Guest Post by: Monica Gomez
Freelance contracting is a growing trend in the U.S. According to Freelancers Union, there are more than 42 million people working as contractors. From the professional fields to more traditional, blue-collar jobs, people are choosing to be contractors over becoming a company employee. How does a company manage people that they may never see in person? If you are considering hiring freelancers for your business, these tips will help you manage this virtual workforce.
Managing Freelancers versus Employees
Managing a number of contractors requires a different level of communication than you use with your in-house full-time employees. You can’t walk by their desk to see how things are going. You won’t see the puzzled look on their face as they struggle with a problem. Communication is key and there are a number of ways to keep your virtual team working together and productive.
What Motivates a Freelance Worker?
Knowing why people become contract workers helps you manage them. Many enjoy the variety of working on different projects. Some choose one specialty on which to work all of the time. They enjoy flexible work schedules that they set themselves. Many prefer working from home instead of in an office setting. Contractors are focused on getting a task done, and spend little time, if any, dealing with office culture.
Create a Collaborative Work Area
Have a secure place online to which your contractors can go when they need to review information, or update a work log. Your company could create such a space in a private cloud, or use a tool like Evernote. This workspace can hold all of the orientation material, procedure guides and specific information about the project. This collaborative space would be shared by your virtual team and can include notes from you, calendars and schedules.
Status and Personal Contact
Schedule a weekly call with each of your contractors to get their work status. Discuss any issues that came up during the week and how they were addressed. Solicit input on changes that would allow them to do their job more effectively. Be open to the fact that freelancer work habits can be very different than the rest of your employees. A contractor may work best outside of your typical office hours.
Have Explicit Expectations
Each freelance worker should have a clear understanding of your expectations. A Statement of Work (SOW) is a document that both of you sign indicating this understanding. It is the contract that states hours to be worked, rates, how billing is to be done, and most importantly, the precise outcome you expect from their work.
For example, you’ve hired a number of medical coders who work from home. They have their own ICD-9 and CPT references and access to online patient notes. You may require these contractors to process a specific number of records each hour to hit a performance goal. The SOW should state that goal as well as possible penalties for not maintaining the goal and incentives for exceeding it.
Special Contractor Training
Your virtual team doesn’t have access to the same company materials as your employees do. Consider creating an operations manual for your contractors that details how to perform specific tasks. You don’t want contractors to be struggling with project instructions, especially if you’re paying them by the hour.
An initial orientation for your contractors will set the tone as to how they can get questions answered and whom they call for support. The information should also include the way that you want a particular task done. In the medical coding example, you may ask your team to update a log with the patient name and record ID to indicate that a particular set of notes has been processed.
Set Yourself Up For Repeatable Success
Developing clear communication habits with your freelancer team helps them to be successful. As with your other employees, contractors enjoy working on a successful team. You’ll be creating a pool of contract skills into which you can tap over and over, knowing each time that it will be a successful decision.
(About the Author: Monica Gomez is currently a freelance writer specializing in business and healthcare topics. She has managed both large and small projects with freelancers on a number of occasions.)