4 Tips for Easier Collaboration with Contractors
4 tips for easier collaboration with contractors
Having independent contractors at companies of all sizes is the new normal. Busy seasons demand extra bandwidth, full-time employees take temporary leave or unique/temporary roles need to be filled.
Whatever the reason, getting support from contractors can provide scale, flexibility and specialized skills to your team—which is why their popularity continues to grow. For example, 51 percent of companies say their need for contingent workers will continue to grow within the next three to five years. Alongside, the talent pool is changing to match this trend: By 2020, 43 percent of the U.S. workforce will be freelancers.
Finding the right contractor for the right job is only the first step. They’ll likely be working outside of your office, but will still need to rely on the resources your internal teams use daily. If you want to enable your contractors to do their best work, you need to ensure they have the right tools to collaborate with your internal teams.
Here are four tips to set your independent contractors up for success:
Make it easy for your contractors to stay in touch. Set up technology that allows them to communicate with and get to know your internal teams. This can (and should) come in the form of many tools, so they can choose the ones they prefer. Enable them to send instant messages to anyone in the company. Promote the use of video conferencing and screen sharing for efficient collaboration. Not only will this increase productivity, but it will allow full-time employees and contractors to build more personal relationships with face-to-face communication.
Will your independent contractor be working across several teams or projects? If so, then you may want to consider a chat-based workspace—not just for them, but also for the rest of your team. They shouldn’t struggle to keep up with dozens of private instant messages about similar projects. Instead, get them on a threaded group chat that allows for more organized web-based collaboration.
#2—share files with ease
Depending on when and where your contractors work, coordinating across time zones and locations may be a factor in their success. Avoid a situation where a contractor is stuck waiting for a team member to come online to gain access to files. Instead, opt for cloud-based file sharing and storing. That way, contractors can get the files and documents they need around the clock to get the job done. And with permission settings, you can restrict and permit access to the specific files an independent contractor needs, and revoke access when a contract ends.
#3—stay on the same page
Enhance collaboration with the ability to co-author (edit and work) on the same online documents. It’ll prevent excessive back-and-forth on email between team members. Digital files automatically sync and update over the internet, so your team is always looking at the most up-to-date version. And since your files live in the cloud, you’ll always know who made the last edit and can review and revoke changes if you ever need to go back to an older version.
#4—secure your data
Security may not always be top of mind for your employees and contractors—but it is for you and your IT team. Strike a balance between giving your extended team what they need while retaining control over your company’s data. The file access you give to your freelancers doesn’t need to last forever. When their contract is over, simply revoke access remotely. Even if your independent contractor has used their own device to access your data, cloud-based tools can delete your company’s files from that device.
With the right technology and infrastructure, independent contractors can become an effective extension of your team. Forget disruptions, lost files or a lack of security. The right tools can solve those problems and help your teams do their best work.
How play can make you more innovative and productive at work
How play can make you more innovative and productive at work
At first glance, the MIT programmers may have looked like just a bunch of gamers goofing off, as they fired spaceship torpedoes in a video game they built.
But more than 50 years later, their 1960s game “Spacewar” has become a milestone in the development of computers, with its then-radical idea of using a controller to manipulate an icon in a graphical interface.
“Shooting your opponent in space may have looked like a waste of time or just a playful activity, but it led to a powerful piece of software that changed the history of computing,” says Steven Johnson, author of several books on innovation that have landed on the New York Times best-sellers list.
Johnson’s latest book, “Wonderland: How Play Made the Modern World,” continues his study of human creativity by exploring how having fun can lead to revolutionary ideas. Leading up to the book’s launch in November, Johnson is also hosting a 10-part podcast series in partnership with Microsoft.
The series, which began Monday, investigates the link between play and creativity and includes such guests as Whole Earth Catalog founder Stewart Brand and The New Yorker music critic Alex Ross. The first episode tells the story of computer pioneer Charles Babbage encountering a mechanical doll as a young child, a playful moment that sparked his brilliant career as an inventor.
