Building a Team With Inexperienced Online Freelancers

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I was recently asked to manage a team of graphic designers, all of them fresh graduates with hardly any professional experience. Always eager to help, I accepted the opportunity, knowing that it would be challenging and educational, for both myself and the team.

I soon discovered that working with new freelancers is very different from working with my more accomplished peers. It required me to get back to basics and deal with issues that I hadn’t encountered before. Just as I had expected, there’s a whole new set of opportunities and problems that come from working with “newbies”.

The Benefits

One observable benefit to working with new freelancers is that you’ll be forced to keep things as simple as possible. It’s not a good idea to overwhelm them at the start with new tools and complex work processes. Introduce these things gradually. This will give you the opportunity to keep the work process streamlined.

Another advantage is the fresh perspective they have. This allows them to bring more innovative ideas to the table. Sometimes, getting too used to a certain process can leave us less likely to see the flaws in the way we work. If your team of newbies is perceptive enough, they can spot these flaws for you.

While there may be some benefits to working with new online freelancers, there are also many challenges. These challenges seem daunting, but fortunately there are ways to work around them.

Underdeveloped Work Habits

Usually, new web workers haven’t established efficient solo working habits. It might take a while before they get the hang of setting deadlines, boosting productivity, and motivating themselves to work well without someone looking over their shoulder all the time.

For this particular problem, writer/editor Ruth Thaler-Carter recommends setting official working guidelines. “Anytime you deal with people new to a given arena, you have to provide guidelines. Even experienced pros might need some direction to deal with a new topic or genre,” she says. Prepare a document showing the ideal work process, including the roles of each team member. This gives everyone a better idea of the scope of their own work.

It also helps to discuss all expectations from the start. This helps to get any misconceptions out in the open, allowing you to correct them early on.

Familiarity With Tools

If some members of your team aren’t tech-savvy, they might not be familiar with the communication and project management tools you use. Even if they are used to social networking tools, like Facebook and Twitter, they might be unaware of how the web is used for business.

To fix this problem, provide a list of required tools, including the reasons why they’re needed, as well as video tutorials on how to use them. Leading by example and sharing your expectations also works, as suggested by Mary Ellen Schutz, an editor. According to her, “If [they] are very skilled at what they do, just very informal in their communications, show them a better way. Be very clear in your expectations.”

Need For a Physical Office

Although this might be less common in the future, there’s also a chance that your team of new web workers will see the virtual office as “less professional” or “less real” than physical offices. This perspective can be detrimental to the team if it means they’ll take their work less seriously.

When I was leading a local group of freelance designers, many of them brought up the idea of moving to a “brick and mortar” office in order to boost their professional image. It was unnecessary at that time, because they had minimal capital and all their clients were offshore. If your team feels this way, shift their focus to the things that really will make them look more professional instead – whether it’s their quality of service or skill levels.

Sometimes, they might be looking for a physical office because of the interaction and collaboration with colleagues that physical proximity brings. If this is the case with your team, encourage them to interact with each other while brainstorming over Skype. Or, if you work with a local team, you could schedule coworking sessions at least once a month.

It may take a lot of initial hard work to turn fresh, inexperienced students into reliable professionals, but investing the time and energy to do it is worthwhile. After all, it was only a few years ago that I, too, started out just as green as they did.

Have you worked with new or inexperienced freelancers? What was your experience like?

Image by eocs from sxc.hu

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