Tips to StopTemporary Workers From Causing Permanent Headaches?

Last Updated Oct 14, 2010 4:43 PM EDT

According to a recent Career Builder/USA Today study, the number of temporary workers finding work is growing fast. In fact 22% of hiring managers say they plan to bring on more temps. What does this mean to those of us who manage remote teams? Potential problems if we don't act to bring them on board, get them up to speed and convince them to stick around as long as we need them.

Oh, before the posts start about how the problem is the use of temps as opposed to long time workers, understand this: I'm not suggesting this is a good thing or a bad thing, just the reality many of us are forced to work with. In a perfect world we'd have all the permanent staff we can use with zero turnover. When we get there let me know.

Until then, getting any newbie up to speed is tough. The job is made even more complicated when they're not in the same place you are. You can't just have them sit next to an experienced hand and learn at their feet. Additionally, you can't call them all in together and meet with them over coffee like you can in a traditional workplace. Here are some tips for getting that new bunch of workers up to speed and producing quickly.

  • Introduce them to the rest of the team in a hurry. The fact that they're temporary workers, means they might not be around long but you need them learning and producing fast. They need to know who else is on the team, their roles and their specialties (so they don't have to run to you for all their information). You also want existing team members to know the newbies and what they're capable of. These introductions can take the form of email introductions, but conference calls or web meetings (maybe with the person on webcam) are even better. The sooner people are comfortable turning to each other the faster work gets done and the less time you spend running interference.
  • These introductions are more than just their name and function. You want their new teammates to both know what your new folks are supposed to do. You want them to trust it will get done and reach out. Among other things it's important that people know: what their role is, what experience they have, what help they'll need. You can also speed up the outreach from the team if you include their experience and background, some fun personal information (you never know, someone else on the team might bond with them over their baseball card collection!) and where they are.
  • Make sure newbies know the communication plan. You do have a communication plan right? Each really high-performing remote team has a communication plan or charter in place. This says when and how people should communicate, with which tools, and expectations around turn-around time on email and returned phone calls. Make sure that the temps know the plan and abide by it themselves. There's nothing like fast turnaround on communication to get you accepted on the team.
  • Don't just tell them what they're supposed to do- tell them why. Just because they're temporary workers doesn't mean they aren't smart and capable. Give them the context of the tasks you set out for them and you'll be amazed how fast they become competent contributors. Don't give them anything other than tasks and you'll find yourself having to micromanage them. That's no fun for anyone.
  • Teach them where to find answers. You want your temporary workers to rely on you....but not for everything. Make sure they know where to find the information they need on shared drives and websites. They should also know the other members of the team and their respective areas of expertise. Just like in a real team there are people on the team who know the ins-and-outs, and often you won't know that from looking at an organization chart.
  • Include them in group activities and discussions as quickly as possible. It's tempting to treat temporary workers as outsiders. First, it makes it easier to say goodbye, but that also keeps the relationship purely transactional. There are three good reasons to treat your temps like part of the family: 1) People dedicate more of their discretionary effort to people and organizations they feel an emotional connection with. 2) The sooner everyone gets to know everyone else the faster trust builds and communication barriers (ranging from not knowing who knows what to plain old shyness) fall. Lastly, 3) these people are free agents, and you want them to choose to stick around so you don't have to get someone else broken in. At the risk of sounding cynical just because a job is temporary it doesn't mean you could have someone new tackle it every day.
By treating temporary workers like the rest of your team you'll not only get more and better work from them, but will encourage them to stick around if a permanent position comes open, or if another chance to work with you arises in the future.

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photo by flickr user Sara G CC 2.0