Old-school team building involved pizza lunches, Christmas parties and maybe even the cliché trust game of falling backwards into a coworker’s arms. Nowadays, key team members might be in a different time zone or even another country. Shared pizza isn’t happening, and if your independent IT contractor falls backwards, he or she knows nobody is waiting to catch them. So how do you meld a traditional IT department with independent workers/contractors into one cohesive team? Here are some things to keep in mind.
Goals and Deliverables
Some managers are vague about what they expect, changing their minds from day to day. While this vexes onsite employees, it’s even worse for contractors. Independent IT contractors are juggling several clients. Be as specific as possible about deliverables and deadlines. Don’t verbally promise 40 hours of work and then only come through with 10. Make sure all deadlines are in writing. If dates change, notify your contractors immediately.
Communication and Feedback
Many contractors experience a great silence from the company – unless they fail to produce. But if they’re getting their work in on time and it’s adequate or better, the managers may not even comment. If you’re trying to build an IT team, this is a big mistake. Think about how you interact with onsite employees and coworkers. Informal feedback is a normal part of the day. But for the lone contractor across the city, state, country or globe, lack of comment is alienating. At the very least, acknowledge a deliverable with a, “Got it. Thanks!” How long did that take? Three seconds?
If the contractor’s work is not exactly what you wanted, try to convey where it’s coming up short. Contractors aren’t mind readers. And they usually work for many different bosses who want things done many different ways. Be clear about your needs and let contractors know if their work is sufficient, good, or needs improvement. And if so, spell out how.
Contractors appreciate that good communication is a balance between sufficient information sharing and time wasting. Managers that check in by email to make sure duties are clear and that objectives were received will be appreciated. But attempting to micromanage contractors from afar, or requiring them to participate in lengthy and irrelevant conference calls, will not be appreciated.
Try a social media channel, such as a closed Facebook group, for informal communication among team members. This will help relationship building and bonding. If contractors are local, invite them to brainstorming sessions or group social activities when possible.
Cultural Differences for Offshore IT
Many teams now include remote offshore IT contractors in India, the Philippines, or other far-flung places. Their lives may be very different than your employees’ as far as their housing, transportation, religion, family structure, career expectations and just about everything else. Be respectful. Try to keep assumptions to a minimum. Be aware of important holidays in other countries and try to accommodate your contractors’ desire to participate in religious or family events at these times.
Sometimes a company knows a project’s end date but hesitates to inform the contractor. Maybe you’re afraid they’ll bolt and leave you stranded. If you know your project has an end date, give the contractor fair warning. This transparency will help build your relationship and develop trust if you want to call contractors back for future projects.
Motivation and Acknowledgement
So how do you motivate your team of contractors and employees? For one, by acknowledging when things go well. Don’t wait until something goes wrong to talk to your contractor.
Everybody enjoys tangible rewards, such as money or gift cards. You could give these as bonuses when certain goals are reached.
Contractors also appreciate less tangible rewards. Don’t underestimate the power of simply acknowledging that contractors are doing a good job and saying thank you. If you feel strongly about the contractor’s competence, you can offer to serve as a reference. And if you later hear of suitable openings for somebody with the contractor’s skill set, he will definitely appreciate a heads up.
Remember the Golden Rule
Offsite contractors – especially ones you’ve never met in person — are easy to overlook. But remember they’re just as human as your onsite employees. Treat them with respect, because it’s the right thing to do. And also because you never know what the future will bring. In a rapidly shifting business world, maybe one day you’ll be the contractor and that faceless person who’s working on your projects will be your boss. And then you’ll be really, really glad you built a team and formed a good relationship with them.