How to Onboard a Gig Employee

 

By Curtis L. Odom September 14, 2018
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How to Onboard a Gig Employee

Editor's Note: SHRM has partnered with the Association for Talent Development (ATDto bring you relevant articles on key HR topics and strategies.

While the gig economy is changing the workforce, it is not changing the fundamentals of good recruitment. Regardless of their status as a traditional full-time employee or a contractor in the gig economy, workers still need an effective onboarding process.

Contract and freelance work is no longer a result of misfortune; instead, it's gaining popularity for its flexibility and the new opportunity that freedom around work brings. As the workforce fragments into piecemeal contracts, managers are tasked with fostering relationships across varying worker types. Lasting relationships with gig economy workers will set up a company for success as the landscape of business shifts. Managers will find that classic techniques with a new perspective will develop meaningful relationships that companies need.

Onboarding is not easy to define. Some organizations limit it to a simple orientation process, while others go further to include company culture. Onboarding, however, is so much more. It is a systematic method that enables employers to hire the best employees and align them to the company vision. It also provides employees with necessary tools, helps them assimilate, and speeds up their training process.

Gig workers are coming to companies from various backgrounds, and a successful new employee may look much different than those in previous hiring pools. An older professional looking to make a career change, for example, could have the expertise needed to complete a short-term job. A recent grad may benefit from a shorter contract to gain industry experience.

Removing traditional bias from hiring opens companies up to a different type of employee. Infusing a company's workforce with a diverse pool, both in background and skills, fosters mutually beneficial partnerships.

When hiring a new worker, it is not enough to just walk her through the office, hand her paperwork, and ask her to read manuals. As her manager, you must make her feel welcome to alleviate anxiety and help her acclimate.

The first step to doing that is contacting the new employee after she is hired. This can be with a welcome letter or phone call. Help your new employee get excited to be a part of the organization. Send the handbook and any paperwork that can be completed early. Digital or smart forms can make this process easier and faster for new hires.

Next, choose a culture mentor. What do you want the gig worker to learn from a mentor? If you want her to thrive with the new structure, consider pairing her with an existing gig worker within the organization.

If, on the other hand, you want the mentor to integrate the new employee into the historical company culture, consider assigning a seasoned in-house employee to be her guide. A permanent worker can help the gig worker see the company through the strategic, political, and cultural lenses. Many gig workers are only focused on the what of the task at hand and the compensation for completing that task. A permanent employee can show the gig worker the best methods to get the work done in the organization. And in return, the gig worker can reinvigorate the permanent employee by sharing her skills as a sort of on-the-job training opportunity for the permanent worker to learn a new or hot skill.

There are certain qualifications that all mentors need to have to be effective, but the most important element of a mentor is someone who creates a space for conversation. New gig hires should feel comfortable questioning their mentor on topics such as company culture or workplace success.

Speaking of culture, what does company culture look like for nonpermanent workers? Are there events that are accessible despite not having a full range of company benefits? Can the company create culture events for an array of gig workers? Is there a group for gig employees to connect and share experiences? Which social channels can the nonpermanent workers join?

As is the case with permanent workers, successful integration into company culture is critical for long-term gig economy success. Every company will need to implement this differently. Look to existing employees for feedback and ideas.

Day 1

Have everything ready for the worker to begin work on the first day. Day 1 for your new hire should be scheduled out, because it will shape an employee's opinion of the organization and the people with whom he works. Every successful program demands preparation, and onboarding is no exception. Make sure that every person involved understands what is expected of them.

New hires should engage with their supervisors and mentors on their start date. Also, schedule lunch with co-workers to introduce your new hire. The idea here is that it can be lonely for the gig worker coming into the company as a "hired hand." This simple gesture can help to further introduce the gig worker and his skill set to the team. This opportunity can break down the us versus them silos that can crop up in a company as it works to create a blended workforce of permanent and gig workers.

Clarify company goals and professional expectations to the new hire, HR representative, and culture mentor. This can be covered in new-hire orientation—yes, even gig workers should attend new-hire orientation. All members joining an organization should be welcomed and made to feel like they made the right decision accepting the employee offer, regardless of permanent or gig status.

Prior to the hiring process, companies need to set rules about gig employee integration. Additionally, the organization must make these policies clear to the new hires. Privacy surrounding long-term plans and strategy can be threatened if gig workers have too much access. So, determine what level of visibility is necessary for the company and communicate the rationale behind the decision to nonpermanent workers.

Follow Up

Following up with new employees is essential to effective onboarding. Managers need to be involved with their new hires and determine whether any changes need to be made in their training process. Consistently meeting with new workers helps to solve problems along the way.

