The Internet has revolutionized the world of business. Today’s entrepreneurs can launch a company from their living room, using just a laptop and their own set of skills.
This technology equally affords individuals the freedom to pursue a career as a self-employed freelancer, applying their unique experience and abilities to various projects. A staggering 34 percent of all workers today are freelancers, and by 2020, this figure is expected to hit 50 percent.
With freelancing, companies can access a worldwide workforce, drawing on diverse skill-sets and expanding their talent outreach at a global level. However, while this provides businesses with incredible freedom and the ability to tap into talent well beyond their local area, managing an international team can be predictably problematic.
Problematic? Yes. Impossible? No.
There are several ways to be an effective manager of your own remote workforce, minimizing the possible complications for a more streamlined operation.
Focus on Freelancers’ Results and Productivity
Anyone who has worked in an office, in any sector, will know how much downtime there may be in an average week. According to a UK survey, office workers believe around 36 percent of the hours spent at their desks were totally unproductive. Regardless of the amount of work an employee does at their desk in an eight-hour day, the employer is still paying them the same salary.
Freelancers, on the other hand, may be able to accomplish the same amount of work in half the time. As they have no fixed salary, they have to earn their money as fast as possible, at the highest quality, to maximize their income and ensure more work in the future.
Businesses should measure their remote workers by the work they complete, not the amount of time they invest in it. Even if a freelancer appears to be getting through a particular project faster than you believe is best, the results should be allowed to speak for themselves.
Collaboration Management Technology Makes A Remote Workforce Possible
Communication is crucial in any workplace. With a remote team based around the world, though, communicating is far more difficult than simply crossing an office for a chat.
Businesses should strive to keep their remote workers on the right path and ensure each freelancer knows what’s expected of them.
Thankfully, project-management software, like Trello and Asana allows for quick, instant communication and task-allocation in one space. Assigning jobs to specific workers simply be dragging and dropping a task into their page is simple, and you should always be available to answer questions.
Cloud-based applications, such as Dropbox and Google Drive, allow workers to collaborate on documents at the same time, adding comments and making amendments for all to see in real-time. This is far faster than emailing attachments back and forth.
Arrange Regular Check-ins
Employers should hold regular team meetings with their remote workforce, perhaps once or twice per week. Whether conducted by phone or video-chat, this is an effective way to plan projects, discuss possible challenges and solutions, as well as fostering a sense of camaraderie.
During these meetings, try to include everyone as much as possible. Most of us know how it feels to sit through a long meeting with no real reason to be there. Get as many people on the call involved as you can, to ensure all workers feel valuable.
Add a Personal Touch by Trying to Use Video Chat As Much as Possible
Video chat might have been the stuff of science-fiction once upon a time, but now it’s just another part of everyday life, at work and at home.
Why use video chat over a phone call? Communicating via video is more personal, more intimate, allows for greater bonding, and leads to clearer discussions. When you can see someone, you can pick up on their body language and expressions to help gauge their opinions. You can also use visual materials to better explain a point or support your argument.
While there are numerous video-chat platforms available, such as Skype and Hangouts, not all of them provide the level of quality you need for clear, uninterrupted dialogues. A strong connection is vital for the best video and audio levels, but platforms relying on standard internet connectivity are vulnerable to weak signals, loss of visuals, dips in sound, and blackouts. Problems like these waste everyone’s time.
When dealing with international workers, solid connectivity is key. Tony Zhao, CEO of video chat company Agora.io, highlights the dangers involved in poor connections:
“The Internet gives businesses the power to work with talented individuals from across the globe – but not every country enjoys quality connectivity. In areas where internet connections are weaker, standard apps like Skype and Hangouts simply won’t do. You need to invest in a service which guarantees strong signals and clear visuals and audio at all times, on a global level.
“After all, poor video chat can create frustrating experiences for everyone involved, costing time, money, and – possibly – freelancers. After all, if there are other companies out there offering work, why would a freelancer choose a business demonstrating poor management skills?”
Develop a Strong Bond of Trust and Rapport
In an office, you can see when people are struggling with a specific project or simply having a tough day. Being a good employer means knowing when to offer help and ensure your workers are comfortable and content. Not only does this maintain solid morale, it also reduces the likelihood of mistakes being made through a lack of focus or understanding.
Businesses should make sure their remote workers feel valued, respected, and confident enough to ask for help without fear of being reprimanded. Being able to say when instructions are unclear or a task is too challenging is vital. Make sure your freelancers know they can reach out if they need you.
Work to Balance Problems in Scheduling
An obvious side-effect of taking on remote workers? Time-zones.
A business based in Phoenix is on a different clock to someone in Paris. A British company employing freelancers in Japan will struggle to arrange conference calls.
However, this shouldn’t put you off remote workers. Compromise on both sides makes for an effective working relationship: if speaking with a freelancer at 9am their time means calling them at 10pm your time, do so every once in awhile. With a little planning and give-and-take, time-zones need not stand in the way of a productive working arrangement.
Foster a Strong Company Culture
When a team is based in the same building, nurturing a company culture is pretty straightforward. When a team is scattered across the globe, this is obviously more difficult.
Make your freelancers feel part of your company by informing them of forthcoming changes, ask for their input in department-relevant issues, and welcome suggestions to improve your working processes. Ensure they understand the values at your business’s heart, and know your overall mission.
The more valued and useful freelancers feel, the more loyal and productive they are likely to be.
Following the tips explored above, any business can integrate freelancers and remote working into their operations. With no in-house overheads to cover, and only paying for time worked rather than unproductive hours spent at a desk, companies can benefit greatly from adopting a freelance-based structure.
JT Ripton is a business consultant and a freelance writer based in Tampa. He has written for Business Insider, Entrepreneur, and The Guardian, among other leading publications. You can follow him on Twitter @JTRipton.