When talking about people who choose to work remotely we often make some (reasonable) assumptions: They crave human contact, they want to be in touch with their teammates and bosses more often, they need to feel like part of the larger organization, and they miss talking to live humans. These ideas sound rational…but what if it’s not true? Not everyone wants to work that closely with other people, it turns out. Those people are often contractors.
When giving talks to organizations about remote teams, we talk in generalities. We say things like As a rule this is how teams work, or, humans crave human contact. People being people, not everyone thinks the same. Some people want to interact with their teammates as seldom as possible. This may or may not be a big deal. Here’s what I mean.
Does their work really require teamwork?
One company I know does graphic design and outsources marketing work. Each member of the team has their list of clients and they work with that client and report back to a single manager. While their project manager may have as many as ten designers working for them, each is an individual contributor, and there’s little effort made to have them work as a team. They’re fine with it. In fact…
Contractors are often happy being guns for hire and don’t care who they work for.
As the “gig economy” expands, so does the number of people choosing not to be employed by a company. People who are contractors by choice often purposely avoid becoming emotionally involved with their employers. A job is a job. They don’t care about being part of the organization’s mission, or knowing who else is working for them. This is particularly true for work that is highly individual like copy writing and some software coders. People value their own time and career goals, and the work is simply a transaction to help them achieve the lifestyle they want.
The company values flexibility over relationships, and the workers are fine with it.
Hiring people means on-boarding, recruiting, and gut-wrenching decisions if the needs of the business means down-sizing or letting people go. Many companies position their contracting with exactly those expectations. They recruit with this expectation in mind.
Now, some of you are reading this and don’t see a problem. Some of you are probably experiencing a kind of dissonance because you can’t imagine wanting to work this way. That’s kind of the point. There are a couple of things you need to consider when working with a mostly remote, predominantly contract workforce:
- Is everyone clear on the communication expectations? Are they expected to interact with their coworkers? How often are meetings called?
- Are you okay with people coming and going? If the work is project-to-project, it might not matter if people work for you once, and then are never heard from again.
- Does it take a long time to ramp up new hires or team members? If so, having to constantly recruit and on-board new people may offset any savings on salries and benefits. Is this something you really want to do?
- Is the work truly transactional, or do you want people who are committed to the work? Sometimes a paycheck is motivation enough to do quality work and be good team members. Are you comfortable with people whose primary motivation is that simple?
For most of us, this isn’t how we would prefer to work. We need to plan accordingly. Some companies operate very well under this understanding with their contractors. The point is, it CAN work, but only if everyone is clear on the expectations.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Co-Founder and Product Line Manager
Wayne Turmel is the co-founder and Product Line Manager for the Remote Leadership Institute. For twenty years he’s been obsessed with helping managers communicate more effectively with their teams, bosses and customers. Wayne is the author of several books that demystify communicating through technology including Meet Like You Mean It – a Leader’s Guide to Painless & Productive Virtual Meetings, 10 Steps to Successful Virtual Presentations and 6 Weeks to a Great Webinar. His work appears frequently in Management-Issues.com.
Wayne, along with Kevin Eikenberry, has co-authored the definitive book on leading remotely, The Long-Distance Leader: Rules for Remarkable Remote Leadership.