THE BLOG
26/11/2013 07:03 GMT | Updated 25/01/2014 05:59 GMT

How Do You Manage A Virtual Workforce?

As small businesses are outsourcing an increasing number of their services to freelancers, the result can often mean working alongside several, or in some cases, an entire group of colleagues you've never met in the flesh. It can save precious time and money. There are, however, some important things to bear in mind to ensure a harmonious remote working environment.

As small businesses are outsourcing an increasing number of their services to freelancers, the result can often mean working alongside several, or in some cases, an entire group of colleagues you've never met in the flesh. It can save precious time and money. There are, however, some important things to bear in mind to ensure a harmonious remote working environment.

It's likely that you already outsource - perhaps you employ a freelance bookkeeper or copywriter. A budding business owner may not have the time or resources in-house to look after basic administration. Additionally, in the initial stages of growing a business, you may need to call upon the services of a number of experts - marketing gurus, graphic designers and web developers to name a few. To make life easy, a great solution can be to appoint a freelancer, or team of freelancers to cover all bases. Rather frustratingly, this usually involves working with someone you've never met. While you can never be absolutely sure of a person's capabilities before working with them, there are some precautions you can take:

Don't pick the cheapest person. Base your decision on someone with a proven track record who is willing to share examples of work and testimonials. If they're any good, they should be chomping at the bit to share glowing references and through freelance marketplaces like PeoplePerHour there are transparent feedback systems that make choosing a freelancer much easier.

Give your freelancer a small project to begin with to assess their capabilities for a bigger project. If they're any good, you may want to work with them again, potentially on a full-time basis.

Be very clear about what you expect from your freelancer from the beginning by giving them a very clear brief with your expectations set out in stone.

Once you've selected your A-Team, talk to them! Communication is king in any successful business and, arguably, even more so where a large number of staff work remotely. These days, even the largest office-based firms are taking advantage of communications software, such as Skype and Gmail Chat, enabling real-time video conferencing and instant messaging. Video conferencing can easily mimic breakfast brainstorms around the table, while instant messaging is ideal for quick feedback or advice on a task. And without the luxury of having your team physically present, it's crucial that you build a communications routine into your schedule. This means holding regular meetings with individual staff and your team as a whole to establish project goals and progress updates, iron out any niggles promptly and address any burning questions.

As well as using communications software to collaborate with far-flung colleagues, cloud file-sharing services like Dropbox and Googledocs can prove a godsend. As well as dispending with email as a (rather inefficient) method of sharing large files, your team can work simultaneously on a document in real time without worrying about corrupted copies or overlaps.

If you've gone to the trouble of hiring a brilliant freelancer to manage an area of your business, resist the temptation to micro manage them! Not only is it a waste of your own time - time that could be spent on growing your business - it can be pretty demoralizing for a freelancer with specialist knowledge and skills to bring to the table to feel as though the boss is looking over their shoulder the whole time. Micro managing completely defeats the purpose of hiring freelancers. Any business owner should be busy enough organising their own schedule, let alone someone else's!

Make it fun!

Remote working can occasionally be a lonely business, particularly for those who are based at home. Of course it's important to discuss work-related topics, but to foster camaraderie among a team of people, a little light chit chat about their personal lives can go a long way - it may transpire that your team have shared interests that extend beyond work. Encourage bonding - it can only help to get the job done!