Creating a Better Onboarding Experience for External Workers

Onboarding external workers can be a tricky puzzle for contingent workforce program leads. Not only do the rules need to be followed to avoid co-employment issues, but you still want to ensure smooth processes that offer a great experience reflective of your employer brand. Notably, about 40% of organizations fail to adequately onboard and integrate newly hired non-employees, according to research by industry analyst Josh Bersin.

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External worker onboarding is broken and dehumanizing.

The balancing act you have as a program lead between your legal obligations, project KPIs, and contingent workers can leave you feeling torn or, worse, confused. These conflicting needs often result in a less-than-optimal onboarding process. But it’s important to remember that you’re not just dealing with a process. You’re dealing with a person or several people.

“Successful onboarding requires collaboration between all partners. The contingent workforce is complex because a recruiting agency, a staffing partner, a managed service provider (MSP), the client team, and the hiring manager are all involved. It’s almost like a hot potato of one group passing it to another with nobody caring once they’re out of the picture,” according to David Sun, Strategic Sourcing Manager at Salesforce

By leaning too much on a transactional and legalistic view, you may find yourself compartmentalizing the worker out of fear of crossing a line. This results in several issues:

  • Impact on Worker Longevity: If you focus too heavily on procurement metrics such as right-time and right-costs, you end up treating people like cogs in a machine. And hence, workers may feel disengaged and dehumanized through the onboarding process. This impacts your brand, and it also may lead to workers leaving or switching roles which create additional expenses and leaves a gap in the process. 
  • Impact on Worker Productivity: A slow or non-existent onboarding process can also lead to reduced project speed. If non-employees miss information crucial to their role, their productivity will lapse and drag out the project timeline. A fair onboarding process can alleviate this entirely, getting the worker up and running quickly and efficiently with minimal interruption.
  • Impact on Employer Brand: Additionally, your brand may suffer fallout as the external worker feels left adrift once “hired.” At first, it seemed like multiple people were conversing with them; then, suddenly, it seemed as if no one was. Many workers, employees, and non-employees alike leave reviews and ratings on Glassdoor and other employment sites. A less-than-satisfactory onboarding experience could result in negative reviews from external workers. And this can have a substantial impact on your talent brand and reputation.

To combat this, make external workers feel like they matter with a well-rounded onboarding experience. What distinguishes a company with people-centric values “is that human factor, the feeling [of being] welcomed into the company,” Sun says. “It’s an opportunity to brand your company...because they’re going to be spending time – whether it’s six months, 12 months, or more – at the company.”

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What can program leads do to improve onboarding for nonemployees?

Because of the complexities involved with the contingent workforce, it can be challenging to create standardized onboarding procedures. With so many functions all touching the worker at some point, but not one single-point-of-contact, the process becomes muddied. 

There are multiple layers, and it takes everyone working together collaboratively to make it work. From a program management perspective, it’s imperative to be very clear and consistent with policies and procedures.

To start streamlining onboarding for external workers, you need to align between the MSP and the contingent workforce program and between the contingent workforce program and the hiring manager.

Defining the onboarding experience for nonemployees

To improve the onboarding experience, the MSP can take a more active role in collaborating with other groups because they have the most communication. Additionally, once the worker is onboarded, client teams can play a role in checking in to show the worker they have support. 

Modern technology platforms that support multi-actor workflows, such as Utmost Extended Workforce System (EWS), allow for this type of collaboration seamlessly and effortlessly. They facilitate interactions between different parties, meaning that each party (MSP, Enterprise, and the Workers themselves) can complete tasks based on configurable workflows. 

By instituting a structured onboarding procedure for non-employees, you can prove to workers that you’re treating them with respect.

Defining a standard onboarding procedure for employees and non-employees

It’s essential to create a streamlined experience for both employees and nonemployees. Yes, certain aspects will only apply to employees. For example, benefits such as healthcare, PTO, etc., are strictly for employees only. 

Here are a few items that can remain relatively consistent across the board:

  • Provisioning: Facilities and systems access and invites to meetings should be granted as needed
  • Orientation: An orientation introducing the company and job role within
  • Utmost Workflows: Avoid using static checklists. Automate onboarding processes for employees using Workday and Utmost.
  • Company history, mission and vision, core values, and direction/goals: This helps ensure the worker performs work according to its needs.
  • Company handbooks: Handbooks should have info for both employees and external workers with areas marked for each type of worker to avoid confusion and the associated risk

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And remember, for some employers, these workers are a vital source of future full-time employees. Instituting structured onboarding, regular communication, and socialization with employees will help ensure that external workers have a better experience at the company, making them want to stay on. 

As a program manager, you have a great deal of input on creating a more streamlined program and experience for the enterprise and workers. Communication is critical, and technology supporting how work is done can help pave the way to a better onboarding experience for your external workforce.

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