Working remotely is an increasingly popular and viable option for all types of workers, especially independent professionals. Our research finds that 4.8 million independents currently describe themselves as digital nomads: workers who have chosen to embrace a location-independent, technology-enabled lifestyle that enables them to travel and work remotely, anywhere in the world. And 17 million more aspire to someday become nomadic.
The ability to work remotely is certainly one of the advantages of working independently, but this flexibility can also raise understandable concerns from enterprise managers about how to effectively track and manage a remote team. While it can initially be more difficult to establish relationships without meeting face-to-face, engaging remote independent talent does lend companies some big advantages.
Expanding your pool of available talent from a single city or state to the world gives companies access to the skilled expertise they need no matter where workers are based. The rise of new collaboration technology also makes it easier for companies to expand their national or global presence for less cost and administrative overhead. Follow the five tips below to work easily and effectively with remote independent professionals.
1. Set Mutual Expectations
A strong independent professional-client relationship begins by making sure you are both on the same page, especially if you are solely communicating via phone, email, or video chat. Take time before a project begins to set realistic and appropriate expectations. Don’t skip typical onboarding procedures just because your talent is remote—if anything, it is more important to make sure you are aligned on goals from the start when working with someone remotely. Discuss goals, performance objectives, project milestones, and ask and answer any outstanding questions.
2. Build a Plan for Communication
Outlining a concrete plan for communication is another good way to establish a trusting relationship. Schedule a consistent time to check in with your independent talent. A written status update, bi-weekly phone call, or monthly video conference call are all good options. If time zones will be a factor, be conscientious of each other’s work hours and discuss the best way to get in touch in case of an escalation.
By talking through communication preferences before work beings, you can help ward off future misunderstanding and frustration. If there are multiple business units involved in a project, be sure to assign a single point of contact for each department. A good communication plan will help avoid project delays, and ensure that issues can be discussed and resolved quickly.
3. Use Technology to Stay Organized
New technology makes it much easier for managers to arrange real-time collaboration with independent talent, and there are a wide variety of options that can help facilitate remote work. Project management tools like Basecamp can be useful for maintaining joint to-do lists, calendars, or discussion boards. Dropbox or Google Drive are good options for cloud-based storage systems. WebEx, Slack, or GoToMeeting can be useful communication and meeting tools, especially when working across different regions and time zones. Whatever communication tools you choose to use, make sure that both you and your independent talent are comfortable and familiar with how the tools will be used.
4. Always Stick to Deadlines
Adhering to deadlines may sound obvious, but this is an especially important point when working with remote talent. Upholding deadlines on your end will help keep both the project and the independent contractor on track. Before beginning work on a new major deliverable, take time to review the scope of work again to discuss relevant dates and responsibilities. By reviewing set milestones ahead of time, you can hold one another accountable or discuss additional work that may need to be added to the contract.
5. Be Mindful of the Client-Contractor Relationship
Collaborating with remote workers is all about finding a balance between too much oversight and not enough—especially when engaging independent talent. When working with independents, always remember that you are managing a business-to-business relationship. Independent contractors are responsible for managing both the process and the outcome to meet the agreed-upon results outlined in their contract.
Always turn back to and rely on the contract when setting expectations and discussing expected outcomes. It’s not your responsibility to oversee what your remote talent is doing with every hour of their workday—instead, measure their performance by the product they produce and the interactions you have with them throughout the process.
Managing remote workers may initially seem like an unnecessary or added challenge, but with preparation and foresight incorporating remote independent talent into your workforce can be both easily manageable and beneficial for your organization.