According to recent surveys, approximately one third of the U.S. workforce, or 42 million people, can be categorized as independent workers or "freelancers." As businesses look to trim costs associated with full-time employees (e.g. health insurance, retirement plans, etc.) and workers continue to demand increased freedom and flexibility, there can be little doubt that businesses will become even more reliant on independent workers in the coming years.
As these workers are primarily mobile, business leaders’ new challenge will be to learn how to deftly manage a decentralized workforce. In large part, this means staying abreast of the latest technology so that you can monitor your workers’ tasks and progress effectively without the luxury of strolling over to their desk to check in on them.
Depending on the needs of your business, the solutions will be different, but the key is embracing a new ethos – one that understands the importance of streamlined communication, shared knowledge bases, and open-source accountability. Here are a few quick tips:
Share documents online.
When you’re collaborating with a team that isn’t all in one office with access to a shared server, it’s essential to find alternative ways to share crucial information seamlessly. Shared documents, such as GoogleDocs which offers a shareable equivalent of Microsoft Word, Excel and PowerPoint, can be a key resource for collaboratively maintaining ever-changing references like production schedules, research documents, and proposals in development. This allows team members to log in at their leisure and see what has recently changed or quickly input new information, while circumventing the need to exchange docs via email, which often leads to version-control issues.
Invest in a project management system.
As with shared docs, online project management tools can also be incredibly useful for efficiently collaborating with a decentralized staff, as well as clients. Platforms such as Basecamp, Pbwiki, and, my favorite, the Action Method (developed by Behance, a group I collaborate with regularly) all offer robust systems that assist with remote collaboration by allowing groups to share public “to-do” lists, debate ideas on discussion threads, set events and milestones, and file documents for reference. Most systems are oriented around projects, so that individuals can view information and contribute to discussions on a need-to-know basis, a.k.a. only for projects relevant to them.
Try video conferencing in lieu of phone conferencing.
When a face-to-face chat is needed but you can’t get everyone in a room, any of the freely video chat solutions (Skype, iChat, AIM) work well—and much better than a phone call oftentimes. Video conferencing has warmth and friendliness that’s not as readily apparent on a conference call – it also has the added benefits of requiring people to be engaged (because they can be seen) and being significantly less expensive for international conversations. iChat in particular can also be used quite effectively for remote presentations at conferences and workshops.
***This article is adapted from the research and writing of Jocelyn K. Glei, a creative strategist with expertise in editorial, design and publishing. She regularly collaborates with Scott Belsky and the Behance Team, who run the Behance Creative Network, the Action Method project management application, the Creative Jobs List, and develop knowledge, products, and services that help creative professionals make ideas happen.