Most oDesk assignments start small--you hire a provider to complete a specific project. But when the provider proves he can be relied upon, you start giving him more hours and increasingly vital tasks. Soon you may find your remote provider fully integrated with your in-house staff, and that begins to change the relationship between buyer and provider.
We know--here at oDesk we hire providers to work with our in-house staff, and on some projects, one type of worker is virtually indistinguishable from the other (click here to read more about Team oDesk). Add to the mix workplace flexibility that allows traditional employees to telecommute instead of coming to the office each day and you've got a team requiring an entirely new set of management skills. Here are a few lessons we've learned on the job.
When you hire a provider to, say, write a discrete piece of code, you may not care when he does the work--as long as the Work Diary and memos look good, and you get good code on time. But when you need more real-time collaboration, you have to reach an agreement for the provider to be available during some or all of your business hours.
But how will he be available? Is IM enough? Does he need to have a Skype account? A webcam? When he's out, will he leave an away message telling you what time he'll be back? Will your in-house staffers do the same?
You trust your provider to work around his daily life. Maybe he doesn't log on until after midnight, or frequently suspends sessions to handle family needs. Once he's agreed to be available at set times, you have as much right to make sure he'll have a distraction-free work environment as you do for the "in-house" telecommuter opting for a home office instead of a cubicle. Flexible freelancers are masters of clever workarounds, but as the team becomes more interdependent, everyone needs to understand that expectations evolve.
Of course, you'll continue to manage your provider using oDesk Team--the Work Diary and payment functions are vital. But did you realize you can have your in-house staff logged into Team as well? Getting all the staff for various projects onto one Team page, so everyone can see who's available and when, helps consolidate and improve management functions. Just go to My oDesk » Team Admin and invite them to become company users with Team Room access.
Integrating your remote providers into the company's daily workflow can seem like a daunting move, but by thinking each challenge through, we've found that it's easier than you'd expect for far-flung team members to become close colleagues.