How You Can Better Manage Mobile Employees and Freelancers?
Based on recent growth, there’s every reason to think that telecommuting freelancers and remote employees will occupy even more of tomorrow’s workforce than they do today.
How to Better Manage Mobile Employees and Freelancers?
Already, the numbers stand at 4.3 million Americans working from home half the time. The same research says flexible scheduling has grown by 40 percent in the last five years, while only 7 percent of employers in total actually make it available.
Flexible and nontraditional employment has a lot to offer both parties and will only become more common in the coming years. It also presents challenges. It’s clear there’s an opportunity here to revisit established management practices and approaches to workplace culture, and to introduce some new ones. Here’s how your business can get the most out of its freelancers and how to give your best in return.
Establish Clear Expectations
Learning how to communicate clearly about your expectations is one of the first things a manager needs to learn. Not everybody does, though, which is why even fewer remote managers have this skill.
Unclear communication can create a lot of frustration for remote and in-house employees alike, especially when it comes to things like scheduling procedures, meeting deadlines and carrying out required administrative or workflow processes.
One major survey tells us that while remote employees value the lifestyle and flexibility afforded them by remote work opportunities, a lack of timely information — or a lack of information in general — was a continuing problem for about 40 percent of respondents. In other words, there’s an unmet need here in many cases for a sense of “community continuity” across your in-house workforce and those who work remotely part or full time.
Don’t take for granted that your teammates will keep each other in the loop if not all of them work under the same roof. If your in-house employees are receiving updates on future plans for the company, growth, acquisitions, new initiatives or anything else that stands to impact their lives or livelihood in some way, make sure everybody who works for you is getting the same memos, even if it’s an email digest of the latest team huddle.
Ask Remote Workers for Their Guidelines, Too
With expectations set, you can move on to the other portions of remote workplace culture. If you’ve taken the time to establish a set of repeatable procedures for your employees to follow, and given them a good sense of the kind of culture they can expect from you, it’s time to ask about their guidelines, too.
Remember that remote workers make some sacrifices for the opportunity to work from home or otherwise telecommute to work. They don’t have the stability of a salary and can’t count on the same benefits. In return, they’re usually grateful for the chance to establish working hours, no-contact hours and other variables that help them keep their work life from seeping into their home life.
Physical separation sometimes creates a mental barrier for productive conversation and the exchange of ideas. That’s a shame, because having freelancers and remote employees offers lots of chances to try out new working paradigms.
When this is done well by both parties, it becomes a kind of ongoing negotiation, where employee and manager can gradually dial in a mutually beneficial and productive working rhythm and sets of expectations for one another.
Make Investments in Your Digital Infrastructure
Your in-house employees can probably count on having all the hardware and software they need to do their work well. What about your remote employees? Do they have access to the same digital infrastructure, such as shared company drives and logins for software services your workflows rely on? What about access to company assets and intranet via VPNs and tunneling?
It can be easy for remote workers to feel — well, remote. For some of them, that’s probably a feature and not a bug. However, what your freelancers should be able to count on is the same accessibility, convenience and availability of important people, tools and services that your in-house employees have.
Not everybody who telecommutes will need to retain access to critical file directories and the like, but they should still have licenses for useful software, relevant logins, access to company communications directories or chatrooms, and anything else they need.
Make Personal Connections and Plan for the Future
To be fair, the remote-working lifestyle appeals to many people specifically because it doesn’t require, in most cases, a long-term commitment or even a solid plan for the future. For others, it offers a comfortable and predictable lifestyle, plus ongoing opportunities to sharpen and improve their skills while maintaining professional working relationships and friendly ties with a company and employer.
As a manager of remote employees, or especially a team of less “formally employed” freelancers, you owe it to both parties to check in on a regular basis and see whether your long-term goals are still aligned.
Even if it’s just to touch base about their plans for the next couple of months or so, you might be surprised by what you can learn from your workers just by engaging with them. You can see if their needs are being met and whether they’re showing areas that need improvement, and generally try to better understand where they are in life.
Make Billing and Time Entry Transparent and Painless
Paying remote employees is in many ways simpler than dealing with a salaried workforce — but it also introduces some new challenges as well. Remote time entry is one area where clear expectations come into play again.
Depending on the size of your freelance teams, there might come a point where you have to consider third-party time-tracking software or another option to streamline or automate time entry and payments for a large and geographically diverse team.
Whenever you can, use technology in a way that both saves your accounting department unnecessary hassle and gives your remote workers a transparent, trust-building way to input and view their own time and payment records.
Give Back Some of the Savings You’ve Realized
Probably the top item on most freelancers’ wish lists, if you asked them, would be more competitive rates for their work. Mobile and remote employees might be more agile than the average employee, but you can still count on fierce loyalty if you maintain competitive rates, gradually account for tenure over time, and offer bonuses and cost-of-living raises for freelancers who stick around.
After all, the average company saves about $11,000 per year for every employee that switches to telecommuting. If you haven’t already, research the kind of rates and perks your competitors and similar industries offer.
Canvass your freelancers to see whether they’ve struck an equitable balance between the freedom of the remote working lifestyle, their earnings and the demands of the rest of their lives.
With any luck, employee and employer alike can benefit from some of the tips here and build better and more fruitful relationships.