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The Human Connection: Building Strong Relationships with Freelancers and Full-Time Employees

graphic of 4 human figures (represented by head and shoulders in a circle). Three employees are similarly blue, one is orange. All four are connected by intersecting lines.

Let’s be honest; over the last decade, the workplace has changed. It’s not simply that executives no longer rely on Blackberry or Palm; the whole landscape has experienced significant transformation. Gone are the days when cubicle-laden offices and 9-to-5 jobs were the only options. With the rise of the gig economy, flexible talent and remote workers have become an integral part of a global workforce. However, building solid relationships with freelancers and full-time employees remains essential for successful businesses despite physical distance and differing work arrangements.

There is great importance to the human connections formed in the workplace. Here, we’ll explore those connections and provide practical tips for building meaningful relationships with freelancers, remote workers, and full-time employees.

The Changing Landscape of Work

The way people work has evolved drastically. Cubicles and conference rooms have given way to WFH and virtual meetings. In addition, workplaces now frequently augment their full-time core employees with flexible, temporary workers. While permanent, full-time employees receive compensation and benefits such as health insurance and PTO, individuals working as independent contractors engage in Work Assignments with hourly billing or on a project basis. Additionally, because freelancers working as Flexible Talent aren’t tied to a single employer nor receive benefits from any one company, they may not have as deep of a passion or regard for any given company or brand as a full-time employee. On the other hand, freelancers may have more unique talents or specialized skill sets than their full-time counterparts. As a result, utilizing the unique strengths of both freelancers and full-time employees can prove to be crucial for an organization’s success.

The popularity of the gig economy has been on the rise, and more workers are opting for freelance work due to its flexibility and autonomy. According to a recent Freelancers Union report, 36% of the U.S. workforce, or 57 million Americans, work as flexible talent. This trend continues to grow; independent contractors are expected to make up the majority of the U.S. workforce by 2027. As the workers and the employment landscape change, businesses must adapt and find new ways to build strong relationships with freelancers, remote workers, and full-time employees.

The Importance of the Human Connection

In today’s fast-paced business world, getting caught up in the hustle and bustle of deadlines, targets, and bottom lines is easy. However, the human connection remains a fundamental aspect of the workplace, regardless of the type of employment arrangement. Building solid relationships with both freelancers and full-time employees is essential for several reasons. In association with their recent whitepaper on workplace connectivity, Human Resources Director (HRD) stated, “A genuine sense of human connection is one of the biggest factors influencing a worker’s productivity, job satisfaction, and perceptions of the workplace. By putting human connections at the centre of your business, employers will enable connectivity, engagement, and growth.”

First, human connection fosters trust and mutual respect. Trust is the foundation of any successful relationship, including work relationships. When team members trust each other, they are more likely to collaborate, share ideas, and work towards common goals. Trust also leads to mutual respect, where each team member values and appreciates the unique skills and perspectives that others bring to the table.

Additionally, solid connections promote open communication. Effective communication is crucial in any workplace to avoid misunderstandings, conflicts, and mistakes. Strong team relationships encourage open and honest communication, whether between freelancers or full-time employees. Team members feel more comfortable expressing their thoughts, concerns, and ideas when they feel valued and respected. This bond and level of respect leads to improved teamwork and productivity.

A well-connected team enhances enthusiasm and amplifies engagement. A positive work environment where team members feel connected and supported creates a sense of belonging and camaraderie, leading to higher productivity and job satisfaction. In addition, when team members feel appreciated and included, they are more likely to be committed to their work and contribute to the organization’s success.

Lastly, the human connection fosters loyalty and retention. Building solid relationships with team members, whether they are freelancers or full-time employees, promotes loyalty and retention. When team members feel valued, they are more likely to desire retention of their position and stay focused on the organization’s goals. When factoring in the cost of recruitment, onboarding, and training, reducing turnover by increasing morale can lower your bottom line and help you succeed in business. To this point, in a February 2023 article, Forbes stated, “A recent study by Enboarder found that 94% of employees are more productive when they feel connected to their colleagues. Employees who feel connected are half as likely to leave within the next year and four times as likely to say they are very satisfied at their jobs.”

Tips for Building Strong Relationships with Freelancers

Building strong relationships with freelancers requires intentional effort. Most flexible talent workers have different work arrangements and are not physically present in the office. The tips below can help you build or deepen your relationships with freelancers.

