An agency’s talent is one of its greatest assets. To strengthen your agency’s culture, you likely spend a lot of time finding the perfect fit for your team, building talent pools, and promoting connectedness.

While you want a team comprised of people who understand and easily collaborate with each other, you also want people who are independent and good at completing specific tasks. How do you marry these two ideas together?

The solution is to hire remote and contract workers and foster deep relationships with them. This means working with these individuals on a consistent basis, learning more about their motivations and goals, and inviting them to become part of your culture. Treating remote and contract workers more like team members will encourage great work and give them a reason to stick around.

You might think that only a full-time, on-site employee can handle your agency’s work, but the reality is that remote and contract workers may have more specialized knowledge than your current team. By making space for these workers in your agency, you increase the ability to tackle more clients, projects, and types of deliverables. You just have to be willing to adjust your practices.

Here’s what you can do to incorporate remote and contract workers into your agency’s culture:

Reconsider Your Definition of “Team Member”

When done correctly, agencies can hire amazing talent at lower costs by seeking out affordable contract workers. According to an Upwork Survey, 60 million Americans did freelance work in 2022, and that number will only continue to grow as more of the workforce seeks out gig work over traditional 9-to-5 jobs. Because they’re typically contracted on an as-needed basis, their expertise is focused on a few key areas. Developers — people who fill a specialized, highly technical role — are a prime example.

The problem is that agency owners often think of these workers as task-doers, not team members. This narrow mindset doesn’t work; it doesn’t create the essential, community-forming connective tissue between these workers and the rest of the agency. If you’re not careful, this outlook can stretch to remote workers, too. Unless they’re directly involved with a specific aspect of the business, remote and contract workers often have no relationship whatsoever with full-time, on-site employees.

Many agency owners don’t realize that you can make your remote and contract workers actual team members rather than people to whom you just assign tasks. Similarly, it sometimes doesn’t occur to owners that remote and contract workers shouldn’t be treated differently from full-time, on-site employees. By being inclusive and referring to everyone as a team member, you build rapport and keep remote and contract workers from leaving. After all, when people feel a sense of belonging to a larger group, they’re more motivated to do their best and stay engaged.

Understand the Value of One-on-One Meetings

One of the best ways to build relationships with remote and contract workers is to have managers schedule weekly one-on-one check-ins with them. All parties benefit from setting aside time to go over key performance indicator progress, talk about personal lives, and build relationships. The better the communication, the better each person understands how well the team is meeting its goals.

Depending on your company culture, you might keep these one-on-one meetings organic, or you might offer starter questions to get the discussion going. Consider questions like these:

  • What are you happiest about from the last month?
  • What did you struggle with most in the last month?
  • What do you think we could do more?
  • What should we start doing?
  • What should we stop doing?
  • Where do you need the most support from managers or your team over the next month?

These types of questions reveal a lot about remote and contract workers’ jobs, their attitudes toward work, and their progress toward their goals.

Prioritize Your Culture Above All

You know you need to be inclusive of remote and contract workers, but that’s often more easily said than done. The missing link here is your inclusion efforts; they must permeate every aspect of your culture.

A sense of belonging contributes heavily to a worker’s tenure at an agency. If remote and contract workers like an agency’s culture and feel that they’re part of a team of smart, funny, eclectic people, they’ll want to continue working with that agency. Most agencies have baked into their culture a “work hard, play hard” mentality. They socialize and do things together outside of work. But how do you do that with remote workers? How do you successfully build a culture when everyone isn’t under the same roof?

For starters, ensure you’re selecting remote and contract workers who want to be part of your culture long-term. With remote workers, emphasize that this is a career and that the worker will be a team member. If you require a full-time commitment from contractors, but some candidates want to have multiple freelance assignments at once, determine whether they’re willing to commit to that. Be direct. Make it clear that you need their focus.

In addition to meetings, offer remote and contract workers the opportunity to attend social events and happy hours as appropriate. If possible, fly these workers out at least once a year to get the entire team together in the same physical location.

Redefining Agency Work

Pre-pandemic, remote workers were the exception and not the rule. Agencies would seldom grant an employee who could not remain part of their in-person teams the ability to work remotely. Then, in a period of a few short months, virtually everyone became a remote worker. Now that the agency world has been upended, many owners are considering how remote and contract work fits into their strategies.

While bringing on remote and contract workers can be challenging, you can make it much more pleasant and efficient by developing a sense of community within your agency. Whether you’re hiring remote workers in another state, contract workers across the country, or consultants across the globe, you’ll find success by fostering an inclusive, team-oriented culture.

Drew McLellan

For over 30 years, Drew McLellan has been in the advertising industry. For 26 of those years, he has owned and run an agency. Additionally, Drew leads the Agency Management Institute, which advises hundreds of small- to medium-sized advertising agencies on how to grow and build their profitability through agency owner peer networks, consulting, workshops, and more.

View all posts by Drew McLellan