The marketplace has gone global. As a business, you need the ability to sell to everyone – from those in high rises in New York City to folks in towns in Missouri or the outskirts of Bangladesh.
The same goes for your workforce. The men and women on your payroll come from all walks of life, and any corner of the map.
Freelancers, once seen as as-needed employees used to buttress full-time staffers, are not only more common these days, but they make up a significant population of many business’ workers. Current estimates posit that voluntary freelancers make up 34 percent of all employees right now.
That number is going to grow. A lot.
In fact, by 2020, it’s possible that upwards of 50 percent of the world’s workforce will be comprised of freelancers.
That, in and of itself, isn’t a bad thing. Working with freelancers does present its own set of challenges, though.
“There’s a sea of uncertainty felt by a lot of managers, and business owners, because a freelancer can seem like the unknown factor on a team,” said Tony Zhao, CEO of real-time communications firm, Agora.io. “But freelance workers and remote employees are something we need to embrace, because that’s part of the next phase – the next step – as far as directing a workforce goes. It’s wildly detrimental to limit your employee pool to those who are local.”
Here’s how to navigate those waters.
- Focus on Productivity
As Agora’s Tony Zhao said, there are skilled workers all around the world. You can’t discount a worker who’s effective because they aren’t local. Inherent competition between companies and employees makes this doubly so – everyone is looking for stalwart workers, and workers want jobs.
That said, managing remote employees does present unique challenges. It’s not akin to anything else an office manager has dealt with. Which means your managers will need to do things a bit differently to ensure that freelancer is game.
The most critical aspect of that is communication, which itself breeds productivity.
You need to have a rapport with every member of your team. A disconnected teammate is a bored – or worse – employee. Your managers need to connect with remote workers. They need to make time for them.
Which means making time for little chats. It may seem inconsequential, but basic chatter helps remote workers feel like they’re part of the bigger picture.
It also means using video to chat. Texting is out the window. It’s not personal and it doesn’t show workers what they want: The human being to whom they’re reporting.
Skype and Google Hangouts won’t cut the mustard either – workers who are possibly too remote or on shaky networks are going to have a bad experience, which frustrates everyone involved. Focus instead on platforms such as Agora.io that deliver guaranteed quality of service.
It also means taking the time for one-on-ones. All of your workers matter, not just those in the office. A remote employee who feels like they’re part of the team – because you treat them that way – is going to do wonders for your business.
Check in regularly
Have you ever felt lost and marooned, without even a basic compass, when it comes to your work day? Freelancers feel this all the time, because there’s a lack of real-time contact.
Don’t let this happen.
It might mean managers need to schedule more one-on-one sessions. It might also mean that those sessions take a considerable amount of time. That’s all right. Managers need to be dedicated to dealing with all employees, not just those in the office.
One thing is for sure, though: Never cancel on a remote employee. They’ll say it’s fine – even when it isn’t – but they miss out on a lot from the simple fact that they’re not in the office.
Don’t leave them hanging.
Freelancers need to be treated with the same caring gloves you use for in-office employees. As noted above, they inherently miss things that happen casually in the office. As well as basic conversation. But they still rely on their managers to know what’s going on.
That means you need your freelancer to trust you as much as you trust them.
The best way to deal with this is, again, showing your face and being a part of their work day, which means video contact.
As we’ve said, apps like Skype and Google Hangouts just don’t work remotely. Or, at best, they give users a disjointed experience.
Remote workers work in different time zones. That’s just a fact. New York and Barcelona have employees with different hours than those in London. That might make scheduling meetings tough. That doesn’t mean you can’t, or shouldn’t. You have to find a compromise: one of you may have to get up a little earlier, or put in a little time in an evening.
Yes, it can be frustrating, but it’s not a deal-breaker. Creative thinking and give-and-take will help ease any time-zone conflicts.
Fostering company culture
One of the most unique things a company can offer its employees is the fun, friendly culture of the company. People want to feel connected. That’s an issue when your workers are operating remotely.
To fix that, one largely just needs to follow the rules outlined above. It’s about mindfulness, as well as communication. When your freelancers feels like a part of the team, they will be part of the team, and they’ll do amazing things for you.
It sounds obvious, but these are all parts of a larger puzzle that managers might miss. Freelancers need to be considered part of the crew; part of the in-house workforce. Utilizing video and connective apps, it’s wholly possible to ensure that your contract or freelance workers feel like they’re in the building – and you want that.