I know what you’re thinking: Who cares about my contractor? The whole point of hiring a contractor is to avoid dealing with all of the hassles of having a regular employee, right? They come in, they do a job, they leave.
Well, that’s true. A good contractor is able to fit into your organization and quickly assimilate the necessary information and deliver a product, whatever that product might be.
But as a long-time contractor, let me (humbly) submit: By smoothing the transition of contractors into your team, you are going to increase their productivity and help them create a great product for you—a positive experience for everyone!
But if you crush their wee souls, you won’t get their best work. Or, they may quit, leaving you to start anew with someone else.
So here are some thoughts on how to ease the potential problems of working with a contractor.
1. Be explicit about your deliverables
It’s important for the contractor to know exactly what he/she is expected to deliver, be it a report, a strategy, or a series of learning deliverables. Don’t leave anything to the imagination. Do you have a budget constraint that affects the contractor’s deliverable? Let them know, so that they don’t deliver a champagne proposal that doesn’t fit your beer budget. Do you have strict quality standards for branding or for written materials? Provide these to the contractor in writing. And, with those expectations, be sure to include your deadlines for each step of the process. Do you require a draft or a final? Do you need to see progress as the project is in process or do you want to wait until the end? These relationships work best when everyone knows what is expected.
2. Leverage your contractor’s expertise
If your contractor is a tech writer, don’t have your reviewers change his every sentence from active voice to passive. If she’s a business analyst, be open to her suggestions for streamlining your supply chain processes. Otherwise, why are you paying the contractor $100+ per hour? Hire a temp to do what you tell them to do. Contractors bring with them a tool kit from other companies that you don't have access to. They can breathe fresh air into your processes if you listen to their advice or follow their example. They offer a unique opportunity to let the outside in. See how you can benefit from them.
3. Try not to over-legislate
Consistency is important, and you will obviously want your materials to look professional and fit within the standards set by your organization, but you can take this too far. The more detailed your standards are, the more time your contractor will spend focusing on compliance rather than developing content. Also, few rules can be applied 100 percent of the time. You may want to be more flexible about the font size of the headings in your PowerPoint presentation if it means that a crucial diagram has to be reduced in size until it’s unreadable. You might not want to dictate that every noun in your step-by-step instruction guide be capitalized (unless you’re writing in German).
4. Make your contractor part of your team
Don’t treat the contractor like the adversary. Speaking from personal experience, my best (and favorite) projects have been those in which I worked as an integral part of the team to deliver results. When you develop a relationship with your contractor, she will be motivated to do her best work for you, because she respects the friendly relationships you have encouraged. The flipside of making the contractor a part of your team is to be sure to keep them out of office politics. If you don't want someone who might be working for your competition next month to know about the inner workings of your company, don't invite them so far into your team that they are privy to too much, good or bad. It can be difficult to observe boundaries and limits when someone fits into the culture really well, but it will benefit all parties if you can do it.
5. Be clear about their work conditions
Are they working onsite? Offsite? What are policies for submitting their hours? There are many ways for both businesses and contractors to approach a working relationship. When a contractor begins working with your company, be sure to give them an orientation packet with their paperwork as well as policies for getting paid and whether their hours or location are flexible. Being clear about if there is a timesheet to submit or if they should send you an invoice is foundation information for making sure the relationship starts out on the right foot. Talk to them about the company's policies for contractors and holidays. Let them know your preferences for how contractors should inform you that they are taking a day off or a longer vacation. Do you need them to be in the office or should they plan to work remotely? The beauty of a contractor relationship is that there is a bit more freedom for the person doing the job, but if the conditions aren't clear, the freedom can also be a liability for the company.
6. Cue them in on context
Jobs, offices, projects, and teams have their own levels of context. A low-context situation is one that doesn't require much information for a person to walk into and understand from the get-go. A contractor in a low-context situation may start a project and only talk to one person, without having to worry about any other information about the bigger picture or other players on the project. But, if you have a contractor walk into a situation in which he or she interacts with multiple people or has to understand some history to be able to do the job, be sure to fill them in on the context. Let them know if someone needs to be handled with kid gloves to ensure things run more smoothly. People usually rise to the occasion if they know what is expected of them, which is particularly helpful if you've got a project that requires a little more care than others. Then, knowing you've got a contractor who is savvy and able to handle that sort of context keeps them high on your list for other such sensitive projects.
7. Offer training or advice, if needed
Do you need your contractor to be on the same page as you, but they need a little more information to get there? Offer some training. Sure, some contractors need to come to the table with all of their skills and experience intact, ready to go. But, others may benefit from learning a few of your systems that could be of benefit to both the contractor and your company further down the road. It will get you what you need how you need it, and it will also be a perk for your contractor to be able to list that training on their resume. Do you like their work in one area but think they could really excel if they rounded out their experience a bit? Let them know that they could be considered for other contractor positions if they pursued a certification or class in a certain subject area. That type of advice is important for someone who might be a bit isolated as a contractor.
8. Assess and prepare for tech needs
Do a full audit of everything a contractor will need to access while on your team. Google Drive? Office 365? Storyline? Adobe products? Skype for Business? A content management system (CMS)? A customer relationship management (CRM) system? Make sure they are able to work while you're paying them to work. Finding roadblocks is frustrating for them and can cost big bucks for you. Talk to them ahead of time if you expect them to come pre-loaded with software or if you'll be providing access to software; both scenarios are acceptable in this day and age. And, much access to software can be granted virtually, for operating systems that may differ from your business's office environment. Be aware so you can prepare.