The importance of building culture and connection with your contract employees.

Contract work is on the rise in the United States, with approximately 1 in 5 American workers holding a contract position. In many ways, this doesn’t come as a surprise. In the absence of the implicit employment contract based on mutual loyalty, many employers have shifted their perspective on hiring employees.Without a longer-term mutual commitment between employers and employees, the former are often less willing to invest in the career development and progression of the latter.

This is especially true of contract employees, who are usually hired for their ability to deliver on a specific project. As temporary employees, contractors are not hired to stay with a company and progress up the corporate ladder. However, this mindset could be depriving organizations of a valuable asset, and weakening their culture as a whole. Instead of viewing contractors as ‘separate from’ the corporation’s workforce, organizations should look for ways to include and align them to the culture.

Connecting work to a higher purpose.

One of the keys to building a strong organizational culture among contractors is to help them feel connected to the purpose of the organization. Some organizations do this well. But for others, doing so will mean a significant change in the way they express who they are and creating a compelling value proposition for anyone who helps them deliver on the organization’s purpose.

Consider companies such as Lyft or Uber and their work force: most of their drivers have minimal contact with the organizations. They may have go to a physical location, sign some paper work, and receive some introductory training. Once they are on the street they’re largely on their own. Their office is their car: they stick the U in their window and they’re an Uber driver.

Do they feel a sense of connection to the organization? Possibly. But for most contractors, that connection comes from a sense of purpose. If they feel they have contributed toward the larger purpose of the organization—and if that purpose has meaning to them—then they have a stronger connection.

Of course, most of this ties in strongly with the early stages of culture work: aligning the culture around the mission, vision, and values of the organization. The strength of this alignment becomes even more important for organizations who are working with people in non-traditional work arrangements. And in a non-traditional environment, connecting contractors with their coworkers is also a crucial part of building a unified culture.

Maintaining social community.

One question we often ask employees is: what’s the one thing you want to preserve about the culture or your organization? Almost everyone says: the people—my colleagues, my coworkers. But when the contractor is no longer working out of the office, and is instead working from home or from a mobile location, they need another way to connect to the people in their organization.

Strong social community networks are going to become increasingly important going forward. As project-based assignments become more frequent, employers will rely on their network of contractor contacts to get work done. For employers, having a trusted network of contractors to rely on for 3-month, 6-month, or yearly assignments can bring them the flexibility they need to adapt to market changes. But in doing so, it is important that they nurture those personal connections.

Remote networking apps such as Slack can facilitate these links. Although their slogan is “where work happens,” it could just as easily be “where connections happen.” Regular check-ins and mindful inclusion in group discussions can help contractors keep in touch with the community, and help them feel like a valued member of the group. For organizations it is important to rethink the meaning of work and how work gets done, and how they facilitate connections among their different and dynamic working relationships.

After all, contractors form a valuable and necessary service for many organizations. They should feel valued, because they are.

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