Companies can afford to be a little patient when bringing full-time employees on board, allowing time for orientation and a learning curve. When a firm hires virtual contractors, from designers, to web developers, to virtual assistants, new team members are usually expected to jump right in and make a contribution. Even with experienced hires, this can lead to problems and misunderstandings. Contractors can be left without a clear understanding of company goals, processes and expectations. This creates a pretty significant risk for poor job performance, high turnover, and a higher than usual percentage of redone or rejected work.

“To the degree that people know what’s expected, to the same degree can they succeed.”
– Kurt Einstein, Recruiting and Hiring Expert

Reducing the learning curve for a new contractor requires a team approach, one that might involve management, human resources, full-time employees and even other contractors. For small businesses and solopreneurs it will mean factoring in time for you, as the business owner, to be available to answer questions, and write guidelines and instructions. While every organization will need a unique approach, these suggestions can serve as a starting point to get new virtual contractors up-to-speed and on-the-job quickly and effectively:

  1. Standardize and document work procedures that virtual contractors should follow. The document set can include things like job descriptions, work expectations, computer usage rules and company policies. If this seems like a daunting task, consider enlisting the contractors help – set aside time for them to interview you and ask questions and then have them document procedures, and maintain them as part of their role. The investment in creating procedure manuals will be returned many times over as you hire future fractional workers.
  2. Designate long-term contractors or permanent employees as team leaders. These leaders would take responsibility for helping contractors learn their roles. Team leaders can answer new contractor’s questions, and introduce them to their job duties. One effective technique allows the new workers to shadow their experienced teammates during the first few days on the job.
  3. Avoid hiring a virtual contractor using full-time ‘on-site’ standards. The qualifications a company uses to hire full-time employees are naturally affected by the company’s culture, a desire to retain employees, and perhaps an assessment of the prospect’s leadership potential. These factors are much less important with virtual contractors. What matters more: having experience that translates directly to the job role, so the new worker can start producing quickly, strong communication skills, and clear evidence of reliability.
  4. Develop a checklist for onboarding virtual contractors. The checklist should include specific steps like obtaining VPN access, setting up e-mail accounts, and having the necessary job documentation prepared. Here’s a generic example:
    • Does the contractor have the technology, computer access, job resources, and information needed to start work quickly?
    • Does the contractor have a contact person for initial training and questions?
    • Is there adequate documentation for the work processes and company procedures the contractor will be expected to follow?
    • Has the contractor been provided with documentation on processes and procedures?
    • Have job expectations and performance standards been communicated?
    • Has the contractor successfully used this knowledge and skill previously? If not, have arrangements been made for additional training or job shadowing.
  5. Give and get feedback. Keep in touch with both virtual contractors and if pertinent their staffing agencies. Your virtual staff can help you determine which parts of your onboarding efforts are working and also help you see where confusion or delays persist.
  6. Review your efforts regularly. If the work permits you to check productivity, track whether contractors reach acceptable standards sooner. These efforts will help you identify additional areas where improvement can be made.