  1. Set clear expectations: Communicate the project scope, deadlines, deliverables, and payment terms from the outset. Clarity sets the foundation for a successful working relationship and helps avoid misunderstandings or conflicts later on.
  2. Foster open communication: Create channels for regular communication, such as email, chat, phone, or video calls, to ensure ongoing and open communication with your freelancers. Encourage them to ask questions, seek clarifications, and share updates. Respond promptly to their inquiries and provide constructive feedback to keep the lines of communication open.
  3. Treat freelancers as part of the team: Include freelancers in team meetings, email updates, and relevant discussions. Make them feel like a valuable part of the team and let them know their contributions are as vital as the core team. An attitude of inclusion fosters a sense of belonging and promotes collaboration.
  4. Provide feedback and recognition: Offer regular feedback on their work, both positive and constructive. Great freelancers are driven by an entrepreneurial spirit and embrace input that helps them improve and excel in their tasks. Recognize their achievements and show appreciation for their efforts. Constructive critiques can work to improve not only their performance but also their motivation and loyalty toward your organization.
  5. Offer opportunities for professional growth: Provide freelancers with opportunities to enhance their skills, knowledge, and expertise. Consider inviting flexible talent to participate in existing team training, mentoring opportunities, or challenging assignments. Inclusion shows that you value their professional growth and are invested in their development.
  6. Be flexible and accommodating: Recognize that freelancers may have their own work styles, schedules, and preferences. Be flexible and accommodating to their needs as long as it does not compromise the project’s goals and deadlines. Showing respect for their autonomy promotes a positive working relationship.
  7. Pay on time: Timely and fair payment is crucial for maintaining a good relationship with freelancers. Ensure you honor the agreed-upon payment terms and promptly provide any necessary paperwork or documentation. Consider utilizing a Freelancer Marketplace to streamline your contracting and payments for freelance staff. Working with pre-set contracts and payment schedules helps promote professionalism and builds trust.

Tips for Building Strong Relationships with Full-Time Employees

Building rich relationships with full-time employees requires similar principles as freelancers. Use the practical tips below to help effectively build relationships with full-time employees. You may have to make additional considerations if you utilize remote workers on your core team due to their different workplace arrangements.

  1. Encourage open communication: Create a culture where employees feel comfortable expressing opinions, concerns, and ideas. Encourage regular feedback and suggestions, and actively listen to their perspectives. Two-way communication promotes a collaborative and inclusive work environment.
  2. Provide growth opportunities: Offer training, development programs, and career advancement opportunities to help employees upskill themselves and advance their careers. Demonstrating your commitment to their professional growth will encourage their loyalty and improve engagement.
  3. Show appreciation and recognition: Regularly recognize and appreciate employees’ efforts, achievements, and contributions. Offer verbal or written praise and consider a rewards or incentives program for employees who excel. Acknowledging their hard work and dedication boosts their motivation and job satisfaction.
  4. Recognize work-life balance: Employees have personal lives and commitments outside of work. Encourage work-life balance and respect their time off the clock. Especially when adding freelancers to a team, consider offering core employees flexible work arrangements, such as remote work options or flexible schedules. Observing personal boundaries promotes their well-being and shows that you care about their work-life integration.
  5. Intentionally embrace inclusivity: Promote diversity in the workplace by creating, fostering, and celebrating an atmosphere of value, respect, and inclusion. Actively work to provide equal opportunities for all employees, regardless of background, gender, or identity. A positive and inclusive work environment that values all employees will help them feel safe to express themselves and thrive.
  6. Provide opportunities for team-building: Foster a sense of camaraderie and team spirit among employees by providing opportunities for team-building activities, such as team lunches, social events, or collaborative projects. Don’t forget to include freelancers and off-site core employees. Use team activities to promote a positive work culture and strengthen team relationships. 
  7. Be approachable and available: Be accessible and approachable to employees, whether it’s for work-related issues, feedback, or simply for casual conversations. Show genuine interest in their well-being and be responsive to their needs. Accessibility builds trust and strengthens the employee-employer relationship.
  8. Show empathy and compassion: Show empathy and compassion towards employees during challenging times, such as personal difficulties or work-related stress. Offer support, understanding, and flexibility when needed. Being empathetic to employees demonstrates that you care about their well-being beyond their job performance and builds a strong emotional connection.
  9. Involve employees in decision-making: Involve team members in decision-making processes that affect the work they do for the organization. Seek their input, opinions, and ideas, and value their contributions. Shared decision-making empowers employees and helps them feel invested in the organization’s success, which leads to increased loyalty and commitment.

Success in a workplace that blends full-time employees with contracted flexible talent requires solid relationships with the entire workforce. Both groups require management based on similar principles: clear communication, honest feedback, appropriate recognition, opportunities for growth, flexibility, empathy, and positive work culture. By encouraging a sense of connection, belonging, and appreciation, you can build long-lasting relationships with your team that lead to increased productivity, loyalty, and success for your organization. Invest in building meaningful relationships with both your freelancers and full-time employees, and you will reap the benefits of a cohesive and motivated team that drives your organization toward success. Remember, at the heart of every successful organization is the human connection.