Anyone who has spent time here in Chicago knows that the weather can turn from sunshine to flurries in the time it takes to stroll a block down the Mag Mile.

This fickle about-face seems to be happening everywhere. We spent the last year urging people to stay home. Now the focus has abruptly changed to getting them back on the job.

Signing bonuses and other tempting perks abound. Politico reports that McDonald’s will raise wages by 10 percent for 36,500 workers. And Amazon plans to increase hourly pay by $3 for its US employees.

Yes, the immediate worker shortage is a pandemic fallout. But a larger storm is gathering. The Boomer generation, individuals born between 1946 and 1964, are retiring at the rate of 10,000 per day. The youngest Boomers will be 65 in 2029. At that time, almost one-fifth of the US population will be over the age of 65.

A labor shortage appears to be on the horizon. The fact that younger generations have very different professional goals and expectations than senior workers complicates the picture. And, the pandemic may have thrown a bit of cold water on the heated gig economy as workers searching for greater stability in uncertain times find that jobs are waiting.

It’s a confusing picture, at best. Every article I read on the future of work presents a variety of statistics that are often contradictory. However, there is one thing I know for certain. Understanding how to integrate freelance and contract workers into your staffing pattern will be an important skill in the future.   

Discover the Benefits

Now that associations have a better handle on how to maximize and manage remote workers, it’s a good time to become more adept at adding temporary support to your staffing pattern.

Employers, especially more traditional association leaders, may be reluctant to engage freelancers for a variety of reasons. There is the perception that training will be more disruptive than leaving the position open or stretching current talent.

Leaving seats empty takes a toll on morale, productivity, and customer service.

I have seen organizations remain understaffed for months as a result of this attitude, particularly when the missing employee is a member of the senior management team. Leaving critical seats empty takes a toll on productivity, morale, and customer service.

When you understand how to hire and manage freelancers, they can prevent the backsliding that comes with losing a key staffer. But if you imagine that freelancers are just for emergencies, you’re missing significant opportunities.

In a marketplace that requires constant innovation, freelancers can help organizations support and test new initiatives. If the experiment goes awry, there hasn’t been a commitment to permanent staffing. When the project is successful, you’ll know a lot about who to hire to continue hitting the ball out of the park. With a strategic and informed approach, freelancers can be a resource taking your association to new levels of productivity while improving the bottom line.

These are benefits that accrue to leaders who can manage the freelance dynamic:

  • Specialized Expertise—The digital marketplace is becoming increasingly demanding, specialized, and technical. Don’t delay innovation for lack of talent. Freelancers can fill skill gaps, provide training, and assist in the planning and implementation of complex projects.  
  • Improved Work Flow—Augmenting your team with freelancers can take the heat off full-time employees and ensure your staff’s work-life balance remains intact, while also protecting your organization’s culture.
  • Lower Cost—Because freelancers are responsible for their own benefits and taxes, you can expect an annual savings of 20 to 30 percent. There’s a bonus economy in space and supplies if freelancers are working remotely.
  • Reduce Risk—Freelancers can help you pilot a project without fully committing to an untried program.
  • Improved Customer Service—Freelancers have a vested interest in giving you their best performance. They want you to use them again and refer them to your friends and colleagues.

Be Intentional

Let’s be clear—the invisible temporary staffer, who occupies the least desirable seat in the office, is an outdated idea. Making the most of these relationships requires reciprocity as well as effort, planning, and skill.

Expecting freelancers to onboard themselves might seem to be a time-saver, but limiting guidance comes with growing risks. While freelancers may not participate in every office activity; to be effective, they must understand your culture and view themselves as part of the team.

These are steps you can take to strike the right balance and help freelancers do their best work:

Build a Relationship

Take the time to discover what workers want from the assignment.

Getting to know your new hire seems basic. But freelancers are often engaged when managers are at their most stressed or over-extended. Take the time to discover what workers want from their assignment. Are they looking for exposure to a new industry, to polish specific skills, or update a resume? Use this knowledge to provide the type of motivation that takes the final product from good enough to excellent.  

Everyone wants to feel recognized. Going beyond business to ask about hobbies, family, and other work experiences puts your relationship on more equal footing. Establishing a dialogue creates a pleasant experience and facilitates open communication.

Set the Stage and Outline Responsibilities and Expectations

Context promotes understanding and buy-in. Provide background on why the project is needed and the steps that led to its inception.  

If you don’t know what you want, you probably won’t get what you need. It isn’t always possible to identify exactly what tasks will be required in advance, especially for more complicated projects. Putting goals and expectations in writing creates a framework for the project which can be built out as you make progress. When you review expectations with the freelancer, you’ll be able to identify areas of uncertainty and prepare for future decision-making.

Give and Get Feedback

Freelancers like good communicators. It makes their job easier. Establish regular check-ins to answer questions and ensure that the work is progressing according to plan. Don’t wait to give positive feedback or correct misunderstandings or missteps. Remove the guesswork; it is a waste of time and resources.

Freelancers have a unique perspective. Take advantage of their outsider/insider status to solicit an objective opinion and gain insight you won’t find elsewhere.

Be Flexible

Remember that you may not be the only customer. Be clear about the time commitment your project requires. Confirm that the person you hire has the bandwidth available. Be willing to make reasonable adjustments to hours or schedules.

Stay Connected

When you find someone who is a perfect fit, keep them in the loop. Put them on your mailing list so that they receive regular updates on your association’s activities. They’ll appreciate the information and if you hire them again, they’ll be more knowledgeable about your current status.

Find the Right Talent

One of the biggest obstacles to using freelancers is the hiring process. From UpWork to Fiver, the number of online sites is head spinning.

 .orgFreelancer was launched to help you find the right professional for your association project, the first time around. Our team has walked in your shoes. They understand the association industry. They are ready to help you leverage a new world of talent for your organization. 

To learn more about working with freelancers, register to receive our newsletter.