Working with freelancers is one of the most efficient ways to harness the exact talent needed for a specific project and is a quick solution for handling an increased workload, either temporarily or long-term. It can also introduce new challenges when it comes to overseeing assignments, monitoring progress and ensuring that deliverables meet expectations. However, if you keep in mind that freelancers have more similarities with your onsite staff than differences, you’ll find that managing them requires the same skills you’re already using.
The following three tips will help you develop and maintain excellent professional relationships with your freelancers.
Make expectations clear
Whether working with in-house employees or freelancers, they key to successful project completion is making sure your team knows exactly what your expectations are. No matter how skilled the freelancers you engage are, the work they deliver will ultimately reflect the amount of effort you put in up front to clarify their roles and define the scope of work.
Successful managers are decisive and prepared. Preparation starts with an accurate and detailed project description. A good project description will first help you define the exact skillset you need in your freelancers and will later ensure that your freelancers understand the project’s goals.
Ideally, your expectations should be communicated both orally and in writing when your freelancers come aboard, and multiple opportunities should be provided to review progress and confirm that your freelancers are on track; if you wait until final deliverables are due to check in on your freelancers, don’t be surprised if the work they’ve produced is off base. While there is a fine line between monitoring progress and micromanaging, most freelancers will appreciate receiving periodic feedback. Building regular status updates into the project timeline gives both you and your freelancers a comfortable system of accountability.
Finally, never ask your freelancers to start work without providing them all the information they need to complete the tasks you’ve assigned them. Sometimes this may simply be a set of instructions, but if templates, style guides or examples are applicable, supply these documents immediately. Because they aren’t salaried workers, freelancers’ time must be carefully budgeted; informing freelancers of additional guidelines after they’ve already started work is unlikely to be received graciously.
Personalize the experience
Just because your freelancers don’t come into your office every day is no reason to treat them as if they are anonymous. Treating freelancers as valuable members of your team from the beginning will help you develop a strong working relationship and improve communications throughout the project.
Freelance work can be isolating. If possible, try to at least meet your freelancers in person prior to starting, or at the very least, set up a meet-and-greet through Skype, Google Hangouts or another video chat application for some face-to-face interaction. If other employees will be working regularly with your freelancers, try to introduce them via email, conference call or video chat as well.
Anything you can do to help immerse freelancers in your corporate culture will not only help them feel like part of the team, it will improve their understanding of the project’s purpose and help ensure that they deliver work that meets your expectations. Use podcasts, webinars and social media to educate them on your company’s values and objectives. Match them up with an employee mentor who can give them a virtual tour of the business and answer their questions in a more relaxed atmosphere. If they’re local (or even if they’re not!), consider issuing invitations to participate in person in any team social outings or project wrap-up parties.
Care about them
Managing freelancers is comparable to managing your traditional employees. Thus, any actions you’d take to maintain morale in the office apply to freelancers as well.
Pay them fairly. Give them regular feedback on their work and the progress of the project, especially if they are involved in one small part and haven’t had an opportunity to appreciate the big picture. Give them quality work and not just overflow from your onsite staff. Be honest about anticipated workloads so they can budget their time appropriately. Give constructive feedback. Nurture a professional relationship by recommending them on LinkedIn or to your colleagues. Take a few minutes to ask about their families, hobbies or weekend plans; acknowledge birthdays and work anniversaries; treat them the way you’d like to be treated.
A word of caution
In today’s freelance economy, it is easy to accidentally misclassify an independent contractor which could result in hefty fines and legal fees to sort out. Learn the difference and classify your workforce properly from the get-go.
Ready to learn more about managing freelancers? Take a look into the freelance movement.
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