5 Ways to Get The Best From Your Remote Team If you employ freelancers, or are thinking about hiring one, you need to read this.
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Freelancing is a fast growing trend in America. According to a 2016 survey by the Freelancers Union and Upwork, 55 million Americans are now freelancing, representing 35 percent of the U.S. workforce.
You may currently be working with remote freelancers or interested in hiring them. There are so many advantages to hiring a remote team. For example, you won't have to pay for office space, and you can access a range of talents from all over the world.
Related: The Future of Work is 'Remote.' How You Can Build a Killer Remote Team.
But leading a team of location-based employees is completely different than leading a team of freelancers whom you may never physically meet face-to-face.
Here are some tips on how to get the best from your remote team of freelancers.
Just like any other location-based team, you need to set up a culture for your team, especially if you expect them to work together. Your team's culture will determine whether they make an effort to collaborate with each other, how often they communicate with you and with each other, what hours they work and how quickly they respond to emails. Basically, you are establishing guidelines of behavior for your team.
To establish a team culture among your freelancers, all of them need to be clear on what behavior is ideal, what is acceptable and what is not. For example, you may want your team to be creative and think out of the box. To encourage this behavior, you may give them freedom to test new ideas once a week, and share the results with the rest of the team for helpful critique. You may want to discourage bullying behavior. If so, you should immediately deal with any signs of intimidating or rude behavior among your team.
Culture needs to be lived and breathed. It cannot be a mere slogan on a piece of paper.
2. Clear expectations.
You won't be able to easily monitor what your freelancers are doing at their computers or control how they work, so it's best that you set clear expectations from the beginning.
Make sure that everyone is clear on what their responsibilities are and what roles others within the team are playing. Have goals and interim yardsticks for each freelancer to reach. Include deadlines whenever appropriate.
In addition, it is important to keep in touch with each freelancer regularly. Schedule daily or weekly meet ups to review progress, give feedback and to answer any questions that he or she may have. It's better to do this through video conferencing instead of a phone call. You can pick up a lot more by seeing your freelancer's facial expressions.
3. Communication, collaboration and camaraderie.
It's important to promote the building of both professional relationships as well as personal friendships within the team. Better work relationships produce higher job satisfaction. Remote teams miss out on opportunities for the daily chit chat that happens organically in office environments. To increase communication and collaboration among your remote team, you need to intentionally create opportunities for these to happen.
For example, you may want to schedule short daily or weekly team meetings where everyone updates the team on what progress they have been making. Motivate them with a shared team reward if they surpass team goals.
Related: Collaboration Tools of the Most Productive Remote Teams
You can also achieve better communication, collaboration and camaraderie by investing in technology and tools such as video conferencing, project management, screen sharing and resource sharing software. Video conferencing software enables face-to-face as well as voice communication. Project management software allows teams to work together better with organizational tools, time tracking and resource planning tools. Screen sharing makes it easier for teams to discuss work that appears on each other's computer screens. Resource sharing allows online files to be shared across the team.
Popular tools include:
- Project Management -- Asana, Basecamp, Campfire, I Done This, Pivotal Tracker, Trello and Wrike
- Communication -- Google Hangouts, Skype, Slack and WebEx
- Resource Sharing -- Dropbox, Evernote and Google Docs
- Screen sharing -- Team Viewer
It is also important that you are accessible to the team when they have questions. Provide them with easy ways to reach you. If they need to take up more of your time, set up a clear calendar of when you are available for longer online meetings.
Despite all the effort that you may put into promoting online relationships and collaboration, nothing beats the trust and closeness that is forged through face-to-face meetings. At least once a year, try to bring your team physically together. This can be a work and play event combining both project work and team bonding activities. If you have the resources to do so, you may even want to get the team together on location to brainstorm every couple of months.
It's important to take the time to give appreciation, recognition and praise to your remote freelancer, especially when he or she exceeds targets or expectations. It's easy to get busy and only contact him or her when something goes wrong or when you need to provide new instructions. However, just like any other normal relationship, a lack of appreciation may result in a remote freelancer feeling unappreciated and unmotivated.
It's also important to share wins and milestone achievements across the team to publicly acknowledge a freelancer for progress made and to inspire the whole team to aim higher. This could be done in a monthly newsletter where achievements across the team are shared.
Related: 4 Ways to Hire and Keep the Best Freelancers
5. Compensate generously.
Freelancers used to be a cheap alternative to location-based employees. But, as more and more workers are choosing freelancing as a lifestyle, companies are providing better monetary compensation to attract higher quality freelancers and to keep them happy.
While generous pay can only provide a certain amount of job satisfaction, it is still necessary that you offer adequate compensation to your freelancers to encourage them to commit fully to your work.
You can also build loyalty by showing appreciation to your freelancers with the occasional special performance bonuses, paid family holidays or even tickets to their favorite event. In addition to generous pay, it's important to understand what else might motivate your freelancers. Your freelancers might be motivated by being reminded that that they are part of something important or that they are making a difference in the world.
Getting the best from your remote team of freelancers requires some additional thought and planning as you cannot rely on the team dynamics that naturally come from a team working physically together.
However, remote freelancing teams have advantages that location-based employees do not. The additional effort is worth it; especially when freelancing will become a common work style choice for many talented individuals around the world in the future.