How Agencies Can Better Collaborate With Telecommuters

07/15/2015 02:43 pm ET Updated Jul 14, 2016

To recruit bright and sophisticated talent, businesses must look beyond the traditional labor force. Companies that embrace retaining contingent workers and hiring productive telecommuters will find themselves at a competitive advantage. Unfortunately, managers who are accustomed to overseeing employees in a 9-to-5 office environment often have a tough time adjusting their behaviors and skills to effectively utilize contractors, consultants and remote workers without creating relationship strain.

I spoke with three agency representatives to learn how they collaborate with team members who are available only on a part-time basis or primarily work from home.

Treat them like regular employees

Avoid alienating contractors and telecommuters. Crystal L. Kendrick, president of marketing consultancy The Voice of Your Customer, actively includes part-time and remote workers "on all internal communications and company activities." This allows her team members to build stronger, warmer relationships with each other. Contractors also develop a better understanding of the company's goals, needs and opportunities, and how they can help.

The key to a successful client-contractor relationship is: treat contractors as well as full-time employees. Remote workers, too, should share the same privileges. Kendrick says, "We offer these persons opportunities to engage with the workforce, complete trainings and ensure that they have access to all of the resources in the office. We also ensure that these persons are paid fair wage, they are compensated in a timely manner and that they receive pay increases at the appropriate intervals. We also invite our contractors and part-time employees to join us for social activities, company affairs, networking sessions and customer events as appropriate."

Regardless of whether they'll receive a W-2 or a 1099 at the end of the year, everyone The Voice of Your Customer employs or retains is a valued, long-term asset. In fact, "Many of our contractors and part-time employees have been with us for many years." To Kendrick, part-time workers play an integral role in the agency's overall success.

Establish clear communication and respect their time

With nine years of experience at a virtual PR agency, Sue Huss, General Manager of Client Services at Comunicano, knows the best agency-contractor relationships are well-structured. To do that, Huss recommends:

  1. Always be aware of part-time contractors' work hours. When working across multiple time zones, it is important that you don't require people to work outside of their regular business hours unless they are OK with that.
  2. Always designate a time budget. Designate either how many hours a week are needed, or, if it's short-term project work, be sure to specify XX hours for a project to be completed by XX date.
  3. Always confirm availability before committing someone to a scheduled meeting. Never assume that someone is readily available for your meetings and your meetings only.
  4. Clearly define roles. Will the contractor have client contact? What is the contractor responsible for?
  5. Clearly define the project. What is the desired outcome? What needs to take place to reach the desired outcome?
  6. Talk. It's easy to over-rely on email, but things can get lost or be misinterpreted. Scheduling a recurring, touch-base call to ensure everything is moving in the right direction and questions/concerns can be addressed is well worth the time.

Knowing exactly when colleagues are available and how much time they've budgeted encourages you to be sensitive to their schedules. Overtime, this leads to a more productive working relationship. Also, with clear communication around roles, expectations and other business-related matters, agencies establish accountability and minimize confusion.

Develop a checklist

Create standard procedures and protocols that help guide successful relationships with contractors, consultants and remote workers.

At Gonzberg Agency, a small advertising and PR shop, Maria Gonzalez's team developed a checklist "for managers working with remote talent (employee or freelancer)." Below are points worth noting from that checklist. Think of these as critical questions to ask when you work with contingent workers or telecommuters.

  • Enhanced manager basics
  • Have you improved your project management skills in the areas of: pooling of acquired information, knowledge management, being proactive and monitoring processes?
  • Since miscommunication can create problems with a remote employee's performance, are you making an effort to possess a dollop of humility and take on more accountability for your mistakes?
  • From the very start of the manager-employee relationship, have you set goals and performance standards via a work plan?
  • Even though you do not see your remote employees on a day-to-day basis, are you making sure to judge their performance based on results and not perceived effort?
  • Virtual communication
  • To avoid sounding angry when communicating via e-mail, are you making sure not to be too abrupt and "all business"?
  • To avoid resentment from "simply being given an order," are you making sure that you explain the big picture behind your requests (as you would for an onsite employee)?
  • Are you encouraging feedback from your remote workers, in order to get insight on their typical practices that would be good for your bottom line?
  • Provide collaborative tools
  • To effectively collaborate and share information with the remote employee, are you providing him/her with access to applicable technologies and shareable applications?
  • Are you keeping in mind the connectivity issues that could arise from setting up a remote location or outfitting an employee who travels frequently?

Companies need to get over the idea that the best solutions are only created in-house. Outsource work to contractors and consultants and hire remote workers who live thousands of miles away. In doing so, you'll be able to tap some of the best and brightest minds to help you deliver exceptional results for all of your clients.

This article originally appeared on the Central Desktop blog and is republished with permission.