There are so many benefits to the blended employee-freelance model workforce. Greater access to top talent, high levels of innovation, often quicker problem solving and shortened product development cycles—to name a few. Nevertheless, the new blended approach is tricky, especially for HR. How companies go about structuring programs and initiatives—and then blending internal-external talent—makes the difference. Perhaps no one can speak more knowledgeably on this topic than Jon Younger, PhD, a writer and advisor to HR tech startups who helps envision how workforce changes will affect employees and the human-resources function once companies scale. In the freelance area, he says, there are six alignment factors that are key for HR to help the organization to put in place:
- Strategic alignment. Company executives need to think through, clarify and communicate the role of freelancers, and what that means for the broad direction of their workforce architecture. An example of this is a dental business I studied. The owners wanted to grow and saw the potential to utilize freelance dentists in specialty areas. It significantly aided patient and financial performance, but it also impacted working relationships, scheduling needs and coordinating surgical spaces. For HR staff in larger organizations, it’s the same dynamic: things change, and people need to be forewarned and engaged in order to be part of positive planning. HR is both the master of ceremonies and ringmaster, so HR employees convert executive intent into a meaningful and executable plan. They must play a key role in organizing people to work through the likely and less likely changes required.
- Performance alignment. The system of performance management must be well defined and designed: determining the work; building the SOW; identifying interdependencies, milestones and deadlines; clarifying the nature and frequency of review and the schedule for feedback; and defining the critical behavioral as well as technical competencies expected. HR personnel must build the objective-to-outcome system through clear statements of work: This is how often we’re going to get together; these are the work goals; these are the relationship roles. It’s a living system when successful—much more than a contract.
- Relationship alignment. Freelancers want to feel part of the team as long as they are on the project, even if they work remotely. Organizations that treat freelancers in a more transactional manner rather than as a relationship will miss out because freelancers are unlikely to give their best work when treated in a nonpersonal manner, and they’re likely to tell other top freelancers to work elsewhere. It is the project manager’s job to create the conditions for effective collaboration.
- Managerial alignment. The old saw, “We join companies but leave managers,” is fairly accurate when it comes to freelancers as well as with more traditional employees. Companies that aspire to architect flexible, blended workforces must train managers to appropriately manage freelancers and encourage collaboration between freelancers and internal staff.
- Administrative alignment. Companies that plan to depend heavily on freelancers or a more flexible, blended workforce need to create policies that reflect their intent and treat them as valued stakeholders. Is your pay policy (30, 60, 90 days) reasonable or punitive? Are you engaging freelancers or keeping them at a distance? Are you expecting unreasonable contract provisions, e.g., IP? HR must work with procurement to look at the larger body of freelance policy and ask whether the company is set up to attract and retain the desired freelancers.
- Work alignment. Finally, project leaders and executives should be thoughtful about what work freelancers do versus full-time employees. I’m surprised at how often freelancers tell me that they’ve been expected to do the impossible, that limitations on their work created sufficient frustration that they felt forced to leave, or that team conflicts prevented freelancers from being successful.Editor’s note: This article originally appeared on Linkedin.