remains low and the job market tight, competition for independent talent is growing. By structuring policies, procedures and engagement practices to prioritize the needs of these workers, your company can remain both compliant and competitive. A positive engagement experience and work environment not only makes it easier for managers who work with independent talent, but it also builds satisfaction among independents, providing an incentive for them to return for future projects.