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August 1, 2017

A Business Case for Remote Workers

A woman working remotely on a laptop
Photo from Women of Color in Tech stock
Call them freelancers, digital nomads, entrepreneurs, contractors or consultants–the number of independent workers in the United States is on the rise and poised to comprise 40% of our workforce by 2020, and I’m now one of them. As it relates to creatives, roughly 31% of people in the Arts and Media industry are self employed and have seen 17% growth over the span of ten years. But despite these encouraging trends, there's still some apprehension among organizations to embrace this paradigm shift in the American labor force.

Working Remotely Gets a Bad Rep

Although telecommuting and freelancing are becoming more conventional means of working, the opportunities for remote workers (in my opinion) are still not as available as they should be. Arguments against off-site working arrangements do have their merits. Undoubtedly, there are some challenges and those reasons are well documented. However, I would argue that the feasibility of these arrangements should be evaluated on a case-by-case basis. Not all roles can be performed off-site, but some can, including many in the arts, entertainment and media industries.

As a former department head and hiring manager, I understand the trepidation that some organizations have towards remote team members. Reliability, responsiveness, and the ability to work autonomously were real concerns. However, over the course of my 13 years in creative management, these misgivings have (more often than not) been debunked. I've had the pleasure of working with remote designers, developers, and copywriters who were every bit as responsive and productive as in-office team members—sometimes even more so. Now a virtual creative myself, with both in and out-of-state clients, I know firsthand that these remote partnerships can work out brilliantly.

Have a Vetting Mechanism

I find referrals to be a more reliable means of finding qualified freelance talent, however, if you don't have a deep creative network, you can reach out to niche staffing agencies for help. If you prefer a hands-on approach, LinkedIn is a great place to find talent and "virtually vet" candidates. What I like about LinkedIn are the recommendations (not the endorsements, those are a bit superfluous), where I can read about a candidates' conduct on assignment and their ability to deliver.

Look Beyond the Portfolio

I've learned (albeit the hard way) that portfolio websites and creative showcase communities are not necessarily effective means of gauging a candidates' adeptness. I've encountered freelancers that misrepresented or overstated their roles on projects. After weeks of working, it was clear that the impressive interview and stellar portfolio was all smoke and mirrors.

I recommend a small trial project to gauge whether or not potential candidates will be a good fit for you–and if successful, proceed to onboarding. When you find a good creative, keep them and find some more. Have your marquee players, but also have a capable bench on reserve. Freelance availability has ebbs and flows so you'll want to ensure that you have the flexibility to leverage talent when you need it.

Making It Work

The success of a virtual creative team is largely based on a mutual understanding and agreement of the scope, the professionalism of the talent, and the efficiency of your project management process. From my experience, I’ve found that leveraging the skills of high-performing remote team members can yield very favorable benefits. So if you're mulling over a proposal from a potential freelance creative partner or trying to convince the corporate powers that be, here are a few things to note:

  1. Talent knows no zip code
    Your candidate options are limitless when you expand your talent pool. If you’re unrestricted by proximity, access to accomplished and seasoned creatives throughout the country (or around the world for that matter) are within your grasp.  This is especially valuable for small businesses and start-ups.

  2. Technology can alleviate impediments
    Digital tools and platforms have made the barriers to working remotely much more manageable, and in some cases, have removed them altogether.  With these technological advances, we’re now able to effectively work from any part of the world. I have my favorites, but there are a variety of digital productivity tools at your disposal. It is, however, important to note that tools and platforms can only do so much–one needs to establish a workflow to maximize efficiency.

  3. Virtual team members (can be) budget friendly
    No need to purchase expensive hardware or software, experienced creatives have their own set-up.  No need to pour dollars into costly workspaces. With a distributed team, you can downsize your office square footage or get rid of it completely like Automattic in San Francisco. What's most important is the quality of the deliverables not where they’re being created.

  4. Contractual agreements can help with retention
    Most full-time roles are at will, meaning, workers can leave at any time. Anecdotally speaking, the percentage of employees who do so is probably relatively low, but it does happen.  However, with independent contractors, you are guaranteed a specific amount of time that's dedicated solely to your project through a binding scope of work. And if you establish an ongoing retainer agreement to continually leverage that contractor’s services, you don’t have to start from scratch onboarding new candidates.

What To Look For In Remote Candidates

Aside from talent (obviously) when looking to bring on virtual creatives, here are few important qualities that you'll want to identify in potential candidates:

  • Disciplined and focused; a person who can effectively manage their time while working autonomously
  • A problem solver; takes initiative to resolve issues and doesn't need to be told what to do, they can offer both pragmatic and innovative solutions
  • Detailed oriented; none of us are perfect and even the best of eagle eyes can overlook mistakes, but they should put forth concerted effort to ensure deliverables are as error-free as possible
  • Clear and concise communicator; they should be able to articulate points of view that are easy for audiences with varying levels of comprehension to grasp
  • Plays well with others; they are professional (even when things get rough) and are receptive to constructively objective feedback
  • Curious; they go above and beyond the creative brief, questioning how they can do things differently (or better) to deliver the best product
  • Passionate; they demonstrate a sincere interest in your business and the project work that they’re being hired to do

One of These Things is Not Like the Other

Whether your remote team works onsite for a couple of days, drops into the office periodically for key meetings, or if you embrace being 100% virtual, your remote arrangement should be conducive to both your organization and the talent that you bring onboard. No one solution fits all, but what is constant is the assurance that your virtual members are experienced, have clear direction, and are able to access all of the productivity and communication tools needed. Set your team up for success and the rest will fall into place.

Sources
Here's Why The Freelancer Economy Is On the Rise - Fast Company
Professionals in the Contingent Workforce - Department of Professional Employees, AFL-CIO
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