So much has changed since I first set up Pacific Direct, but one of the major changes has been in the workforce. People used to get a job and assuming they weren’t fired or made redundant, would stay with the same company until retirement. There might be a little movement between departments, or they may jump ship to go and work for another company, doing a similar sort of thing.
Of course, I’m simplifying here and there were always people who changed careers or perhaps worked a couple of part-time jobs to make ends meet. For the most part though, people had one full time job with set hours which they worked at every day.
In recent years we have seen a massive rise in what the media calls the “gig economy” – people taking on freelance “gigs” as and when the need arises.
The explosion in technological developments has really aided this change, with people ordering taxis and food through an app – but also for those people referred to as “digital nomads” who have cottoned on to the idea that as long as you have a decent laptop and a wifi connection, you can work from anywhere in the world.
The gig economy has had a lot of bad press, but it definitely has its advantages – for business and individual. Gig workers can take on work as and when they want it, picking and choosing when they work and for how long – they can fit this around another job, family life or a college course. For businesses, using gig workers means you can easily increase your workforce to cope with an increase in demand, without worrying about what will happen if that demand dies down a little. It gives everyone a flexibility we didn’t have before, and with new tech and gadgets being released onto the market all the time, this is only set to increase. The landscape of the job market and of business is changing, and like with most things, it’s better to get on board and learn the ropes before it becomes an urgency you can’t avoid.
But with part time or gig workers and freelancers scattered not just across the city or the country but perhaps around the globe, how do we as business owners keep our team… a team? How do you make people feel like part of a team and foster that dedication that you really need when you’re running a small business? How do you engage your workforce and make sure they are happy and committed?
Like with most things, the answer is far from simple. Here are a couple of tips:
Use different methods of communication.
You might be more comfortable talking in person or on the phone, but a lot of people aren’t – and they may find it an inconvenience if their gig with you is one of several different things slotted into their day. And anyone under the age of about 30 will tell you email is dying out too.
You can use things like WhatsApp groups, or if your team is larger a Slack account might be more useful to keep conversations organised into different channels. Task management systems such as Wrike or Trello may also be useful for organising things and conversations about different pieces of work, depending on your business. My advice is to try out several and see which one works best – not just for you, but for the whole team.
You can’t be physically in the room with someone, but you can do the next best thing. Use tools like Skype, Google Hangouts or Zoom Meetings to organise video calls to discuss things or just for a quick catch-up. Make sure you are flexible with the timing on these – remember that just because you are at your desk from 8am to 6pm, people who only work for you on a flexible basis may not be available when you want them to be.
A video call allows you to have a more connected conversation where you can see each other’s expressions and reactions. Although eye contact is tricky with this sort of thing, video calls can go a long way toward bridging that gap.
Organise in-person meet-ups.
It may not be feasible to expect your extended team to attend a weekly or even monthly meeting – but you could have a particular day of the week or month where you are either in the office or shared working space, where it is known that all team members are welcome to join you.
You could also look at having annual team outings where you do something socially together.
You don’t need to send a group email every time a decision is made, but perhaps a weekly round-up of what’s been going on and key points. This will help people to stay in the loop with what’s going on, and to feel like they’re being kept informed too. They can always opt not to read the email if they are not interested – but really even in a gig worker, you are looking for someone who cares what happens.
Offer training and development.
While gig workers are self employed and therefore not officially your responsibility when it comes to training, there is nothing to stop you offering training – even if it is only in-house. Providing training and development will help your gig workers to feel valued and appreciated – and you may find that if their circumstances change they will come to you for a more traditional job in the future.
Stay as flexible as possible.
It’s important to remember that most people working in the gig economy do so because of the flexibility it allows. It is absolutely essential to respect this, and to avoid at all costs treating gig workers in the same way as full-time, permanent employees when it comes to expectations. Engaging with your flexible workforce should be about staying in touch and keeping them informed, rather than tied down.
Provide feedback and praise
If someone is only contracted to work for you as and when it suits both parties, it can be easy to have them to their work and then casually wave them off at the end of their shift. This will not keep them engaged or inspire them to do great work for you.
Look for ways to show people how their work has made a difference – for you and for your company. Something as simple as sharing feedback from a customer or thanking them for helping the company to reach an overall goal can pay dividends in this area.
Look for a meaningful rather than a transactional relationship
This is the key to a good working relationship with any member of your team, but it can be more tricky when it comes to casual workers. Many people will look for casual work with a more transactional situation in mind – I go in; I do what they ask; they pay me; I leave. Your job as a business owner is to create meaning for them, so that it’s not just a transaction; they want to do a good job for you, whether that’s working in the warehouse, writing copy for your website or delivering product to customers.
Doing this can seem hard, but it’s actually fairly simple: get to know the people who work for you, and make an effort to talk to them about more than just “can you cover this shift.” Ask after their family; their college course; whatever else they’ve mentioned in the past. You know, be a nice human being!
Ultimately, we use gig workers because the work they do matters to the business and it is important to make sure they are aware of this. When someone feels like more than just an extra pair of hands, they will act like it too.