The 6-step guide to manage remote freelancers
Remote work is on the rise. In fact, 51 percent of global executives said their organizations plan to increase the use of flexible and independent workers in the next three to five years. For most online content and marketing managers, the best way to manage remote freelancers is to take your existing methods of management, then tweak them slightly with flexibility in mind. You will also want to have a good grasp of the top tools available for remote teams. The following best practices should help make remote work scenarios go smoothly.
1. Get to Know Your Freelancers.
Many editors and online content managers make the mistake of thinking all freelancers are the same. While the work you require of them may be standard, their personalities and preferences are not. Taking a bit of time during the onboarding process to chat a bit about your freelancer’s work style, passions, and even family life can help form a bond that can’t happen via email. Even if your processes are rather one-size-fits all, just having some insight into the needs of your workers can help you adapt and change as needed to keep the team happy and productive.
It’s also very important to ask about other types of work they enjoy and have experience with. If you hired your team member for sales copy, for example, see what other projects they’ve enjoyed. If they have a passion for video editing or social media, you may not have to search externally the next time you have a need to feel one of these positions. It’s a great thing to be able to hire within and use talent you’ve already established a relationship with.
Helpful Hint: Remote freelancers miss out on some of the fun, team-building exercises that in-house teams get. If it’s not in your budget to do an annual in-person event for your freelancers, consider a half-day, virtual webinar to educate, engage, and entertain. Bring in a well-known guest speaker, give out prizes, and show your appreciation to your remote team.
2. Use the Right Communication Tools for the Job
Text and email are easy to use, but they are not always appropriate for communicating with teams. Make sure your remote freelancers understand the right tool for the type of communication they are to send (and receive.) Here are the most common types of tools used by remote teams today:
Still widely popular among workers, it’s best to have a domain set up so that your teams can have a dedicated work email for their projects. Use email for matters that are not so urgent, but that may require many attachments or longer explanations.
If you would rather have some face-to-face to do a detailed Q&A or to facilitate a brainstorming session, Skype is a popular choice. Make sure your team knows best practices for using Skype, including using a headset to reduce feedback and background noise. Request that an updated version of Skype be installed as part of the onboarding process. (In a pinch, Skype has made it easier than ever to start using right away; no registration is required for short calls.)
- Webinar software
If you’ll be doing many presentations with slides, videos, or stills, a webinar solution might work best. Remember that this is limiting to the audience, so reserve it for times when you’ll be doing most of the communicating. If you anticipate a lot of questions, move your Q&A portion to Skype to encourage a more engaged experience.
Many remote workers feel uncomfortable using their personal phones for work-related texts. Since SMS messaging is limited to short messages with poor file sending control, it’s not recommended for work-related conversations. Many remote freelancers have also expressed a feeling of having intrusion into their personal space when receiving texts from their remote managers. Use these types of messages as emergency communications only.
- Instant messaging
There are many IM platforms that are well-known among remote teams. #Slack and HipChat have been used successfully for both one-on-one conversations and group threads. One common sentiment among freelancers is that they don’t want their Facebook messenger to be used for work chat. (So, don’t take it personally if they don’t accept your friend request.)
3. Set Clear Expectations
One shared complaint that freelancers have is that they often are unsure as to project requirements. They may receive vague instructions, little documentation, or a tentative deadline. To be sure that your freelancers feel confident to do their best work with little interruption to your day, have a standard method of laying out requirements, and use it every time you ask for work.
Things you’ll want to include in your project request templates may include:
- Total word count, video length, project size
- What outside resources or research they should use
- Any quotes or expert references that are needed
- Multimedia additions (hi-res stock photos, for example)
- File type upon delivery
- Method of delivery (email, file sharing service, etc.)
- Procedures for asking questions
- The contact name and method for each project
- Compensation details
- Workflow for edit requests
Did you know? A Freelance Management System like Bonsai can help make documentation of new projects seamless and ensure everyone is on the same page with new project types.
Helpful Hint: One question that remote freelance managers often ask is “Should I require confirmation of all assignments from my team?” In other words, is it enough to assign something and assume that work is being done? If you hired well, was thorough with the onboarding process, and communicated the project clearly, you won’t need to ask that freelancers confirm all tasks or check in regularly. If you are concerned, however, it’s acceptable to establish a process for confirming new projects by having them message you when assignments are received.
4. Share Your Mission
If you’ve ever felt that your freelancers just aren’t “getting it”, it may be that they aren’t sure about the “why” behind their work. In addition to helping your remote workers feel invested in a project, they are most likely to deliver a quality product if they know why it is being created. If you have had a slow sales month and would like the next set of articles to have snappier calls to action, say so. If there has been a lower-than-normal conversion rate for your ad copy, don’t hide this fact. Your remote teams are much better off knowing where you have been and why you are so determined to go where you want to go. Understanding motive can be that extra spark to turn your team’s projects into winners every time.
Helpful Hint: If you are reluctant to share too many details of the “why” with your remote freelancers, you might want to take steps to ensure confidentiality. While it may not be practical to ask them to sign a non-compete agreement, you can at least ask for a non-disclosure clause in the freelance service contract. Most professional freelancers are used to this type of document, and will have no problem offering a bit of reassurance in exchange for your openness.
5. Monitor and Communicate Goals
It’s amazing how many remote managers aren’t quite sure where their teams are at in relation to a larger goal. There are many options available today that make it simple to track time, project progress, and budget goals. In fact, freelancers are used to working with some of the more popular time tracking tools and should respond positively to real-time monitoring and feedback on their work.
If you are not a fan of to-the-minute time tracking tools, it’s perfectly OK to ask your team to send you a summary each day or each week on what they have been working on. Make sure that you ask them to include what they’ve done, any issues they’ve run into, if anything will be coming late, and workflow changes that may be needed. For some teams, a simple email with a common subject line and a few bullet points in the message body will do. For others, project notes in the management interface is more suitable.
Remember, that it’s important to be consistent with every single team member (even your best-performing ones). All of them should be using the same format for check-ins, and they should be delivered via the same method. You never want to be in the position of checking three different tools for regular updates from your team. Whatever you can do to help them succeed is best. Firing a remote worker is just as stressful as letting anyone go.
6. Work on Personal Growth
Managing remote freelancers can be a quite the undertaking, but the reward is a larger pool of talented workers to benefit from. Before you think you have everything in place and running smoothly, set out to make a plan for your own continued growth as a manager. Listen to podcasts designed for small business success, attend a seminar for managers, or read some top books with strategies you can adapt to your situation. One of the biggest mistakes remote managers make is assuming that what works now will always work. By being adaptable, and always learning new strategies and skills for your own development, you can ensure you’ll be poised for new challenges as your team and business grows.
Helpful Hint: If you don’t have time to get away for a full-day event or conference, consider adding some useful blogs to your feed for quick morning reading between emails. A tool like Feedly can manage them all in one place for quick viewing on the go!
Ready to get started managing teams? Set up your first project with Bonsai and being implementing our best practices from one easy-to-use platform.