“I started to reflect on how many important ideas in history initially came out of people playing around with things for the fun of it, or exploring new experiences for a sense of wonder and delight and amusement,” says Johnson. His books include “Everything Bad is Good for You,” “Where Good Ideas Come From” and “How We Got to Now,” which was also an Emmy-winning TV series that Johnson co-created and hosted.
“Wonderland” covers a range of subjects, from the spice trade and shopping to public spaces and games, with fascinating, detailed examples. In a chapter on musical instruments, Johnson highlights a ninth-century flute toy from Baghdad that played different songs through interchangeable cylinders, showing how it was both entertaining curio and pioneering invention.
“It was the first time anybody dreamed of the idea of a programmable machine. It’s really the first moment in history where the difference between hardware and software suddenly became imaginable,” he says. The idea of programmability later enriched computational devices in the 19th century and became a bedrock computing principle in the 20th century.
“It’s an example of an incredibly important idea that began in play, in song and music and amusement,” Johnson says. “Play is a very profound predictor of future developments.”
But for today’s organizations, integrating time for play can be a tradeoff between deadlines and deliverables. A recent survey by Johnson and Microsoft found that 70 percent of U.S. employees feel more energized and productive when they have time to “play” at work, yet only 31 percent say their organizations encourage this time during the work day.
Johnson says businesses can incorporate play by creating lively work environments, encouraging fun and recognizing the importance of hobbies outside of work. Some companies also set aside time for employees to share non-job interests, which might include music, art or volunteer work.
“It’s emotionally interesting and builds team camaraderie,” says Johnson. “It’s also often that an outside idea sparks a new thought. If you’re focused on a problem exclusively within the terms of that problem, it’s very hard to break out of that mindset.”
Play is a very profound predictor of future developments.
A workspace’s physical features also affect creativity, and many companies – startups and tech organizations in particular – have incorporated games and cool hangouts that foster a playful atmosphere.
“There’s a reason to have a pool table and a fun, coffee-shop-like environment, instead of a bunch of conference rooms and cubicles. They’re not just perks; they make people more creative and innovative,” Johnson says. They also spark what he calls “serendipitous connections.”
For Microsoft, the concept of play is embedded in the company’s culture, from the annual //oneweek Hackathon event — a celebration of employee innovation — to an ethos that encourages employees to “bring their ‘whole selves’ to work,” says Dona Sarkar, who leads the community for Microsoft’s Windows Insider Program.
A few weeks ago, funny discussions about togas and lightsabers helped her bond with her partner marketing team, whom she discovered has always embraced individual interests from silly to serious. Using the interests for goodwill and good ideas, the team’s friendly dynamic enables risk-taking and creativity, while personal passions have led to important projects.
One team member, Ursula Hildenbrand, mentioned her volunteer work with elderly people, prompting Windows Insider marketing lead, Jeremiah Marble, and the team to launch a program that teaches technology to senior citizens with help from high school students.
The Windows Insider Community team has fun with togas and lightsabers. The team includes (from left) Joe Camp, Cheryl Sanders, Blair Glennon, Tyler Ahn, Dona Sarkar, Derek Haynes, Thomas Trembly, Manik Rane (kneeling), Ursula Hildenbrand, Joan Steelquist and Seth Rubinstein. (Photo by Dan DeLong).
“When we bring our whole selves to work, we’re able to solve problems for bigger groups of customers,” says Sarkar. “When you introduce humor and levity, it breaks up boundaries between people. It helps co-workers become friends. You can bring up all these creative ideas, and we can riff on them and make them even better.”
As a veteran engineer and manager, Sarkar has always encouraged her teams to leave the office and work together in a coffee shop, park or mall. She often bonds with co-workers while traveling for work and says a few hours with colleagues away from the normal grind can help people open up — and ultimately be more creative.
“When you remove yourself from the office, you stop being ‘Office Person’ and you start being the human being that you are,” Sarkar says.
The advice echoes Johnson’s and Microsoft’s research, which found that more than half of employees reported that their new ideas are triggered while hanging out with friends, doing something playful or even taking a shower — anywhere, it seemed, but at work.
“Sometimes, the best ideas come from stepping away from the problem you’re working on and entering that more playful state,” Johnson says. “And letting your mind explore a more experimental mode.”