When asked about the downsides of being a project manager, some people would list long hours and substantial pressure. There’s no denying that the PM job may require you to make difficult calls or to log in…
Gig economy is on the rise. Within the last 5 years, 3.7 million new freelancers appeared on the US market alone. This trend is likely to continue going strong, as part-time working is especially popular among the younger employees. According to a 2018 survey by Upwork, 42% of US workers aged between 18 and 34 freelance.
Managing part-time employees and freelancers is a regular occurrence in the IT sector. While gig economy is getting more common in all industries, IT is still the freelance stronghold, with 33% of workers citing gig work as their primary or secondary source of income.
No wonder then that IT project managers are regularly tasked with leading teams composed of employees with different working schedules. While it can be seen as a challenge, there are several proven tactics to make managing part-time employees easier and more effective.
Note that this article focuses on the day-to-day management of employees: leading a project team, for example. In order to employ part-time employees in the first place, your whole company needs to be prepared culture- and process-wise.
For now, let’s focus on what you can do as a manager to create a positive and productive working environment for your part-time teammates.
Establish some ground rules
Some people see rule-setting as a sign of inflexible managerial style. In reality, however, employees themselves feel much better in a transparent working environment, where clear expectations are expressed.
Make sure to discuss the following aspects of work with your part-time employees:
- Any company-wide policies that concern your team.
- What is their role in the project? Who else is a part of the team?
- Main communication channels.
- Recurring meetings they should attend (in person or offline).
- Expected availability (should it overlap with team’s working hours?)
- How long in advance is their schedule to be planned?
- Work reporting & time tracking – how should they track their work?
Discussing such things upfront will limit potential misunderstandings further down the line.
Understand their schedule
In order to manage part-timers, you need to know when they’re available and for how long. It’s essential to create an availability calendar where your teammates can set their working hours. Depending on your agreement, they can fill it out themselves or ask for your approval of their schedule first.
Availability of part-time employees is a part of Teamdeck’s calendar. People with fixed part-time schedules can set rules for repeating their recurring availability.
There’s one more aspect to understanding your employee’s schedule. Part-timers work part-time for a reason. Some people want to have more time for their side hustles or personal matters. Others divide their workweek between different employers. It could be beneficial to understand your team member’s situation (without being too nosy, that is) and to what extent their schedule is flexible. This way, you’ll know better than to schedule a call that would interfere with their other duties.
Maintain an optimal workload
Knowing who is available and when makes work scheduling much easier. The next step is to plan their tasks in a way that matches their capacity and your project’s needs.
Sure, you should make sure that planned bookings don’t exceed your employee’s availability, but that’s only half of the job. The other one is to go through your project plan and investigate any dependencies between your part-timer’s tasks and the rest of the team’s duties. You don’t want to end up in a situation when the whole team is waiting for an asset that will be prepared by a freelance designer in a couple of days. You probably don’t expect that designer to work in their free time either (unless you’ve established that it’s ok for them to put in some extra hours).
Once the project is planned, you have to monitor the actual workload of your team members. It’s easier for people working in the office, but with part-timers working remotely it could be challenging to notice signs of under- or overutilization. This is why you’ll benefit from using tools and techniques that increase employee visibility. Time tracking, if implemented properly, is one such technique. It allows managers to understand the real workload of their team. Employees, on the other hand, feel that their efforts are being noticed.
Timesheets help project managers understand the actual utilization of their team. Overtime can be easily spotted thanks to the red bars.
At Teamdeck, we believe that optimal workload is one of three pillars of team happiness (the other ones being transparency and work-life balance). When you tick off all three, you can expect all of your employees, including part-timers and freelancers, to be happier with their workplace.
Make them a part of your team
Even if your employees’ work is meticulously planned and sufficiently analyzed, you still need to make them feel like a part of the team, if you want the project to go smoothly.
There are multiple ways to build a sense of camaraderie among your team members: from ice-breaking games to team retreats. You can’t forget, however, about including your part-time employees in the actual project lifecycle. They should be in the know about any updates and part of the decisions made by the team.
If there are project-wide meetings or workshops, make sure everyone is available to go. It often seems that freelancers’ and part-timers’ time is too precious to be spent on meetings: one can always brief them afterwards. If that’s the case, then perhaps that meeting is not needed in the first place and more people in the team are better off just receiving an update about it. Having people with varied availability on your team, may actually positively influence your team’s efficiency.
At its core, managing part-time employees is not that different from leading a team of full-time workers. In both cases smooth communication, mutual understanding and a dose of empathy will go a long way.
When it comes to freelancers and part-timers, however, you need to be extra attentive, as many issues may go unnoticed. It’s easy to miss an overworked employee if they’re not working in the office and their hours are not tracked. Make sure you utilize different ways of increasing employee visibility, in order to always stay on top of their current situation.