As the great Bob Dylan proclaims, “… the times they are a-changin’.” Organizations everywhere are in an unprecedented state of flux, facing the need to become more nimble in addressing business opportunities and market demand, while dealing with an extremely tight labor market and employee churn. Whether you’re calling it The Great Resignation or The Great Reshuffle, any way you look at it, change is afoot.
Here’s the good news… While using contract resources has traditionally been an option for “filling holes” and meeting project demand, these days they have become an even more critical part of a company’s workforce. Tapping into the contract resource pool for specialized knowledge and skills can help organizations complete critical projects on time and on budget.
With anything, there is a right way and a wrong way to make the most of your investment in the contract workforce. Fortunately, doing it the right way isn’t hard. Here are some key steps to maximize your success, including special considerations for remote contractors given the current hybrid in-office and work-from-home environment.
“Measure twice, cut once.” While we might not be carpenters, the principle still applies. Due diligence during the recruiting stage is key. Invest extra time on the front end to clearly set expectations for the position.
While it’s a great idea to involve others from your team, and even schedule a second interview with top candidates, you must proceed with a sense of urgency. Be thorough, but you’re not hiring a permanent employee here, so don’t use the same exhaustive process. Also be sure to let candidates know upfront what the process will entail and set expectations on timing. It’s important to move quickly when you find the right fit so you don’t lose a candidate because they don’t know where they stand.
Onboarding your contractors can include a lot of moving pieces. This can take some time to get everything setup which is not good for you or your contractor. Protracted timelines prevent you from capitalizing on this resource and your contractor can get antsy.
To prevent this, help facilitate the onboarding process. This is especially important with remote work setups. Remote contractors don’t have the option to walk to the IT department and are left at the mercy of a support desk and email inbox, which could delay things considerably. It’s important to communicate regularly during the onboarding stage so contractors are not left in the dark.
To mitigate this, plan ahead, even before you start screening candidates. Consider:
Once the contractor is onboarded, make sure that they’re set up for success by communicating expectations early. Remember, they haven’t had the benefit of growing up in your organization and haven’t yet developed informal networks to rely on but have rather been parachuted in to solve a problem. Moreover, it’s critically important with remote workers that the expectations related to attendance on calls & meetings, turnaround times, and response times should be explicit.
Consider documenting and communicating the following so that everyone is on the same page:
Expectations for the Job
Rules of Engagement
It’s also important to remember that when someone comes in from the outside, they need to get up to speed and productive as soon as possible, but they also face a bit of a learning curve. They have to learn their tasks of the job, how the company does business, methodologies, processes, culture and more. To get them plugged in quickly, consider assigning a mentor – someone who is a peer and can be the contractor’s first go-to.
Another thing that is vital to success is to communicate, communicate, communicate and manage the myriad of channels used. We all have access to email, instant messaging, video, phone, and SMS – every day. Unless you want everyone glued to their screens all day, it’s easy to miss a last-minute meeting or urgent request.
It becomes all too easy to confuse a lack of response with being unresponsive. For that reason, it’s important not only to define the primary communication channels to be used, but also what the escalation channels will be (don’t use the same channel as an escalation point; chances are that message will be missed as well.) The old adage holds true – don’t be afraid to pick up the phone and call someone if they have not replied to your email in a reasonable amount of time.
When the contractor has plugged into your team and hits the execution stage, they’re ready to dig into their job. But that doesn’t mean that they should be toggled over to autopilot. Engagement remains key as they continue to settle in, and like the other stages, communication is still incredibly important.
You might view a contract resource as “temporary” or a “stopgap”, but they’re still integral to the team. Investing the time and effort into fostering teamwork and bringing them into the company culture is vital to a contractor’s performance and, ultimately, everyone’s success.
Engagement with the rest of your team can be most critical as they start to reach the end of their assignment. If you don’t want their knowledge to walk out the door, you’re going to want to make sure that effective knowledge transfer takes place. If the contractor has worked closely with the rest of your team, this “KT” can be accomplished throughout the entire cycle of the assignment and not left to the last weeks.
Regular check-ins are critical; not only do they allow you to gauge how the contractor is doing overall and identify any hurdles before they become obstacles, but they also let you keep a finger on the pulse of the project, assess its progress, and react accordingly. Look for formal and informal methods to check-in, through one-to-one meetings and casual reach-outs.
If you’re happy with the contractor, early communication becomes exponentially more important. Remember that contractors don’t get paid if they don’t work, so they’re often on the lookout for the next assignment as yours starts to wind down. If they know their engagement has a defined end date, you can bet they’re working on getting their next engagement lined up. So, if you’re considering an extension (or anticipate project delays), it benefits you to start that conversation early. Don’t risk the early departure of a great resource because you weren’t on the same page regarding end dates.
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