A distributed workforce is the way of the future for startups, small businesses and even branches or larger companies. Business owners enjoy reduced costs, and freelancers love the flexibility that working remotely provides. But as we experience new technology and advances, so too are we faced with new problems and hurdles to productivity. To fully take advantage of a distributed workforce, you will need to address the unique drawbacks they suffer and build freelancers into becoming a positive force for your company.
The Problems a Distributed Workforce Faces
Remote freelancers are in a desirable position; they can work from wherever they want to. But that freedom comes with a price. By being so far away from the nucleus of their boss, they can experience problems with morale, communication and loyalty.
It may seem like these people are far removed from your business, and they somehow have less of an impact. But they can be just as hardworking as the hires that work at your headquarters. They can also be vital to your company’s survival, so it’s essential to understand the difficulties they face.
Even with all of the apps and telecom technologies available over the internet, communication remains one of the most persistent and difficult problems to deal with when it comes to a distributed workforce. You can send messages and voice chat to people anywhere in the world, but it’s tough to beat being able to just pop into an office for a quick word.
There are also difficulties when it comes to availability. Sure, your messages may be instant, but are freelancers able to respond to them with the same efficiency? A distributed workforce may be spread out across multiple time zones, making for a wide variation in availability times. Working at home also adds the risk of things cropping up like childcare issues, other clients demanding attention, problems with the home or any other unforeseen distractions.
Communication breakdowns are terrible for business, so if you’re hiring a distributed workforce, make sure you understand the unique communication problems they face. If you don’t, lack of shared knowledge and information can lead to even worse problems.
If members of a distributed workforce aren’t on the same page, you’re going to waste a lot of time in the planning department alone. If they are not aware of what the plan is or when certain parts of it are to be executed, you’ll find that you have to repeat yourself often and will always fall behind schedule. Excessive setbacks mean lost profit and opportunity, even if the quality of work is there.
The reason for the poor sharing of plans in a distributed workforce is often poor communication. Plans made at the managerial level or in person sometimes don’t get passed along. Maybe someone forgot to mention it to the remote freelancers. Maybe it just took too long for them to get the message and the time had passed. Or perhaps the message just got lost in the shuffle.
Often, remote freelancers get left out of planning moments altogether because of the difficulty of getting everyone together. This is a mistake, as meetings are one of the key ways of binding freelancers together and increasing the exchange of information.
Business owners are sometimes tempted to leave remote freelancers out of meetings. The difficulty of getting a a distributed workforce connected through software or scheduling around everyone’s available time can be a hassle. It makes for a hard time scheduling meetings, and it’s even worse putting together impromptu meetings when unexpected issues surface.
Even when everyone is present at the meeting, remote freelancers can still feel left out. It can be difficult to have your voice heard on a conference call or group voice chat, so they sometimes choose just to remain silent. When they do speak up, however, a lot can still be lost because of the digital filter.
Meeting attendees miss body language and other subtleties that are essential for communication. Couple all of these problems with mundane technical issues like dropped connections, and you have a recipe for a disastrously ineffective meeting if you aren’t prepared.
Feeling Left Out
All of these communication difficulties can upset you as the business owner, but it can be equally upsetting to remote freelancers. Poor communication often leads to a sense or feeling of being unimportant. When managers leave them out of meetings or people are slow to respond to their messages and queries, they’ll begin to feel as though they are not relevant to the company.
A sense of purpose and accomplishment is crucial for happiness, and can be more difficult to obtain as a remote freelancer. Morale can suffer terribly if members of a distributed workforce are feeling ineffectual. After all, if they don’t feel their work is important or being taken seriously, why work hard?
Excluded From The Culture
It should come as no surprise that a distributed workforce has a much more difficult time cementing the bonds between project collaborators. Remote freelancers can’t talk in the hallways or have a conversation at lunchtime as easily, so their other people on a project appear distant and intangible. A group comprised of friends accomplishes more than a bunch of freelancers who are have failed to build rapport. It’s hard to make friends when you do not see the people you work with in real time. It is important that management find ways to bring a distributed workforce together, even virtually, so that they can feel comfortable sharing and forming relationships with everyone that they deal with in the company.
Problems at the Top
Remote freelancers aren’t the only ones who might have problems. Management that is unprepared for the difficulties of a distributed workforce can exacerbate existing problems. Those in charge of human resources also might not take the appropriate steps to ensure that the remote freelancers feel they are getting the support they need. If the head of the company doesn’t treat remote freelancers like full and valued contributors, they will begin to believe that they are unimportant and act accordingly.
