Skin in the Game: Top Hacks to Boost Freelance Team Productivity & Satisfaction / Careers / Last Modified: February 22, 2017

Top freelance talent is in high demand. Learn the secrets to retaining and engaging the best freelance team with these tips.

With nearly one out of every three Americans (34 percent) working on a freelance basis, the old “9 to 5” schedule is as good as dead.

A six-month study to be published in Human Relations reveals that freelance workers maximize performance when they have greater control over their projects, including the time of day (or night) that they work on these projects – even if this also means freelancers are taking on more than eight hours of work per day.

However, this enthusiasm for work (and resulting productivity peaks) will dampen when freelancers perceive their working relationships with company project managers to be constrained or stressful.

Related Article: Freelancing in the Digital Age: The Freedom and the Fear

As businesses move to flexible work hours, increase telecommuting opportunities, and opt to build part-time freelance times (rather than take on the added costs of full-time hires), project managers face new challenges. One of these top challenges is juggling a freelancer’s desire for job flexibility with the realities of your company’s demands.

Sure, your star freelancer may do her best work at 2 am, but that’s not exactly convenient timing for a conference call. It’s also not a particularly helpful if she’s unavailable during regular business hours to answer questions or make immediate changes.

Collaboration with freelance teams doesn’t have to be painful. Take a short cut to greater productivity and all around greater job satisfaction with these time saving, team-building hacks:

Collaborate Seamlessly

Your freelancers are scattered around the country, your CMO is in London for a meeting, and you’re headed out to San Francisco for a week– sounds like a recipe for a lot of phone tag and confusing email chains, right? It doesn’t have to be. Cloud-based collaboration platforms make project management and virtual conference calls a breeze, no matter how many time zones your team currently spans.

Trello is a board-based project management system. Create a board for each stage in your workflow and assign cards for each project. As the freelancer moves through the workflow, he or she can move the card to indicate the project status. Trello allows for file attachments, comments with tagging to alert a worker their attention is needed, and more. It can be set up in a number of ways, so no matter what your business is doing, Trello boards can be organized to suit you. The best part? Trello’s straightforward, drag-and-drop interface facilitates a friction-free workflow.

ClickMeeting is an excellent tool for meeting with remote members of the organization, much the same way you would meet in a boardroom. This is a good way to catch up on each other’s accomplishments and performance, and is also a good way to train freelance staff on business-specific tasks. This platform also lets you record trainings that can be later viewed by your freelancers at a time that suits their schedule.

For projects with tight deadlines, I also like to use a messaging service like Skype. While instant messaging is helpful for communication between you and your freelance staff, I reserve it for immediate needs. It’s important to not keep freelancers too busy with constant chats, as this can take valuable time away from your bigger projects. For larger enterprises, both applications have business-oriented versions designed for organizations that need more features and better control.

Maximize Workflow Transparency 

Transparency is key for both you and your freelancers. Your freelancers need to know you trust them to get the work done, and you need to know that they are getting it done. Using collaboration platforms like the ones I’ve already mentioned can also help you establish a transparent workflow, where both you and the freelancer know what to expect at all times.

Related Article: 6 Ways Yoga Can Improve Productivity at Work

For larger organizations, establishing institutional knowledge is also important in keeping workers productive. Thus, instead of workers always having to ask questions and exchanging solutions, your organization can maintain a knowledge base on SharePoint or a similar platform, so that users can simply search for the right answers and likewise contribute new information. And, because humans strive for social connections, organizations will also benefit from business-oriented social networks that let people collaborate in real-time.

Offer Health and Well-Being Benefits 

Obtaining work-related health benefits like pensions and health insurance (and dealing with the general lack thereof) is one of the biggest struggles freelancers face. A healthy workforce is a productive one. According to Kingsberg Medical, a provider of therapy-based lifestyle treatments, a healthy body positively affects cognitive ability and improves productivity. Consider offering medical benefits or group health insurance to alleviate the stress of healthcare for your freelancers. Even something as simple as medical alert systems may provide value to your freelancers.

Pay Fair, Consistent Wages

Freelancers often have issues with payments. Whether these payments are late (or simply never materialize), a delayed or missing payment can create a serious cash-flow crunch. A study among self-employed people in New York State found that 35 percent of them were paid late at least once during the preceding year, and 14 percent did work for one or more clients who never paid them at all. Lost wages in New York alone over one year equaled more than $3 billion. Avoid payment problems by being transparent about the payment process from day one.

Clearly outline how much is to be paid; when these payments will be made (e.g., 50 percent up front, 50 percent upon completion or monthly based on work completed during the previous period); and how these payments will be made (check, PayPal, Gusto, etc.). For internationally based freelancers, be clear about the payment currency. What are your expectations for invoicing; should freelancers invoice at the end of every month or upon project completion? Communicate clearly and transparently about payment and, most importantly, follow-through when you say you’ll pay!

Imagine Life From a Freelancer's Perspective

Not sure about the value you’re offering to your freelance staff? Ask yourself these questions: Am I clearly defining my business needs and goals? Am I communicating these goals with clear instructions? Am I open and responsive to constructive feedback? When freelancers aren’t confident in what your business is doing as a whole or what work deliverables you specifically need, frustration is inevitable.

And just because your freelancers aren’t gathering around a water cooler in-person doesn’t mean they aren’t still chatting about “office gossip” via email or instant messenger. When one freelancer gets upset, it’s inevitable that the whole team will hear about it. Keep morale high and frustrations low by treating freelancers just as you would any other employee. When you do what you can to make the work process as easy as possible, they’ll work hard in return for you.

Related Article: Helpful Tips for Maximizing Employee Productivity in a World of Distractions

Bottom Line:

With more workers opting to freelance rather than accept a full-time position with just one company, the competition for the best freelance talent is fierce. Flexible working hours and a fair wage are no longer enough to woe and retain top talent. Streamlining workflow, expanding benefits, and keeping pay consistent will make it easier for your business to attract the very best freelance talent.

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