A well-thought-out onboarding process plays an important part in bolstering your employer brand for contingent workers. In fact, this first step sets the tone for their entire experience with your organization.

Even in the current remote-work environment, there are ways CW managers can ensure their onboarding process sets the right tone.

Northwestern Mutual has successfully onboarded more than 1,000 contingents remotely during the Covid-19 pandemic, including a record number of people in April directly after the shutdown hit. Nancy Maren, assistant director, contingent workforce, attributes its onboarding success to cross-functional partnerships with many different internal groups.

“IT becomes your best friend, right?” she says. “The folks that actually ship our laptops, those that grant and set up access for our individuals, and really strong partnerships with our managers and suppliers.”

But remote onboarding involves more than shipping equipment and providing log-ins. New contingents need structured guidance for their first day including, when to log in and the best time and way to communicate with their manager.

“The old, ‘show up at the building at 8:00’ now becomes ‘log into your machine at some point and we will connect,’” Maren explains.

Here are some tips to improve your onboarding processes:

Prepare your perm workers: If possible, inform your employees ahead of time that a temporary worker is joining their team, why they are needed and for how long. This can assuage fears about job security. Encourage them to be welcoming to the new person. Some firms have a buddy program that matches established perm workers with new temporary workers to help them feel welcome and be available for quick questions that may pop up during the day.

Decentralize: Onboarding for contingent workers requires a more decentralized approach than for new perm staff, including more flexible timetables. While permanent employees can start work as a group on the same day of the week with a HR person dedicated to the onboarding process, those in a flexible workforce may need to begin their shifts on different days of the week with onboarding often left to the individual’s direct manager. Adaptability is required from all involved and to run smoothly, proper onboarding requires frequent communication between all departments and individuals involved with the worker.

Contingent ‘concierge’: Maren’s team at Northwestern Mutual recently dedicated a staff member as “contingent concierge,” who is responsible for anything that affects the onboarding experience. When a requisition is filled, the concierge makes sure the contingent worker is provided with a computer and necessary materials or access. This person can also answer questions, troubleshoot concerns and act as a liaison between the new contingent, the company and the staffing firm or recruiter.

Consistency: A contingent workforce is, by definition, flexible. Still, an onboarding program should be as consistent and seamless as possible. Work with all stakeholders to put clear and well-thought-out procedures and policies in place. This will alleviate confusion and save valuable time.

When a contingent worker is properly onboarded, they feel engaged with and connected to the organization. They are more motivated to work hard, finish their assignment and — most important — return for additional work and recommend the company to others. Even informal referrals from your contingents can help you attract the right talent. Done correctly, it is a process that will pay dividends far down the road.