One of the four major workforce trends headed our way is the rise in freelance workers. In fact, the freelance workforce is already 53 million strong, and growing.
To prepare for the workforce of the future, it's time managers take a close look at how managing freelance employees varies from managing full-time, in-house employees. Good management skills transcend any working relationship. Yet by identifying common challenges that arise when working with freelancers, managers can set themselves, and their freelance staff, up for success.
Here are four common challenges that occur when managing freelance employees:
- Inefficient communication between managers and freelance employees
- Difficult collaboration between full-time employees and freelance employees
- Projects not being completed correctly or on time by freelance employees
- Trying to maintain organizational culture and values with freelance employees
I'd like to take an in-depth look at how inefficient communication can be avoided with freelance employees. I will present a common problematic scenario from both the freelancer's and manager's perspective, discuss a solution to the problem presented, and offer five tips for communicating effectively with freelance workers.
Inefficient Communication is Common Between Managers and Freelance Employees
Let's be honest. When it comes to freelancers, you are managing people who could be at their desk, poolside, or writing you from an airplane. Tight communication between the freelancer and manager is needed for this arrangement to work. If not, both parties will become frustrated and tasks that can be done quickly will end up being delayed.
Take a look at the following scenario.
PROBLEM: THE MANAGER AND THE FREELANCER JUST CAN'T SEEM TO COMMUNICATE.
Freelancer's Perspective: I'm not sure how I am supposed to get my work done if no one will return my emails. Sometimes it takes over 24 hours to respond! And then other times, I get 10 emails at 3am on a Saturday; do they expect me to be available at all hours of the night? It's also irritating to get phone calls from my manager at random times during the week. I am not a full-time employee and shouldn't be expected to be available full-time.
Manager's Perspective: Every time I call Mariano, it goes straight to voicemail. Then, he will email to ask what I called about, instead of calling me back. My inbox is crazy and I want to reach out personally to my freelancers to make sure I don't miss anything. I wouldn't have called if I wanted to ask him a question via email! I like to talk to each of my freelance team members at least once a week, but it's impossible with Mariano.
SOLUTION: IT IS SO IMPORTANT FOR MANAGERS TO ESTABLISH COMMUNICATION PROTOCOLS WITH THEIR FREELANCERS.
Here are five tips for doing that:
5 Tips for Communicating Efficiently with Freelance Workers
1. Set Email Protocol in Advance
Communicate email expectations to your freelancer in advance. Do you expect a response outside of business hours? Do you prefer a summary email of all questions at the end of the day? Or are you open to questions coming in as they arise? Also, does your freelancer have particular hours that she is available for email? Take the mystery out of email frequency and time; it will do you both good.
2. Schedule All Checks-ins in Advance
If you do want a weekly status call, it is more likely to happen if it is scheduled in advance. Give your freelancers time to prepare. Since they are not fulltime, you can't expect them to be available fulltime. Check-ins can help both you and your freelancer stay focused on getting things done. Email check-ins are also productive. As a general rule, in today's world, a phone call is less common and can be seen more inconvenient than email.
3. Establish a System to Recap Meetings
Because your freelancer can't pop over to your desk with a follow-up question, and you can't see if they look totally confused when you're speaking to them over the phone, it's a good idea to have a system in place for meeting recaps. Decide who takes notes, and how those notes will be distributed. If this is a meeting between you and your freelancer, send a quick follow up email restating what you intended to communicate, and ask if there are any questions. Your freelancer will appreciate the framework, and you will be opening up a comfortable space for questions.
4. Remember Moods and Attitudes Don't Always Translate
It can be difficult for a freelancer to know if you are displeased with their work, upset about another issue, or generally a negative person. All they have to go on is the tone of your emails, and sometimes the tone of your voice on the phone. For example, your in-house employees know when there is a high stress situation in the organization, so when they see you frustrated, acting short, or unable to be as responsive to emails, they understand the reason why. Your freelancer doesn't have this insight. Be sure to communicate in a positive way when possible, and let them know in advance if you need to be short with them for any reason.
5. Track Projects in an Easy Way for Both You and Your Freelancer
Many managers use software programs to keep track of assigned and completed tasks. Both the freelancer and the manager can update the information so that it remains current. One platform that I find easy and efficient is Asana. Trello is also well liked. Look into your options, and ask your freelancer what they are familiar with as well.
So if we look at these tips, we can see that in the scenario above, Mariano's manager could have told him that he does not have to reply emails outside of business hours (i.e. ignore that 3AM Saturday email until Monday rolls around!) In addition, Mariano may not know that his manager likes to touch-base with her freelance employees once a week. If his manager and he had agreed on a weekly call time, Mariano would no longer appear impossible to track down. Also, a pre-defined meeting recap system, and a project-tracking tool may further streamline working together. In the end, the manager will see that Mariano isn't a difficult employee after all.
As you can see, establishing clear communication standards with your freelancers is the backbone to a positive and productive working relationship. To take it a step further, treat them as you would treat any team member when it comes to looping them in on your company's mission and goals. The more you integrate them into your team, the better your interpersonal relationships will be with them.
I'd love to hear from both freelancers and managers about their communication challenges. Have you found a solution to any inefficient communication? Discussing these issues will benefit everyone involved in the current and future workforce. Start the conversation in the comment section below, send me an email, or talk to me on Twitter.
Anne Loehr is a sought after keynote speaker, writer, consultant, and trainer. She helps leaders in large organizations connect their everyday decisions today to the future workplace. Her end goal is to help organizations retain their top talent and not only survive, but thrive. To learn more about Anne, check out www.anneloehr.com or follow her on Twitter.