Remote Psychology. Keeping your freelance team motivated and engaged

Freelance has long ceased being a trend and today it is a prominent employment format in business. Modern market is increasingly turning to freelance which is equally attractive for employers and employees. However, working with remote teams has its peculiarities and comes with its challenges. Julia Bataltseva is sharing her opinion on the topic. Julia is the CMO at EasyStaff, the IT solution for remote workers across the world.

What psychological difficulties freelancers face

From my experience, I was able to point out these problems that freelancers seem to encounter most often.

Social Isolation

Working remotely and largely on their own, freelancers tend to lose touch with colleagues and other people. Lack of offline face-to-face communication may cause the feeling of isolation and loneliness which further negatively affects their state of mind. What’s more, social isolation is the first step towards emotional burnout, known to be caused by severe mental exhaustion.

Financial insecurity

Freelancers are forced to constantly look for new clients and projects which inevitably leads to high stress levels and daily uncertainty about how tomorrow will be money-wise. Having to worry about budget and being on the lookout for new job opportunities makes freelancers afraid they won’t earn enough. Eventually, the pressure overshadows joy that comes from work.

Poor self-organization

Freelancers may sometimes find themselves lacking self-organization skills. Since there is no particular schedule or business hours to follow, the likelihood of procrastination grows, and a once favorite and exhilarating occupation turns into a race for deadlines. Poor organization has a strong impact on productivity.
Freelancers are an easily expandable workforce to help your business withstand fluctuations.

No work-life balance

Last but not least, freelancers often struggle with work-life balance. It may be difficult to disconnect from work and immerse oneself into personal life as both work and leisure take place in the same place. The ultimate effects are deteriorated personal relationships, decreased motivation and overstrain.

In my opinion, the greatest challenge that often goes unnoticed by employers stems from the fact that freelancers are outsourced and not part of their staff. That’s why keeping engagement high and taking care of their emotional state is paramount to keep the partnership productive for longer.

Advice for Hiring Freelancers

Here are 8 simple rules to help you maintain motivation and loyalty in freelancers.

Communicate more

Open and honest communication helps build successful partnerships with remote workers. This means that whatever information you send must be clear, structured and unambiguous.

The project description must be detailed and supplied with accurate deadlines discussed earlier. Communication channels must be selected specifically for the project so the team knows where to connect with each other. For example, in my team meetings I spend some extra time to refresh everyone’s mind on the context. Whenever news comes through, I let everyone know about it in our team chat and also bring it up in video calls so my team is focused and informed.

When speaking to freelancers, you need to stay open and honest about how the product is doing and what happens in the company. Also, understand that freelancers need time to get back in the know since they tend to move between multiple projects. It is OK if your freelancer needs a bit more time to catch up on everything.

Recognition & Appreciation

Like traditional office workers, freelancers want to be appreciated for what they give to the team. Public appraisal, financial motivation, such as extra perks, and even small gifts are all powerful motivators. For instance, managers that manage freelance teams normally are in charge of the team budget and may allocate some to reward performing freelancers that achieve KPIs.

It is also critical that you establish respectful communication standards in the team that highlight everyone’s value. We often brainstorm collectively, and we welcome inputs and opinions from people that may not be directly connected with a project at hand. Thanks to disparate experiences of the team, we are able to develop new viewpoints, and both in-house and outsourced workers feel listened to and taken seriously.
Managing freelancers may be challenging but the cutting edge you get with freelancers is worth it.

Liberty, Equality & EQ

LIberty. Let your freelancers manage their time themselves under the main condition that all deadlines will be met. Freedom increases motivation and boosts creativity which helps avoid emotional overstrain.

Equality. Build a virtual space where freelancers can share their experiences, discuss challenges and praise each others' success. This approach lets every team member feel equal and present in the group.

EQ. Team leads that manage remote workers need to have a high level of emotional intelligence (EQ). We used to rely on actual face-to-face communication that would inform us of how a person is doing. Having moved our entire communication to messengers, we lost the opportunity to properly assess contexts. Seeing a change in one’s emotional state and helping them manage emotional burnout before it is too late has become times more difficult than it used to be. That’s why a freelance team manager needs to have both soft-skills and develop EQ.

Regular feedback

Although freelancers tend to work for clear results (e.g. hours they are paid for), regular sound feedback is still important to them.

There are 3 types of feedback known as corrective, developmental and supportive. I recommend balancing corrective and developmental feedback.

Corrective feedback is based on the BOFF and SOR models and its primary goal is to clearly define the problem. In turn, developmental feedback makes the feedback delivery process empathic. Here are the stages you need to take to deliver balanced feedback.

Stage 1. Initiating contact (developmental feedback)

This stage requires preliminary preparation. The point is to define the topic of the discussion and to formulate the other person’s expectation. To keep the recipient open and relaxed, go beyond simple greetings and actually repeat the purpose of the meeting (‘I've requested this meeting so we could discuss…').

Stage 2. Work results summary (developmental + corrective feedback)
Here the goals and KPIs are revisited and achievements are discussed. It is crucial that everyone has their say (not only the manager but also the feedback recipient). This is where you use BOFF and SOR.

BOFF is an acronym made up of the following words:
  • Behaviors. Facts are captured: "You have not provided the sales analytics on time."
  • Outcome. Consequences are listed: "As a result, we were not able to complete the sales report and predict next steps."
  • Feelings. The emotion towards the situation is discussed.

SOR is the model that follows this feedback structure:
  • Standard. You explain to your team why it is important that they follow the rules and guidelines in their work. "A lead is to be answered within 24 hours. Ignored leads cause negative feedback and our revenue decreases."
  • Observation. You proceed to mention all cases of standard/rule violation.

Stage 3. Strength and growth point analysis (developmental feedback)
This complex stage is built in accordance with goals. Avoid evaluative words, such as ‘good' and ‘bad', and opt for ‘growth points' instead of ‘weaknesses'.

To keep your comments unemotional and unambiguous, provide facts and checked data.

Stage 4. Planning next steps (developmental feedback)

This stage is dedicated to working out next steps to support successful behaviors and to develop off of growth points.

Stage 5. Committing (developmental feedback)

Missing out on this step may basically bring all the previous effort to naught. Freelancers and corporate staff are bombarded with tons of information in all shapes and forms, and simply writing down what has been discussed will keep the info in place for future reference.

Stage 6. Completing the dialogue (developmental feedback)

The goal here is to finish the conversation on a positive note that will take the beat off turning a feedback session into a more personal conversation. This is the time to ask how workers feel and schedule a next meeting.

Feedback sessions are not monologues but conversations. Asking questions, compromising and working out solutions are all integral to healthy feedback sessions.
Managing freelancers may be challenging but the cutting edge you get with freelancers is worth it.

Fair wage

Fair wage is the fundamental instrument in maintaining motivation and healthy team spirit. Before you hire a freelancer, figure out an appropriate wage that reflects the candidate’s experience and skills. This way you will be able to hire a quality professional and help them remain emotionally stable.

A fruitful partnership with a freelancer is a carefully calculated mix of organizational and psychological methods. A performing team is not just a collection of talented professionals but also a properly managed group that feels like it is part of a greater organization where its input is welcome and valued.
Pay remote teams and freelancers worldwide in any currency