Ensure that contractors have the tools they need for success. Are gig workers given authority in areas where they have expertise? Is there training in place to allow for effective corporate integration? Are your gig economy employees being used efficiently so that once they have experience within the company they are assigned to similar projects? By giving contract workers power, managers create an attractive environment for a sustained relationship that leads to professional and personal development for the gig workforce.

As a manager, make time during a check-in to review the goals of the company and those of the new hire. Rather than check-ins at 30 days, 60 days, 90 days, and so forth, the timeline for following up in the gig economy varies based on the length of the contract.

Questions that managers can ask their new hires include:

  • How helpful is your mentor? Do you feel she has relevant experience?
  • Is the job what you were led to believe? Do you understand the job expectations?
  • How are relationships with co-workers? As a gig worker, is it difficult to integrate with long-term employees? With other gig workers?
  • Do you feel included in the process and organization?
  • Is the workload manageable? Are all necessary tools available?
  • Do you have questions or suggestions? How can we better serve you?

The relationship with the gig workforce is not a one-way street. Whether an employee is on-site or remote, take time to make him feel valued through phone calls or personalized emails. Give gig workers a chance to express their concerns. Was their training adequate? How can the company make this experience better for other contracts? Continue to calculate whether the relationship is mutually beneficial through goal setting and clear expectations throughout the contract and relationship.

Engagement

Onboarding is more than simple checklists; it engages new hires in the company culture and promotes a highly functioning team. When onboarding is done correctly, employees are more engaged and productive.

Trust and communication are vital to employee engagement. Both need to be established with gig workers from the beginning. A common mistake that companies make is to force days of information into a few hours during onboarding, even more so for gig workers who are seen as short-timers. It is not humanly possible for people to take in everything, and it is boring.

Classic new-hire onboarding erodes trust with gig workers when they are not treated as welcomed individuals. Further, those leading the onboarding may not be aware of the needs of the changing workforce demographic (including legal requirements).

A sign that the onboarding program is successful is when all employees are there to work toward their goals and enjoy challenges and opportunities. Engaged employees do more than the minimum. And gig workers are no different if they are set up to win—they, too, will be committed to the organization's success, if only for the short term.

Adapt and Adjust

Employers undoubtedly are going to need to adapt as workers—including gig workers—demand interesting work, beginning with helpful onboarding. The good thing is that so much of what has been successful in the past remains important. Treat new employees with respect, make them feel integral to the organization regardless of title, guarantee support throughout new processes, and solicit feedback at every stage. By constantly evaluating procedures and talent, organizations will create an onboarding process that endures the test of time and an evolving workplace.

Managing a gig workforce takes planning because of the complexity and diversity available to managers. Make a commitment to every employee and maintain a structure that keeps the gig workforce involved in the process.

The gig workforce is all about customization. A productive relationship will fill company gaps with worker strengths. Continually acknowledging the strengths that contract employees bring to the company will lay a foundation for a flourishing relationship. Do not, however, sugarcoat or gloss over weaknesses, because aiding in the reduction of weaknesses also is a key component of relationship success.

In the new work environment, flexibility is important to recruiting qualified talent. Employers who do not cling to traditional job requirements are able to attract and retain highly qualified talent. Flexible, agile individuals act with conviction instead of reacting to change. In today's business environment, employees need to be resilient to transition quickly and become productive members of the workforce.

Helping an employee grow is powerful in any setting, but it is especially powerful in the gig economy. Onboarding and training should be clear about the criteria for growth and development within the organization. Meetings and evaluations enable managers to identify opportunities for improvement and growth. To meet expectations, employees need to understand them. Any expectations or requirements that employees do not meet should be seen as opportunities for improvement. To this end, managers can help coach employees about ways they can improve.

All of this begins with onboarding a new gig worker.

Curtis L. Odom, Ed.D., is president of Stuck On Start Coaching, a boutique career coaching firm working with organizations to onboard recent college graduates and also retain Millennial top talent in their culture. Prior to Stuck on Start, Odom worked in the field of talent management, supporting Fortune 500 companies around the globe with their hiring needs and challenges. Odom is also a professor at the Northeastern University D'Amore McKim School of Business, as well as the author of four books, including Mind the Gap: Getting Business Results in Multigenerational Organizations, Generation X Approved: Top 20 Keys to Effective Leadership, and Stuck in the Middle: A Generation X View of Talent Management, as well as his newest release, From Campus to Corner Office: How Co-Ops and Internship Will Help You Win in the Workplace! 

This article is excerpted from https://www.td.org with permission from ATD. ©2018 ATD. All rights reserved.

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