It's Mental Health Awareness Week - this year's theme is 'loneliness', an issue which affects a large proportion of freelancers. Whilst the individual freelance can do lots of things to build their own support network, clients and employers can play a significant role in helping freelancers to feel more connected and more supported.
Leapers recently started working with digital innovation agency Gravity Road to provide support and signposting for their freelancers' mental health. We spoke to Matthew Cook, Culture Partner about what else they do to support their external team-members.
Hey Matthew, thanks for chatting with us. Freelancers have a broad and diverse set of skillsets - what types of freelancers do Gravity Road work with, and why do you choose to work with freelancers?
We work with all types! Creatives, designers, producers, AR developers, you name it. Sometimes it might be for holiday cover or short-term projects. Sometimes we need a specialist skill that we don't have in-house. And there are some freelancers that are more like permalancers and part of the family!
As we know, supporting freelancers is beneficial to their mental health, but also to the quality of work they deliver for you as a client - what are some of the ways in which you onboard and support your freelancers to feel part of the team?
We're conscious that often freelancers are parachuted into a company with very little context or support so we try to onboard them into our way of working and help them settle in. But we also know that some people are freelancers because they want that separation from a company so it's about finding that balance and giving ways for freelancers to opt in further if they choose.
We use a Slackbot called Donut to help onboard new hires by gently introducing them to new people and aspects of the company. Typically this is over 30 days but we have a specific shortened week-long program for freelancers which offers useful tips and advice for them. They can click through the links to our guidebook to learn more or ignore the messages if they want to. We induct them into the softer cultural side of how we work such as lunch hours, honouring boundaries, and the labyrinth of Slack channels. We also have a note about mental health as often it's even more difficult for freelancers to speak up if they're struggling.
I don't imagine that every freelancer needs or wants the same support or structure though - what challenges have you found when trying to support freelancers?
I'd say the most challenging part is finding the balance between offering useful support and stepping back so they can just get on with it. Some people love being invited to our All Company Meetings and feeling part of the company whilst others just want to do the work and leave (which is totally fine!)
Another challenge is ensuring that freelancers don't fall through the gaps in terms of manager support. Whilst they might not require the same level of manager 121s or learning and development chats, manager support is still crucial. So an important part of the process is defining their manager and making sure the freelancer knows who to chat to if they have a problem or question. This has become more difficult now that we're remote-first and freelancers can't just look up from their desk to chat to someone so it is something we need to make sure we especially focus on.
Why do Gravity Road think that taking time to support freelancers matters?
We've worked with freelancers since our inception and many freelancers have become permanent employees. We believe in Time Well Spent and want to create an environment where everyone can do their best work. Everyone's time here should be time well spent - and that goes for freelancers as well as permanent employees. The shape and amount of support might look different for a freelancer than a full-time employee but the sentiment behind it is the same: whether someone is with us for 1 day, 1 month or 1 year we want them to leave feeling that Gravity Road was a great place to work where they were able to create some of their best work.
Thanks to Matthew Cook for sharing some of the fantastic efforts being made to integrate freelancers in to their agency's outputs, not just during Mental Health Awareness Week, but all year round. If your organisation works with freelancers, and you're interested in becoming more Freelance Friendly, join our growing community of businesses who work well with the self-employed.