How to Manage a Freelance Workforce
There are fewer people in the office these days. As companies become leaner and more efficient, the proportion of freelancers in the workforce grows; the experts working on your big projects may very well be spread across the world. That means figuring out how to get the best out of people who can’t physically step into your office.
On a traditional team, managers can rely on informal chats throughout the day to keep up with their employees’ progress. Because technology now allows people to work remotely, you can’t just “pop in” for quick updates on a projects.
Freelance experts have different needs compared to conventional teams, and management styles must change to reflect those differences. It requires diligence from the manager to make sure expectations are aligned from the start, milestone check-ins are scheduled, and tools are in place to communicate and share work.
Preparing for Freelancers
If you want to become a freelance-friendly company, how should you prepare? First, you should implement more flexible options for your existing employees so everyone becomes more comfortable with the way workflow and communication will take place.
Strong planning and organizational skills ensure management keeps a clear focus on desired outcomes and the process by which to reach them before beginning a project. When management is unclear on the details of a project, segmented workforces become inefficient and disorganized.
Preparing for freelancers means creating strong workflows that ensure everyone knows what everyone else is doing. These workflows should include defined lines of communication and how to use them. Written communication skills become critically important when workers can’t often speak in person. Planning ahead is essential.
Widespread changes like these, however, take time. If you currently don’t work with any freelancers, it’s unrealistic to attempt to transition to a fully “freelanced” company within a year or two. Start by involving a single freelancer in a small project, and then grow your freelance workforce as you become more familiar with managing a remote team.
Finding the Right People
Your hiring process is the starting-off point when it comes to maximizing the amount (and the quality) of work your freelance experts turn out. Research who’s available, and understand the market rate for the expertise you require. By looking at reviews and testimonials from previous clients, you can locate the strongest candidates. Also, be sure to ask for samples of previous work. Some sites offer reviews of freelancers, which basically serve as crowdsourced references.
When you interview a freelancer, consider whether he or she understands your company’s goals. Further, make sure the freelancer can fit your needs. If this hire will collaborate alongside your other team members for any significant amount of time, make sure he or she fits your company culture as well. The longer you need to work together, the more you need to prioritize cultural fit.
Above all, remember that communication is key to building strong relationships with remote workers. Don’t hire them and check in only on due dates. Be available, share intel freely, and create an atmosphere where everyone is comfortable asking questions. Use communication tools like Skype and join.me to visit with employees without organizing a summit.
Remember that freelancers often have robust networks of other professionals in their industries, so don’t hesitate to use your freelancer’s personal network. Sometimes, it’s better to let your preferred freelancer build a small team of freelancers instead of hiring several of them yourself and hoping they work well together.
Tips for Managing a Remote Workforce
As your workforce changes, so should your management style. These seven tips will help you get the most from your freelancer talent:
- Use tools.
Take advantage of technology to make communication easier. Services like Dropbox allow everyone access to the same pool of important documents. Communication platforms like Google Chat, Slack, and Honey let everyone communicate quickly about projects without having to schedule formal meetings. This also brings everyone together and builds stronger connections among colleagues.
- Be welcoming.
Welcome your freelancers like you would any other team member, and get them interested in attending company functions. Even if you’re hiring a freelancer for a single project, it never hurts to offer an environment of inclusion — it inevitably produces a better product.
- Invest in onboarding.
Take the time to make cross-functional introductions for your freelancer so he or she doesn’t have to go through one person for every question. Getting everyone acquainted early will ensure your projects move forward quickly and will create a friendly team environment.
- Focus on organizational management.
Because freelancers are typically subject experts, managers usually need to do less content management and more organizational management when handling a remote workforce. Working with freelancers means providing clear direction and aligning expectations for both parties before the first day. To successfully manage an out-of-office team, you must work with your remote employees to define clear deliverables and project deadlines.
- Treat everyone equally.
Regardless of job title, employees deserve to feel valued. Freelancers should be treated with equal respect; they’re essential to your team, too, even if the scope of their projects is narrowly defined and they’re only with you temporarily.
- Get together.
If the freelancer is willing, bring him or her to headquarters for onboarding and introductions. If that’s not possible, then do it over video chat to make sure your remote workers can put faces to names. That alone can go a long way in setting up a relationship for long-term success.
- Train internally.
Establish your freelance management processes, and then educate the rest of your full-time staff on those processes. Your freelance partnership will work more smoothly if all parties know what to expect.
As time goes on, integrating freelancers into your required output will become much easier. It might take conscious effort today to create the necessary onboarding programs, communication platforms, and workflow expectations, but these processes will eventually become part of your larger strategy as you work alongside freelancers more frequently.
Freelancing is the future. Start integrating freelancers into your existing resource plan now so that when your best options for a project are on the open market, you have the systems in place to collaborate effectively.
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By Rob Biederman is the co-founder and CEO of HourlyNerd, a service that connects businesses to top freelance business talent.
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