When employees start working from home, do they begin feeling more like contractors than employees? There is a wide variation in how people relate to their employer, however, let’s run with the assumption that remote workers will feel a bit like contractors and see where it takes us.
The reasons why a newly remote employee might feel their relationship with an employer is becoming weaker are easy to identify. One is that the workplace is now their home, not someone’s else property. As well, the lack of physical proximity and social relationships with co-workers reinforces that sense of separateness.
We might worry that this loss of connection will create problems until we recognize that we’ve used contractors for years and those relationships typically worked out quite well. Maybe the employee who feels like a contractor will be as good or better than the old style employee.
How is the contractor mindset different from the employee mindset?
The essential difference in mindset between a contractor and employee is that the contractor believes the company owes them nothing more than professional courtesy and a paycheque. The contractor does not expect the company to re-hire them, to promote them, to worry about their wellness, or enable their development. It is strictly a relationship between two businesses.
This may sound like the contractor has lost a great deal, however, in my experience contractors don’t think that way. They take responsibility for their own development and their strategy for remaining employed is to offer a valuable service in a professional way. The contractor’s freedom and escape from office politics more than offset any disadvantages.
An employee, who starts working remotely, and gradually shifts to a contractor mindset, will begin to see the company is a different light. Luckily for them, unlike contractors, they’ll get regular paychecks and some nice benefits.
Implications for managers
The main difference in managing a contractor, rather than managing an employee, is that the needed output is more clearly defined. An employee can be at their manager’s beck and call. A contractor works to deliver some agreed-upon services in an agreed-upon time frame.
I’d expect remote employees to begin to push back against the “beck and call” style of management. They’ll want to have something more like a “results-only work environment” (ROWE) where what they need to do is fairly clear cut. The ROWE approach can be a good idea at any time, not just when it’s forced upon managers by a change in circumstance. If remote work leads organizations to the discipline of ROWE that’s by no means a bad thing. It’s worth noting that contractors do flex with the changing demands of a project. It’s not like everything is in black and white on a piece of paper. Nonetheless, flexing only goes so far. It’s about shifting management style in the direction of more planning and more clarity about deliverables.
Organizations need to be aware that as time passes workers who have become mainly remote may start feeling differently about the company. They may feel more like contractors who have a short-term professional relationship with the company, not employees who are part of the ‘family.’.
This shift in attitude is not necessarily a bad thing. It does require more discipline in management. This increased discipline should not be hard to adopt since many managers already have experience using contractors. However, managers do need to recognize they may need to change.