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Excited for your new gig, you eagerly log in for your first day. For the first 90 minutes, no one is sure who you are and what you are doing there until HR reaches out. You are sent several documents about the company to review, and a checklist of policies to read and sign. By lunchtime, you are still not sure what you are supposed to be working on or who to reach out to. Excitement has been sliding downhill since you logged in, and only continues its rapid descent as the day unfolds.

Unfortunately, this is a typical snapshot of gig worker’s first day on the job. Many organizations figure a gig worker is there for the short term – so why invest much in onboarding them?

This is the wrong approach to take for multiple reasons. To begin, your organization is likely to hire more gig workers in the future, so you need to figure out how to effectively integrate this growing population into your workforce. In addition, the legal landscape regarding gig workers is rapidly shifting. You may initially hire an independent contractor, but circumstances may change and you might instead be employing a dependent contractor or an employee at some point in the future. It’s better to be prepared for this reality from day one. Finally, the time-to-value conversion of a gig worker relies on setting them up for success in your onboarding approach. It may take more time and resources upfront but it pays dividends by forming productive relationships on the team and in turn, optimizing that coveted value for your business.

How do you successfully onboard your gig workers? There are four key elements that should be included in any onboarding approach for gig workers. The first is having a schedule for them in place. Someone should be there to greet them (in-person or virtually), and they should have time allotted for various activities.

Everything should not be crammed into the first day. One pitfall of most onboarding programs is heaping information into a half-day or sometimes less. This approach accomplishes nothing of value as no one can understand, let alone retain that amount of new material. Instead, a schedule should be designed to share digestible chunks of information throughout the initial period of a gig worker’s tenure.

Second, you need to share where gig workers can find pertinent information when they need to circle back to something that was initially shared or find out more details about it. Where is the central repository where your gig workers can go to find out information on their own? How can it be set up to be user-friendly and easy to update?

Third, you need to ensure that gig workers feel connected to their team and the organization. Ensure that there is a welcome social to introduce them to team members. Consider assigning a cultural guide. Trying to decipher how things really work somewhere new can take a long time and expend fruitless energy. Assigning a tenured guide can be a valuable compass for any gig worker to successfully navigate the cultural, strategic and political landscape of their new organization.

Finally, make sure you build in a continual feedback loop. Questions to ask a gig worker could include: Were your job expectations clearly set for you? On a scale of 1-10, how difficult was it to integrate with long-term employees? How connected do you feel to our culture? How can we do better? Learning what worked well and what was lacking can be valuable intel for improving your onboarding approach.

To integrate these key elements well, your organization will need to step back and determine your company-wide approach to onboarding gig workers. As an example, what company information is vital for gig workers to know and what is off-limits? How do you set up an online system that adheres to this approach? Is everyone clear on what is and is not accessible from a company privacy standpoint? These questions will inevitably arise, so it’s better to be clear upfront than to try and teeter your way through it, with potential negative consequences.

Onboarding a gig worker successfully does not happen by simply sending over an orientation checklist. It involves a deliberate, planned approach that treats incoming workers with respect, makes them feel connected to the people and culture, and provides the support they need to be successful. Everyone should come out of the experience feeling that the right decision to hire or join was made.


Ritva Nosov is the founder of TalentEd Consulting Inc., an advisory firm providing full-service support at the intersection of people, culture and the law. She is the leadership lab columnist for December 2020.

This column is part of Globe Careers’ Leadership Lab series, where executives and experts share their views and advice about the world of work. Find all Leadership Lab stories at tgam.ca/leadershiplab and guidelines for how to contribute to the column here.

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