THE BLOG
11/07/2014 11:29 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

4 Steps to Maintain Organizational Culture With Freelance Employees

Organizational culture is crucial in creating a workplace where employees can work together as a team and contribute to furthering the company's values and vision. Maintaining that culture in a shared office space is one thing... but when your freelance employees are scattered all over the country, maybe even the globe, that's a different story. This management challenge is what I like to call "The Big Whopper."

What do I mean by the "Big Whopper"? First, take a look at the following common scenario as it relates to freelance workers and organizational culture.

CHALLENGE: The freelance employee does not fit in with the organizational culture.

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Freelancer's Perspective: I freelance for a large corporation in Midtown Manhattan. They invited me to a party to celebrate a company milestone (I have no idea what it was) so I thought I should at least pop by for a few minutes. When I walked in, everyone was in corporate attire. I'd been running errands all day in my jeans and a bulky sweater, and was carrying a few shopping bags. No one was engaging me in conversation, so I just had a few cocktails, made some jokes with the Intern (he's the only one I really communicate with there) and took off. Those people really need to lighten up!

Manager's Perspective
: We sent out a company-wide invitation to celebrate an important moment in our corporate history. We'd finally broken ground to build a water purification plant for a community that had been drinking increasingly contaminated river water. As an organization, we take our work seriously and believe that if we work as a team with integrity, we can change the world. When my freelance employee, Rebecca, showed up to our celebration honoring six years of hard work coming to fruition, she was not dressed appropriately. She seemed to only come by to have a drink, gossip with our intern, and head out to finish her shopping. The fact that her attitude and behavior didn't mesh with our organizational culture really stood out. Did I hire the right person?

How could the scenario have been prevented with effective management? Here are four steps that will help maintain organizational culture with freelance workers.

Maintain Organizational Culture When Managing Freelance Employees with These 4 Steps

Step 1: Organizational Culture Starts with You

Like many management challenges, maintaining organizational culture with freelance employees starts with you. You have to model the desired culture through your actions, behavior and communication style. Make sure that you are dialed in to the organization's values and vision, and use that as a backbone for all of your freelance worker interactions. If you don't know what your company stands for, how will your freelancers know?

Step 2: Keep Organizational Culture in Mind During the Hiring Process

When going through the hiring process, always keep your company's vision and values in mind. If your organization values teamwork, hiring a very independent freelancer may not be a good fit. When looking at potential freelance candidates, don't just look for matching skills and experience. Be sure to include questions that will gauge if they are a good cultural fit as well.

Step 3: Take Time to Integrate Your Freelance Employee into the Organization

Just because your freelance worker isn't physically in the office does not mean that they don't need the same thoughtful onboarding that you give in-house employees. Since freelancers work remotely, you can't shuttle them around from introduction to introduction with an orientation packet in their hands; however, there are other things you can do.

  • Pair your freelancer with a seasoned employee who embodies your organizational culture. After an initial introduction, tell your freelancer that they can turn to this employee with any questions they may have.
  • Create a photo and bio sheet to distribute to freelance workers. This allows them to take a virtual walk through the office by putting faces to names. This also helps identify the roles of fellow in-house employees, which will help in collaborative projects.
  • If possible, invite your freelance workers to the office. Let them experience first hand what your culture looks and feels like.
Step 4: Make Your Freelance Worker Feel Part of Your Team

Have you ever felt like a complete outsider at work? It's not very motivating. Often, that's how freelancers feel. It takes effort to make them feel they are part of a team that they rarely, if ever, see. Here are some ways you can do so:

  • Keep your freelance employee informed about "what they are part of." For example, if they have to create a massive Excel spreadsheet of film festivals in Chicago, let them know why. If the freelancer knew that the company produced a transformational documentary on the water crisis and that the spreadsheet would help market the film, she would feel more aligned with the company's mission.
  • Create large goals that remind freelancers who the company is and where it is going. Using the scenario above, an example of a large goal might be, "Provide clean drinking water to every human being in South America by 2017." With that goal stated and reiterated, it is easier for in-house and freelance employees to feel part of the company's mission.
  • Be open with your freelancers about achievements and failures alike. When a freelancer works hard on a project and never hears if it had any impact on the company goals, it's difficult for her to feel part of the team.
  • If you send company holiday cards or host holiday parties, don't forget to include your freelance employees.

Now, let's revisit the scenario above and examine how the problem could have been avoided.

SOLUTION: If Rebecca's manager had embodied the company culture in their previous interactions, Rebecca would have known what to expect at the event. If, during the interview process, Rebecca's manager had spoken to her about her interest in community and the environment, she would have a better idea if Rebecca was a good fit for an organization that values those things. Additionally, by having Rebecca primarily communicate with the intern (obviously not a seasoned member of the organization), she didn't have a chance to be integrated into the company culture. So while Rebecca's manager did include her in the company event, it ended up being an unpleasant experience for both of them.

Organizational culture is dynamic. As the centerpiece of culture among your organization's workforce, you can make a tremendous impact. Start with yourself, and take time in selecting and nurturing your freelance workforce. Above all else -- remember that talent is not expendable, in-house or not.

Do you feel confident you could successfully manage freelance employees? What challenges are you most wary of? Tell us about it with a comment below, or on Twitter. Let's get ready for the future of work together.