The nature of employment has changed so much during the past 20 years that the words "part-time" have come to encapsulate everyone from the barista to the graphic designer to the job-sharing parent juggling home life and career. As a small business owner, these employees can represent high-yield low-cost solutions to your business needs.
What part-time employees offer
"Small businesses, particularly start-ups, should look at the opportunities presented by part-time employees," says Toronto-based HR consultant and career coach Sari Friedman. "They often have a sophisticated skill set, but at a price point that these businesses can afford."
The financial draw of part-time employees is often the only driving force behind taking on staff in this way, but this is short-sighted. Someone who is part-time isn't 50 per cent there – instead, they are 100 per cent dedicated to very specific tasks when they are there.
Businesses that can most benefit
While every small business will benefit from some part-time employment, there are certain industries and disciplines that particularly suit this structure.
Marketing is a business with set goals and set tasks, and can be achieved with defined costs; it also requires a degree of specialization when it comes to areas such as design and online strategies. On the technical and manufacturing side, businesses that need a certain skill set to complete production will also see increased results from part-time staff.
What to look for in a part-time candidate
The key is not to treat part-time employees as a lesser component of your business profile, but instead as a highly skilled consultant role that is not required on a full-time basis. When interviewing applicants, you should be looking for a results-based history, and a candidate who is a custom fit for your specific needs.
Keep a constant line of communication open
Part-time employees don't mean a lighter touch in management style – instead, you should have an open dialogue. Why is this person working part-time? What roles do they have outside your business? What skills might they have beyond the job description? By getting a full profile, you can see where their role can grow as your business does.
Explore their career plan
As a manager, you should be exploring their career options, as with any other employee. After all, your goal is to grow your small business, and when expansion happens, you need to know you've got the right skills on board.
It also means a more long-term commitment – which, in many cases, can mean a reduction in their rates; if you offer part-timers a stable contract, it could bring your costs down.
Managing a part-time/full-time atmosphere
It's no secret that a successful start-up can stand or fall on morale – the often long hours (and brick walls!) encountered by small businesses can be detrimental if you're not working as a cohesive whole. The risk of a split between those who work 50+ hours a week and those who come in for one or two days is inevitably higher. It needn't be so.
By encouraging a results-based work atmosphere, employees don't just rack up brownie points for being there – and part-time workers can prove their worth. As Sari Friedman says, "You're creating a culture where it's not about bums on seats, but about how good people are."
Fostering a sense of inclusion also extends to everything from staff meetings to social events.
What your part-time employees can teach you
If you're bringing in expertise to your business on a regular basis, then they don't just represent a skill set – they represent a training opportunity. Many people with dedicated technical or design expertise will also have some experience in teaching, which means growing your whole company's knowledge pool and fostering an atmosphere of inclusiveness and collaboration.
It's also worth bearing in mind just how expensive it can be to bring in outside training, and an existing relationship should slash these costs.
Every dollar counts
Ms. Friedman knows from experience that employers don't always grasp the full cost-saving potential of hiring part-time employees. While the obvious reduction in hours will increase efficiency, you can also save money on everything from "buying computers to making space, in a setting where every dollar counts."
Managing schedules, space, equipment, training opportunities and tracking and rewarding performance will streamline your costs.
Many specialized consultants split their hours between various businesses in the same industry. This represents an opportunity for you to create contacts and leads with related companies, as well as having someone who is familiar with best practices in this area.
While you should obviously avoid anything underhanded (and you should appreciate an employee who shows loyalty to your competitors), a small business thrives on this sort of networking. A part-time employee who works for a much larger business in the industry may find that your business has something to offer.
The part-time work ethic
One might expect an employee who isn't there 24/7 to have less investment in completing their job, but in fact, the opposite is often true.
"There's something to be said for people who are there some of the days and not others, and there's a definite work ethic associated with that," says Ms. Friedman. In other words, part-time employees are so often goal-based that they can push toward completion more effectively than full-time employees. They also offer a breath of fresh air, and won't get bogged down if the company is having a rough time or the coffee machine is on the fritz (again).