What WeWork's Department Store Takeover Means for Freelancers and Your Blended Office Culture
Here's what business owners need to know to successfully navigate the new reality of blended office environments.
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WeWork's purchase of Lord & Taylor's legendary storefront on Fifth Avenue demonstrates the dramatic reinvention of the workplace happening today. Instead of retail clerks, display counters and showroom stockers, WeWork is retrofitting the Lord & Taylor space with an army of desks and flexible work spaces designed to expand and contract with the needs of its office tenants. This shift showcases a new world of work for both the employer and employee -- one which is filled with a mix of freelancers, full-time, part-time and remote employees.
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As more offices are taken up by small and large companies employing a blended workforce (coworking memberships are expected to double from 2016 reaching 3.8 million by 2020, according to Emergent Research), company leaders are responsible for shaping their office culture to benefit from the growing freelance economy, take advantage of shared workspace environments like WeWork and better accommodate remote workers so that all employees can contribute positively to the culture.
In a series of interviews with small businesses and freelancers who use LinkedIn services, we asked what business owners need to know to successfully navigate the new reality of blended office environments. Here is what we learned and our advice.
Define the project and the freelancer's role.
Managing contract or freelance workers has become a very common part of the job for today's business owners and senior leaders in that they work for several companies at once, for variable durations, and yet they can play an important role in each company they're a part of. Whether they work remotely or in the office, a key to integrating freelancers into the culture is to understand how they fit into a project.
Related: This Is How I Manage Freelance Workers and Why It Works
Shannon Ware, owner and partner of Virtual Collective, an organization that builds virtual teams of independent contractors, has taken steps to build successful relationships with freelancers by hiring those whom she's personally worked with in her collective or has vetted through one of her connections. She explains, "I always put [a new freelancer] on an internal project first so I can see their work style and response time." These test runs help her get a sense of the kind of client work for which they'll be best suited. "Every project that's pitched I want that contractor to feel like that project was meant for them."
Pursuing freelancers with intentionality creates a stronger workforce without diminishing the spirit of the existing one. In seeking to fill a specific need that isn't or can't be met internally, the office culture is strengthened as new faces bring new backgrounds and skillsets, and current employees can focus on their areas of expertise.
Onboarding is everything.
The values of each employee at an organization collectively determines the overall culture. This includes freelancers, a group expected to represent 43 percent of the workforce by 2020, according to Intuit's 2020 Report. Employers should understand what motivates freelancers, and freelancers should understand what makes an organization successful. This is all foundational expectation setting that should happen as soon as possible whenever anyone new joins an organization.
Related: What to Do When Your Team Asks to Work From Home
Robyn Segal knows what it's like to be both a freelancer and a traditional employee. Now an art director at Edelman, a global public relations agency, Segal was first a freelance designer there before being offered a full-time position five years ago. "I intentionally came into the office. In our industry, it can be harder to work remotely because of the amount of meetings we have for projects," she says. That intention paid off, too.
The first step of onboarding is a vital one, especially when the freelancer is on-site instead of remote. To avoid falling into an "out of sight, out of mind" trap, encourage freelancers to come into the office when they can -- this can even lead to more work for freelancers in the long run, simply because they're physically present to accept it.
Inclusiveness breeds loyalty.
Freelancers -- more than half of whom confirmed that they will never return to more traditional, full-time employment, according to a LinkedIn ProFinder survey -- still value having an office and the common camaraderie and culture that comes with that.
Besides being a resource to an organization, helping employees better achieve business goals and providing specialized expertise, using freelancers often just makes good business sense.
Related: How to Retain the Best Freelancer Talent While Building a Real Business
Viewing freelancers not as "separate from" but rather as "a part of" strengthens office culture. It doesn't dilute it. New connections are made, gaps are filled and different energy finds its way into projects.
"Think hard about new people that you bring in or seek out," offers Dan Fletcher, director of strategy at Salt Lake City-based digital creative agency Contravent, which employs around 60 employees. "Freelancing can be a gateway to bringing new relationships and people to your business."
Contravent aims to make their freelance employees feel just as much a part of the team as full- or part-time employees. They host weekly happy hours and invite employees, freelancers, partner organizations, clients and friends and family to join. In this way, Fletcher and his colleagues are bringing the culture with them wherever they go. And inviting others to join in.
As office environments and teams increasingly become a flexible, ever-changing blend of full-time, part-time and freelance employees, it's critical that everyone at the organization understands how to navigate these new dynamics. Managers are responsible for rallying their teams, knowing how and when to make sure freelancers are included, and for making sure the company culture as a whole benefits from every person's presence and unique contribution.
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