5 Best Practices for Collaboration with Freelance Teams

Countless entrepreneurs have now discovered the benefits of hiring freelancers to help grow their business. By leveraging a worldwide talent pool, businesses large and small can quickly ramp up projects without the tradition months-long recruitment window. Many large companies now hire freelancers under long-term contracts to fill central, highly-skilled positions.

There is a big difference, however, when collaborating with freelancers vs. traditional full-time employees. Freelancers are self-employed and are not tied to the stability of a long-term career with one company. Sure, they may contribute to your brand’s mission for ten years and beyond, but they often have multiple streams of income. Freelancers often chose contract employment so they can focus on projects that pique their interest and tap into their niche skills.

Freelance teams require unique resources to enable efficient collaboration. If you are managing a team made up for 5, 10, or 20 freelance contractors, it is vital to put systems into place that allow for an open flow of creativity and keep everyone focused on the central goals at hand. Here are five best practices you can use to collaborate with freelance teams effectively.

1. Concentrate on Shared Fundamentals

Freelance teams are often built with skilled specialists from profoundly different backgrounds. For example, if your project revolves around creating a new app, you might have two software developers, a brand manager, a copywriter, and a public relations expert. Each comes to the virtual table with their objectives and expectations, so it’s essential to bring people together from the beginning.

At the very first meeting, concentrate on shared fundamentals that everyone needs to know: the problem your app will solve, the demographics the app will serve, and the type of message you want to convey. Each freelance contractors will be responsible for upholding some component within each of these areas. By discussing these matters upfront, everyone gets a chance to understand their contribution, and how that works together with the team as a whole.  

A man takes notes during a video conferece. Photo by Campaign Creators on Unsplash

2. Take Collaborative Notes

Freelance teams, especially those with people at remote locations, can occasionally move in diverging directions after the end of a brainstorming session. Everyone seems to be on the same page while the teleconference is in progress, but then something goes wrong. Collaborative notes are a great way to prevent this.

Notejoy is an app designed to allow multiple users to contribute thoughts and ideas quickly and in an organized way. Each time you and your team have a conference call, distribute a page link to everyone and ask them to put all of their notes into the shared document. This creates 100% visibility to all unique takeaways from the meeting, and everyone can see the action items assigned to the team. Any misunderstandings can be identified and resolved before the meeting is adjourned.

3.  Pick an Official Messaging Platform

You cannot manage a team of freelancers without online messaging. Messaging platforms allow for ongoing communications, in one-on-one conversations, and groups. Each contract employee will likely have their messenger of choice, so it’s critical to pick an official app that everyone must use.

A mobile phone is shown with the messaging app Slack on the screen. Photo by Austin Distel on Unsplash

One of the most popular messaging apps designed specifically for professional teams is Slack. It allows you to create channels, so groups of freelancers can maintain searchable conversations around the same topic. Users can also tag individual messages to make detailed statements easy to find later on. If video calls are essential for your team, Skype is also an excellent choice. With Skype, you can integrate text, image, voice, and video conversations all within the same chat.

4. Use Combined Online Documents

Combined documents are beneficial in similar ways to the shared meeting notes. Each time a spreadsheet or presentation deck is saved offline, then revised, then re-distributed, you run the risk of someone not receiving the most up-to-date version. With online documents, everyone makes edits in real time, and all changes are immediately visible. Instead of 17 versions of last month’s activity report floating around, you have 1!

Another advantage of hosting documents online is accessibility. If your team works from a combination of mobile devices and PC workstations, there is no need to save or send documents between machines. Just open the shared link, and you are ready to edit. Google Drive has many useful collaboration features, and the first 15 GB of storage are free with each account.

Two team men collaborate in front of a whiteboard. Photo by  Kaleidico  on  Unsplash

5. Develop Your Own Freelancer Network

Building a network of preferred freelancers will help you get new projects started more quickly and efficiently. Just as with traditional full-time employees, developing working relationships with people helps you better understand their top skills and their limitations. At the end of any project, do a quick evaluation of each freelancer's work, and keep your notes on file. Instead of vetting brand new freelancers for every project, use your existing network to get things rolling right away.

