The Blended Workforce: How to Effectively Blend Workers—Like Whiskey

by Laura MacLeod, LMSW

Is a blended workforce like blended whiskey? In my bartending days I learned that a blended whiskey was a mix of the best qualities of the best scotch flavors. So it follows that the blended workforce mixes the best qualities of the best workers. Sounds like a recipe for success, but it may not be that simple (blended whiskeys are very complex).

Whiskey

Today’s blended workforce consists of freelancers mixed in with full time, permanent employees, working together on the same project or team. The blended diversity of talent, experience, and expertise should create a superior product.

But how exactly does this work? The theory fails to consider the workers themselves—how they will relate and connect to each other, leadership and hierarchy, expectations and commitment, and physical presence (or lack thereof).

Freelancers are ‘free’—meaning not tied directly to the company, not physically present on a daily basis, and not around for the long haul. Permanent employees are exactly the opposite—directly tied to the company, present daily, and around for the duration. This huge difference can easily cause miscommunication, rifts, and conflict within a blended team.

So what can be done? The key to success here is planning—specific direction and purpose spelled out and shared with workers before the blended team begins. This thoughtful preparation lays the groundwork for success by clarifying exactly what needs to happen for all. Here are a few tips on how to plan effectively:

1. Who Is in Charge?

Leadership of the team needs to be crystal clear. When combining freelancers and permanent employees, this is especially important, since freelancers have no association with the culture of the company and do not know the players or accepted protocol. Egos are at stake, too.

Full time workers may resent the new hot shot freelancer coming in to take over for a few weeks, and freelancers may feel they’re expert in their field and should take the lead. Supervisors need to consider these dynamics when choosing a leader, then share with the team the reason for the choice and spell out the boundaries of the leadership. Making this clear sets the stage for a strong structure to the work and gets everyone on the same page right from the start.

2. What Are the Expectations?

For freelancers, expectations include: days/times physically present at the company, hours working on the project offsite, and communication strategies (phone, Skype, e-mail, etc).

  • Meetings and attendance—when and how freelance and full-time workers will connect to check in and measure progress.
  • Training and support—who will get freelancers and new full-time employees up to speed and ensure inclusion and assistance along the way?

Supervisor needs to think through these issues and propose a plan. Ask for feedback from the team to resolve potentially thorny issues. For example, time is set for a weekly meeting, but the time may not be convenient or optimal for all. By welcoming feedback and allowing the team to work this out (with your guidance) models problem solving and constructive resolution.

3. What Happens If … ?

Encourage team members to connect, and seek each other out, for much needed support and problem solving. This means creating time when the whole team is present together to share and work through concerns. The question: What happens if …?—should be welcomed.

Consider worst case scenarios, problems and conflicts that might arise. Both freelance and full-time workers may be anxious about physical presence or communication: What happens if I can’t reach Joe for a crucial decision? What if Jane misses the meeting—how will she get caught up? Working through and considering options for these problems promotes cohesion and security—everyone on the same page together.

Following these tips is the start to forming a strong blended workforce. Just like blended whiskey, you will bring out the best in the workers, mix effectively, and create a superior team.

Laura MacleodFollowing her transition from union employee to hourly worker, Laura Macleod created “From the Inside Out Project®” with all levels of employment in mind to assist in maintaining a harmonious workplace. As an HR expert, Laura teaches conflict resolution, problem-solving, and listening skills using an innovative method that addresses the human interactive challenges. Her methods have proven successful in various industries including the fields of business, hospitality, retail, and banking.

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