Make the most of freelances

There is a lot to be gained from treating casual staff as part of your team and learning from the vast pool of talent that is out there, says Tim Elliott

You’ve just won some great new business – now how are you going to deliver it? With ever increasing budgetary constraints, this is a familiar scenario. But if employing temporary workers is a necessary solution, how do you maintain not just motivation and efficiency but also creativity levels among your team?

If you are involved with fluctuating levels of project-based work you need to be able to create and dismantle teams on demand. This can be on a large scale, even as large as an Olympic ceremony or a G8 Summit – so this is a challenge with which we at Jack Morton are very familiar.

Teams that include a large number of temporary workers may sound like a recipe for disaster, but I believe that it should be looked on as an exciting opportunity rather than something to be feared. The safe option may be to stick within your comfort zone; those tried and tested ideas, processes and members of the team that you can rely on to produce a particular result. However, if we just stick to what we know, there’s a great danger of stagnation – and as designers, shouldn’t this be anathema to us?

Employing freelances is a chance to share new ideas; something that can be difficult between competing companies but is much easier between individuals. We can all benefit from seeing how other people work, even if we have years of experience in our industry. In fact, especially if we have years of experience.

Working with new talent can take us back to the rudimentaries of learning – seeing something done in a new way is an instant boost to your own knowledge. It’s also a chance to assess your strengths and weaknesses – so be bold and enjoy the influence of others. The additional challenge is to benefit from fresh thinking, while ensuring you maintain the strength and ethos of your own brand – after all, that’s part of what your client is buying.  

Boosting your skill set isn’t the only advantage. The more people you bring in, the more opportunities you have for creating ambassadors for your company. The value of this shouldn’t be underestimated. But in the hectic world of freelances, how do you ensure a positive experience for them?

Too often circumstances demand that they are employed at just the time when you are at your most challenged and have little time to devote to them. We’ve all had a first day at school when we’ve been liable to lose our sense of humour and our sense of direction. It’s a bit uncomfortable and we needed to be taken under someone’s wing.

If you’ve created a culture where your permanent members of staff see freelance colleagues as an opportunity, then they are more likely to be prepared to go that extra mile. You can also help yourself by ensuring your company processes (such as data management, design tools, and health and safety) are as slick and easy to understand as possible – as dull as this is, it’s worth investing in this area. If you don’t, you could put yourself and your clients at risk.

So what’s in it for the freelances? Why should they show any commitment or motivation to a company when their involvement is only temporary? I see enrichment as a two-way process – we can all learn from each other. And it should be a positive experience – welcome them in, keep them informed, make them feel part of the team and not second class citizens. Offer them trust and flexibility in their working practices, and you’ll reap the reward of being a first choice employer for the best talent.

And who are the best talent? In instances where a brilliantly working team is required, consider personalities carefully. There are some interesting individuals out there, but what you need is a great team player. Talented prima donnas have their place in society, but it’s unlikely to be in your team.

If you can secure a great team effort, this in turn will give your client confidence. There is no shame in having a flexible approach to team-building – there isn’t a client who hasn’t had to become more aware of their own team’s overhead and therefore understands the need to manage staff carefully.

In the UK, we have such a healthy, exciting freelance community. It’s easy to take it for granted, but we should think ourselves privileged to have such a rich resource we can team up with. If it helps, think of it as speed dating. You’ll be amazed at the talent that’s out there and who knows where it could lead.

Tim Elliott is creative director at Jack Morton Worldwide

Staffing up on a large scale:

• View employing freelances as an opportunity, not a threat

• Create an embracing company culture

• Employ team players

• Make your company processes efficient and take the time to explain them well

• Make the experience positive and you will create ambassadors for your company

• Think what new blood will bring to you and your team, not just about fire fighting

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