4 min read

Beware of contractor disengagement - don’t let things fizzle when they ought to sizzle

  • Business transformation

Will Larcombe

Co-founder and Director

“Quiet quitting” has crept into the workplace lexicon over the last couple of years. Coined to describe the notion of staff disengagement and ‘just going through the motions’, it’s a relatively new buzzword for an age-old problem.

Keeping every team member engaged has been a challenge for managers for as long as people have worked together in business. Even when a complete team of people is present together in an office it’s easy for resentments to grow from real or imaginary slights or oversights. The prevalence of today’s hybrid model of work in which employees vary their working location from day to day, has made it all much harder.

For project leaders whose teams are not only based in different places, but are also made up of in-house employees and external contractors, these challenges are doubled. The contractor vs permanent division is compounded by the online vs offline separation, making it even harder to keep your team motivated. To address this, we have outlined a few considerations to help make sure that nobody on your team – contractor or not - loses their fizz and enthusiasm.

Bring your contractors into the fold

Most large projects – particularly digital transformations - will include people brought in on a temporary basis. Few organisations have access to the full range of skills required for major projects among their permanent workforce. The task facing the project manager is to assimilate them fully into a single team.

Team building is certainly easier when people meet face to face, and organisations are increasingly encouraging and even insisting on a return to office working. But many contractors have chosen their job because it suits their preferred way of working – and sometimes that means the ability to work remotely, so offering a flexible or hybrid model might be the best approach.

By creating an environment in which external associates are made to feel at home, you are far more likely to encourage people to come in. Seat them among the permanent employees rather than banishing them to a back room. Ask them to join social get-togethers. And invite remote workers to join your regular team calls. Companies are often reluctant to spend money on contractor time that isn’t purely on project work, but informal conversations allow people to adapt to the culture of your organisation and understand the wider context of their work, so they don’t behave as if theirs is everyone’s one and only priority.

Keep communicating clearly

More important than physical location is ensuring that everyone is clear about their individual roles – and those of their colleagues. As a project manager the starting point should be to set clear expectations, define the parameters of every team member’s contribution and lay out your chosen methodology. Establishing these ground rules at the outset will avoid potential clashes between team members due to differing methods of working – and set a course towards a common objective. Visible short term milestones can help to create a sense of collective achievement that will build bonds between team members and encourage them to support one another when needed.

It's also important to keep communicating when you face bumps on the road. There are few things more demotivating to a team than being kept in the dark when it’s clear that something major is happening. Almost every long-term project will be affected by unforeseen circumstances that require a change in tactics. Sometimes the consequence of this will be a change in someone’s role. To ensure that this doesn’t damage morale by making someone feel redundant or under-utilised, ensure that any staff changes take place swiftly - and maintain a dialogue both with business managers and team members throughout the process.

Don’t neglect pastoral care

Just because some of your team aren’t permanent employees of your company, that doesn’t mean that you can neglect their wellbeing. It can be harder to spot when a contractor is losing motivation, but there are measures that you can take to avoid marginalising them. Lines of communication, accountability and reporting are crucial to prevent external associates feeling like outsiders and disengagement from creeping in.

If you are bringing in associates from a professional services provider, involve that company in the support and wellbeing of each individual they have placed with you. You should expect your partner organisation to be offering coaching and support to their associates and to be liaising with you regularly to identify any factors that are hindering progress. This will make it easier to detect and address any dissatisfaction that may be brewing.

Invest in your team

Whatever phrase we use to describe it, unhappiness in a team can destroy the best planned project. To achieve a successful business transformation you need not only to select the right line up of people, but also to establish a robust management framework that supports each individual team member. With clear communication, well defined goals and the right support from your external partners, you can succeed in keeping your team fired up from the beginning to the end of a project.

Ready. Set. Go.

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