Workplace collaboration takes on new challenges with freelancers in the mix

Bill Joy famously said, “whoever you are, most of the smartest people work for someone else.” It’s a saying that nicely encapsulates the thinking around talent management today as we see things such as open innovation and crowdsourcing platforms jostle with the gig economy to provide a thriving marketplace for skills and talent. How do you work with this interesting pool of talents? Let’s find out!

Recent estimates suggest that around 80-90% of large organizations are using such platforms to access the talent they need, and it makes a lot of sense to do so. You’re fishing in a global pool of the best talent that you only have to bring in on an as-needed basis.

It does require a slightly different approach to managing your teams, however, as freelancers are a slightly different breed than your regular employees. This post explores some of those differences and highlight how you can successfully manage teams that are a mixture of employed and freelance workers.


Inside the mind of a freelancer

A couple of years ago a study was published in the journal Human Relations that explored what makes freelancers happy (and sad). Perhaps unsurprisingly, in a lifestyle where income can be transient, happiness was largely dependent upon the number of hours of work they had secured.

“Freelance workers are calmer and more enthusiastic when their hours are higher than their normal pattern of working,” the authors say.

The study also highlighted the different ways in which freelancing can influence workers’ work/life balance. Whilst this is an issue for most employees, it’s a particular area of concern for freelancers. Thanks to Unified Communication and Collaboration (UCC) tools, they are able to work anytime and anyplace, the reality for many freelancers is that it’s difficult to switch off.

Just as with salaried employees, non-work activities can be crucial in helping people to recharge, and therefore have a big impact on the quality of work delivered. So when work eats into that time it can not only diminish the quality of work delivered, but also the freelancer’s enthusiasm for the project. As with so much in life, quality really matters more than quantity.

In other words, the key to happiness for most freelancers lies in finding that sweet spot where they have enough work, but not too much. They need enough work to assuage any concerns about cash flow, but not so much that they cannot enjoy the non-work activities that are so important to ensuring the work they deliver is of a high standard.

UCC brings autonomy. Autonomy makes a freelancer happy

Aside from the hours themselves, a number of key aspects of work motivate freelancers. Indeed, these aspects are fundamental reasons why freelancers choose this particular lifestyle over a salaried alternative.

Keys to freelancer happiness include a varied workload and a high degree of control over how that work is conducted. Autonomy is crucial, but so is engagement in the projects they take on. Studies of people participating in a range of crowdsourcing type projects highlight how love of the project and the freedom to approach it in whatever way they choose were the core motivations.

That’s good news, as studies have found that the same motivations are present in salaried employees too. Indeed, one paper in the Sociological Quarterly highlights the size of performance boosts that occur when employees are given autonomy over their work. It emerged that when employees were given control over their work, including the schedule they adopt in order to complete it, this empowerment usually meant they worked both longer and harder than they did when their schedule was decided for them. Organizations investing in robust collaboration tools will definitively be one step ahead in attracting and retaining the best global talents.

Freelancers do come with some unique demands, but meeting them will motivate them to do great work on your project. That said, they also present various challenges when it comes to meshing them together into a high-performing team.

 Five ways to unite virtual teams

The global marketplace for freelance talent means that often, your team will have people contributing from various places around the world. That necessitates the use of virtual platforms to allow your team to communicate and collaborate on their projects effectively.  Virtual platforms offer many advantages in terms of managing disparate teams. There’s no guarantee that a team will thrive, regardless of the individual talents within it, but skillfully employed management strategies for virtual teams can make all the difference. Here are five tips to help you manage your virtual team effectively.

  1. Keep your teams small. A recent study from Cornell highlights the importance of familiarity in successful teams. The best teams, whether virtual or physical, know each other well, and that can be better accomplished when teams are sufficiently small to allow personal relationships to form.
  2. Accept the limitations of distance. Of course we like to think of virtual tools as shrinkers of distance, but several studies, the latest of which was from MIT this summer, have highlighted the importance of physical proximity for collaboration and teamwork. Virtual teams offer you the bonus of greater thought diversity, but the flip side is that teams have to work that much harder to be effective. With collaboration tools such as Rainbow , distance can become less of an issue.
  3. Emphasize team working. It’s important not just to focus on the individual skills and expertise of team members, but also to take account of the various social skills that underpin good teamwork. As the distance grows, so too does the importance of these social skills. Don’t undervalue them.
  4. Make sure you have good task-related processes. Often, virtual teams work on projects that are broken down into smaller tasks. With team members often working independently, it’s crucial that you employ the right processes to manage these sub-tasks. This is not a sexy job, but is especially important and will help to ensure that each member of the team is contributing fully. Collaboration tools that integrate with business processes will bring more efficiencies to virtual teams.
  5. Encourage self-leadership. With virtual teams, it’s unlikely you can thrive with a command and control structure where a single individual dominates. Instead, leadership needs to be spread broadly across the team. This is because virtual teams offer fewer opportunities for leaders to monitor performance, so each team member has to take more responsibility for their own work, including their relationships with their teammates. Access to collaboration tools where everybody is connected can flatten the hierarchy and enable autonomy and self-leadership.

The virtues of tapping into a global talent pool are clear, and digital platforms can help you form such teams. These tips should help you to overcome some of the challenges inherent in building a virtual team, and ensure that your own teams exceed the sum of their parts.

Adi Gaskell

Adi Gaskell is an experienced innovator who has over 15 years experience across startups, government and industry. He comes with an academic background in artificial intelligence and bioinformatics, and has worked with organisations such as the NHS, The Ministry of Defence, Salesforce, Deloitte, Oracle and GSK. He also writes for Forbes and the BBC and contributed to a recent book on change in healthcare.
By | 2018-03-08T10:54:48+00:00 March 5th, 2018|Tags: , , , , , |