Building Spirit and Loyalty
If remote freelancers begin to feel under-appreciated or underutilized, you may find yourself with a high turnover rate for freelancers. Keeping morale up and building a sense of loyalty to the company is important for any company, but it is crucial for a business with a distributed workforce who can lose confidence more easily if they are left out.
Raising remote freelancers’ spirits is a worthwhile endeavor which will help you reap the benefits of having a distributed workforce while avoiding the common pitfalls.
Get Everyone on the Same Page
An increased flow of information goes a long way towards strengthening your relationships with members of a distributed workforce. If remote freelancers are in on the plans and have just as much information as everyone else, they’ll feel more valuable and able to maintain their productivity. Making sure everyone communicates effectively isn’t a chore, it is an indispensable part of keeping a distributed workforce happy and efficient.
You can encourage the sharing of ideas by making your workspace operations more transparent. Don’t dole out information piecemeal and keep things from remote freelancers because you don’t think it’s pertinent. Keeping a distributed workforce in the dark about other goings-on in the business will give them the impression that the “real” work takes place at the physical location and they are just auxiliaries meant to perform tasks of secondary importance when needed.
Treat remote freelancers as full members of the company, even if there are only a few of them and you never see them. Letting them know that you trust them with the inner workings of the company will signal that you value everyone working on a project, regardless of location, and this builds loyalty.
You want remote freelancers to have clear goals at all times. They aren’t able to quickly check in with you, the managers or other people on the project, so you should ensure that they have constant direction. Often, management will only speak to or message freelancers when they want something done, so members of a distributed workforce are usually self-starters and independent. These are valuable traits to have, but without direction, they may make damaging assumptions or hesitate to act without explicit directives.
To make sure that everyone is clear on their goals, adjust the way you or the managers run meetings. Instead of long and infrequent meetings, adopt a quicker “scrum-like” meeting style on a daily basis, if not more regularly. These can serve as a good check-in times to keep freelancers on target, since making frequent and brief queries is more difficult for a distributed workforce.
Bring Members of a Distributed Workforce Together
Turning freelancers into a well-oiled machine requires cementing the bonds of trust and camaraderie between them. It is difficult to do with remote freelancers, but not impossible. Building a workplace culture that people are proud to belong to and giving them a sense of belonging will keep spirits high and nurture loyalty.
Engaging Main Office Workers
If you have workers in your main office that work with remote freelancers, enlist their help. The a distributed workforce will feel like the new kids at school. Encouragement and support from their equals will help them fit in quicker and easier, and this is often more important to freelancers than reassurance from superiors. Get veterans to bring new remote hires into the fold as soon as possible.
Build a Workplace Culture
Fostering a culture at work isn’t just about hosting events or putting video games in the break room. They help, but remote freelancers can’t take advantage of those things. Creating a culture means developing a company ethos and philosophy, a way of working and a set of beliefs that all collaborators share for the betterment of the business.
Make sure everyone knows the expectations of the company, and the company’s work philosophy. How do we work? What is our main priority? What are our values? Which things do we prize the most? When do freelancers deserve extra rewards? Shared understanding builds unity.
Socializing in the Workplace
You can also nurture the social culture of your workspace. Being social with others gives remote freelancers a support structure and helps them to become friends rather than just people who happen to work in the same place. Encourage socializing with chat software like Slack, and get them to talk more with one another by pairing them up on a regular basis for voice call check-ins. If possible, arrange for fun in-person meet-ups when convenient so that they can put faces to the people they chat with everyday, and in a positive environment.
Gamification is a process by which managers change workplace behavior by implementing systems that resemble games. Increased competition and the giving out of rewards based on the successful completion of tasks are both cornerstones of gamification. Since a lot of gamification takes place digitally, it makes for an ideal solution for increasing engagement in the workplace and fostering loyalty.
Hold On To What You Have
You may be able to hire the best remote freelancers and give them all the resources in the world to work with, but if they feel disconnected from the company and aren’t committed to projects, then they won’t be around for long. Take the time to develop the spirit and bonds of loyalty in a distributed workforce, and they will reward you with better outcomes and lower turnover.
Dakota has been published on a wide ranging spectrum of respected sites. His writing inspirations are drawn from the areas of saving/making money, goal setting, technology, investments and beyond.