Many freelancers have memberships at coworking spaces and have existing relationships with other professionals. When a new company need arises, ask for referrals from within your existing team. You’ll likely discover they have previous experience collaborating with someone that meets your needs perfectly.

What Everyone Should Know About Remote Workforce Management

The labor force today is clamoring about the benefits of a remote workforce. Whether it's low overhead or access to a global talent pool, there are many advantages. But do these perks outweigh the proven benefits of having a localized team working out of the same building? And if you do decide to build a remote workforce for your company, how do you manage your personnel?

A quick search of any job board will show that the number of remote positions is growing but still amount to only a small fraction of open positions. This observation could be interpreted as a sign that on-location work environments are still the way to go. However, once you understand the inner workings telecommuting, you'll see why so many people consider it the future of business. A 2018 study showed that 70% of professionals worldwide spend at least one day each week working remotely.

If you've always worked in a traditional office environment, the thought of rarely seeing your team in person can seem berserk. There are indeed reasons to want teams all in the same place, especially when it's time to brainstorm or host a company picnic.

Technology has made it possible to communicate with people hundreds of miles away effectively. Anyone with a smartphone can participate in a video chat. Enterprise-ready instant messaging systems are now secure, reliable, and robust in features. Other than shaking someone's hand or share a sandwich, there are few everyday business activities that can't be done through the internet.

That being said, managing a remote workforce requires a unique set of skills. Since you do not have a constant view of what your employees are doing, different practices are necessary to maintain relationships and accountability. Here are a few best practices when managing a digitally connected team.

Invest in Quality Communications Tools

With a remote workforce, you may not need to build a massive building to house the operations of your company. You do, however, need to provide quality digital communications tools. This toolbox might include a professional instant messaging app, such as Slack or Skype for Business. Some companies require employees to maintain their own PC, while others furnish laptops to help support security and efficiency.

Some employees like to work from home, but others thrive in a more professional setting. Consider offering co-working memberships to employees. By providing membership to a co-working space, you give your team access to amenities like quiet conference rooms, networking events, and business-level internet connections.  

Make Expectations Crystal Clear

With a distributed team, setting the right expectations for every single task is crucial. It's not enough to pick up the phone and offer verbal instructions. A clear list of deliverables and deadlines must be saved online available to everyone involved. TandemHR advises "If the employee does not meet these expectations, remember to record the details and discuss them with the employee. If expectations are not met regularly, perhaps a remote work situation is not ideal for them."

Photo by Kaleidico on Unsplash

Photo by Kaleidico on Unsplash

Focus on Results-Based Projects

When you have a team that clocks in and out of the office every day, it can be tempting to associate good work with long hours. If you see employees at their desks from morning till night, there's a good chance they are working. With a team that telecommutes, you can't draw these same conclusions. Therefore it is crucial to structure projects around specific expected results, rather than dictate the number of hours that should be spent.

Instead of asking your team to spend eight hours working on website updates, tell them that you expect the entire site to be updated as soon as possible. If the project is finished quickly, then employees can move on to other priorities. Emily Morgan wrote on HuffPost, "Remote workers will not base their value in clocking in and out, but in the results they are able to produce.  They have the ability to develop their own scenarios to tackle the demands of their job because of this value shift."

Be Intentional About Building Relationships

Some people can build digital rapport more easily than others. It's crucial to build elements into your management structure that help everyone feel like a part of the team. Advise supervisors to bring up fun, non-work related topics at least once per week to help people feel personally connected. Think of it as the virtual "water cooler" conversation.

Dr. Kim Turnage, co-author of the book Managing to Make a Difference, says building relationships and a positive culture must on the very first day: “Ensure there is both a team onboarding activity and time that the new employee spends with each team member one-on-one,” she says. “We have found that a structured get-to-know-you exercise can help facilitate and jump-start relationships.”