The pandemic has truly shaken up the concept of working cultures — businesses who have spent years trying to develop clear articulations of how their organisations’ culture operates (sometimes truthfully, sometimes more like painting an aspirational picture) are waking up to the realisation that when so much of their ‘culture’ was centered around the physicality of working behaviours, rather than mindsets and values.
Now remote and distributed work and hybrid teams mean that many of the values and statements in those organisation cultures have truly been tested and questioned. Has our working culture changed now we’re not in the same place? What does it mean for what culture we want, and how we develop a new aspiration, or reflect the updated situation?
This is a watershed moment for organisations, and an opportunity to consider not just how your employees experience your organisational culture, but everyone you work with, regardless of employment contract, a moment to remember that your working culture includes your freelancers and suppliers.
“Freelancers have just hours to understand and navigate your culture — communicating it early and clearly helps accelerate onboarding”
If you were ask your freelancers what your working culture was, what story do you think they’d tell you? Would it align with the story you tell your employees? Does it even matter what a freelancer experiences, after all, they’re only around for a few weeks, right?
Being able to communicate your organisational culture to those people who are new to your business, or only with your business for a short period of time, in many ways, is more important than for your employees.
Your employees get to understand your culture by experience, over time. They see the reality and form part of the experience itself. Freelancers and contractors, on the other hand, have just hours to understand and navigate it, in that all so important onboarding period where they’re figuring out how best to work with you and your business.
Culture isn’t just a set of values, but a set of behaviours and expectations — so if your organisational culture is that you prefer over-communication: knowing this early helps a freelancer to do the same. If your organisational culture is autonomous, and lets people get on with their work: knowing this early helps a freelancer to do the same. If your organisational culture encourages showing work in progress, rather than the ‘tada’ moment: knowing this early helps a freelancer do the same.
“But not all teams and people work in the same way!” you cry — absolutely, and organisation wide cultures can often be blunt or reductive to the point of not helpful for onboarding, so going a level deeper, and understanding and articulating your own team culture is even more valuable. Perhaps your team has a daily stand-up, because you love sharing and knowing what each people is up to; perhaps you prefer pictures over text heavy charts because your team is creatively-inspired, rather than data-inspired; perhaps your team loves collaboration over independent work; all of these embedded expectations and “how to work well together” are often implicitly understood, but often not clearly communicated.
And when you have someone joining your team for a short period of time, getting them up to speed on your working styles, preferences and culture, matters.
If you have someone who is working in a way which misaligns to the working culture you’re used to and expect, the entire experience is not only going to feel challenging, but will be less rewarding and less productive for all parties.
There are tools which help articulate and communicate your team culture and working style preferences, such as the Manual of Me — a set of shared statements of working preferences, or something as simple as a coffee and a sit down at the start of a project with the external party, asking and sharing ways of working, can be hugely valuable — how you go about it needs to suit your own culture, but the importance of finding that moment to take 15 minutes at the start of a project, and communicate your team’s culture to your freelancers will not accelerate their onboarding, and help you and your freelancer-enhanced team do better work together.
Tip for Freelance Friendly businesses:
Add a statement in your onboarding documents for your freelancers which outlines your organisations culture, and where possible, get the leader of this project to do the same at a team level.
Tip for Freelancers:
At the start of a project, have a number of ‘ways of working’ questions ready, so you can get up to speed quickly, and avoid any misaligned approaches. Don’t be afraid to share your own preferences too.