How to Manage Inefficient Communication With Freelancers

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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 fulltime, 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.

 Last week I introduced four common challenges that occur when managing freelance employees. They are:

  1. Inefficient communication between managers and freelance employees
  2. Difficult collaboration between full-time employees and freelance employees
  3. Projects not being completed correctly or on time by freelance employees
    … and the big whopper…
  4. Trying to maintain organizational culture and values with freelance employees

This week, 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

 

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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 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 fulltime employee and shouldn’t be expected to be available fulltime.

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.

Next week, we will take a look at the challenges managers face when working on collaborative projects between freelance and full time employees.

Until then, you may want to study up on the four workplace trends that are headed our way. The drastic increase of freelance employees isn’t the only change on the horizon!

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.

 

 

 

* Statistics from the first comprehensive survey on freelancing in eight years — done by the Freelancers Union and Elance-oDesk.

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4 Comments

  1. ChrisR
    December 8, 2014

    The same principles should apply for managers and IN-HOUSE employees, quite honestly. No one should ever be treated as if they are at anyone’s beck and call due to managerial unwillingness to have work processes and project management procedures in place.

    Reply
    • Anne Loehr
      January 5, 2015

      Hi Chris,

      Thanks so much for your comment. I agree completely! It sounds like you may have experienced first hand the drawbacks of not having processes and project management procedures in place. While processes take time and attention to develop, and will always evolve, they are incredibly useful for both managers and their teams. Definitely a win-win situation.

      Reply
  2. Virginia
    March 21, 2016

    The content of the article is a good reminder. The title bothers me: “freelance employee” is a paradox.
    Freelancers are independent contractors, not eligible for company benefits and not subject to “company culture” or strict rules. Or one could be a W2 employee and work remotely and/or on a part-time basis and yet eligible for benefits, and governed by the corporate culture and rules. Tax authorities and Employment Dept make a pretty huge deal about blurring those lines.

    Reply
    • Anne Loehr
      March 29, 2016

      Hi Virginia,

      Great point. I didn’t even think about the paradox of “freelance employee”! Misclassification of freelancers/employees is a big and potentially expensive problem. I wrote about it awhile back: http://www.anneloehr.com/2015/05/28/how-to-avoid-employee-misclassification/ Yet if a freelancer is going to be working with an organization for a longer project, or long-term, I think company culture becomes relevant. Not as something to be “subjected to” but just as a way to align values and have a positive and productive contractor/organization working relationship. Thank you for your comment!

      Reply

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