The explosion in flexible and remote working is one of the biggest changes we’ve seen to our working lives in the past decade.
In the UK this is largely being driven by a surge in the number of freelancers – up 46pc since 2008 to two million.
When this type of remote working is done well, it can be a real enabler for workers, giving them their commute time back, allowing them their very own personalised (and hopefully optimised) work environment, not to mention that extra accessibility to family and loved ones.
However, in the last year or so, we have seen a bit of a business backlash, with companies like BNY Mellon making plans to stop all flexible working, so as to “maximise the benefits of people working closely together while maintaining some degree of flexibility”. After campaigners protested – their plan was shelved. But it raises an interesting question. How do you manage freelance workers effectively?
Keep technology up to date
Just as technology is the enabler that has driven this big shift in working patterns, it becomes an inhibitor if it’s not quite up to scratch. So, make the investment in the right software to get the job done and, importantly, ask that your remote workers have the right tools in place at home (or elsewhere) too. This means at the very minimum good Wi-Fi speeds and effective video conferencing. But more and more we are seeing the impact of productivity tools like Asana and communication platforms like Slack to improve the way dispersed teams work and communicate.
Maintain face-to-face meetings
Office banter, water cooler chitchat and the ongoing mystery of whose four-week-old leftovers are stinking out the communal fridge. As much as we love to hate them, these are all essential features of the collective workplace experience and something you just are not a part of when working remotely. So, let’s not pretend working remotely is the same as being in the office. Instead it’s about creating a culture which acknowledges this and makes allowances for it.
As a manager you will have to go a bit further to make your remote staff or freelancers feel included, whether it is giving them space before a meeting to talk about their recent holiday or inviting them into the office once a month for some face time.
Allow autonomy but expect accountability
Trust is at the heart of any employee/employer relationship, but this is even more important with remote workers. It also applies to when you manage freelance workers. As a manager you need to be able to trust that they will deliver what on schedule without looking over their shoulder. So, the thing to be aware of – if you are used to regular “check ins” and close oversight – is breathing down someone’s neck when asking them to keep you up to date with progress. Setting clear expectations of both sides at the beginning of the relationship or contract is the best way to make sure this happens.
Offer best-practice training
Like any other skillset, your ability to manage freelance workers is something you can always improve on. Don’t feel like you are failing if someone is not delivering. However, there could be small changes you can make to your management style to cater for remote workers. Similarly, as a business you should develop some remote working guidelines to help all your teammates thrive. It may be that their chosen work environment is full of distractions – or even as simple as a slow internet connection. But this is a two-way partnership, so it’s important to ensure you are setting both parties up for success.
Involve remote workers early and fully
When a new project launches there can be a tendency to call a meeting to decide how to progress and then send a list of tasks to a remote worker such as a freelancer. Sometimes it is unavoidable, but where possible try and involve them in the creation of the tasks rather than just the execution. It will increase their sense of involvement and ownership and enable them to understand the broader context. In other words, treat them just like you would any other member of staff you were thinking of getting involved.
Be available and check in
Don’t let out of sight, be out of mind – the one thing most remote workers miss is the social side of being in an office and it can get boring and demotivating if you are working alone for hours, without anyone asking how it’s going. Let them know that you are thinking of them and that you value them, the task they are doing and that you are available to chat if they need to. Just knowing that they have not been forgotten will be of enormous value.
Learn from freelancers
As professional “remote workers”, freelancers are often some of the most effective at getting the job done – despite being out of the office. By using freelancers and bringing them into your business, you will be able to learn from these remote work specialists, whose very livelihood depends on integrating well into a whole variety of different teams, structures and management styles. They will likely have shared motivations too, both valuing the flexibility and comfort of working outside the office and having greater autonomy to create their own work schedule.
Andrew Wray is UK country manager of freelancer platform Fiverr