Employee Communications: Managing Remote Freelance Workers and E-Lancers

As the economy improves, companies that once made deep cuts in full-time jobs are now grappling with a new problem. What’s the best way to staff up to meet greater demand and plan for growth again? Still skittish about adding full-time replacements, many small and mid-sized companies are turning to freelancers― or more frequently, “e-lancers”. They’re discovering that it’s a brave new world out there.

First of all, there are plenty of highly skilled workers available (the very ones who were laid off during the bust). Thanks to companies like E-lance and Freelance.com, in combination with the magic of cloud computing, there’s a lot of opportunity out there. What started out as a survival strategy for displaced workers has proved to be a desirable alternative for those wanting more flexibility.  And it’s an affordable way for companies to hire specialists on an as-needed basis.

But how do we manage these folks?  We’ve had “old-fashioned” freelancers working in our office. They were right down the hall where they could be managed, motivated—- or even reprimanded.  And full-time employees are working from home with mutually understood marching orders. But this is a new combo: remote workers who aren’t employees. It feels a bit too cloudy for me.

Of course we could resort to “spy ware” to have a virtual look at their desktops and keyboards, but that feels downright creepy. What message does that send? We want the flexibility and cost savings of e-lancers, but are we saying that right out of the gate we don’t trust them…or anyone? If these workers represent a viable channel of talent, how can we include them in our workplace culture?

Do you see e-lancers as an extension of your workforce, or merely as a way to staff a one-off project?

Sharon Toelle
May 21, 2010

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