Ever dream of holding your company meetings in Jamaica or Costa Rica? For entrepreneur Govind Davis, that dream is a reality.
The co-founder and CEO of MCF Technology Solutions—a specialized systems integrator that designs, develops, and implements cloud-based platform solutions—Govind has built an almost entirely virtual company. Aside from three local employees, his staff of approximately 60 people works remotely from around the world.
Like many oDesk clients, Govind started small and then realized the potential of online work. In 2011—four years after MCF Tech was founded—he was struggling to find graphic design talent to help with client deliverables. He came across oDesk, and successfully found and hired some skilled graphic designers. Then another need popped up, this time for software developers. By then—and from then on—he knew where to look.
Aside from being entirely virtual, MCF Tech is made-up of client-centric teams that come together for each client project and then dissolve. As a result, the company’s most important resource is its talent.
Because cultivating and retaining top talent is key to its success, MCF Tech is committed to going the extra mile to include freelancers in all aspects of company culture. The most extreme example of this commitment can be seen through the company's off-site meetings: twice a year the company invites its team—including freelancers—to meetings held in vacation spots like Jamaica, Costa Rica, and Lake Winnipesaukee in New Hampshire. (These off-sites are paid for by the money saved from having less office overhead.) There the team plans for upcoming projects, strategizes about overall direction, and builds relationships face-to-face.
But exotic off-sites are by no means the only way that MCF Tech cultivates freelance talent. Here, Govind shares five of his best tips for identifying and nurturing all-star freelancers and motivating remote teams.
1. Don’t limit your hiring to times of immediate need—continuously cultivate your talent pool based on recurring needs.
Instead of hiring for each individual role or project, MCF Tech is continually recruiting and testing freelancers. This strategy has enabled MCF Tech to identify and onboard only the best people, without being pressured by an immediate need. Govind explains, “We are growing so fast that we never want to be caught off guard, so we are constantly posting and recruiting and trying people because we want to be in a position where, if we need someone, we’ve already had them around for a while. It’s like continuous recruiting.”
2. Ramp up freelancers gradually—start with small test projects and increase responsibilities as they prove themselves.
One of the huge benefits of having a virtual team is the ability to slowly onboard a freelancer based on their ability to meet and exceed expectations. For this reason, Govind starts freelancers with small projects and then either increases their responsibilities or lets them go based on their ability to meet objectives. For example, when bringing on a web developer, MCF Tech pays the freelancer to do a 10-hour web development test project. From there, the freelancers who do well are given another small project, and as long as they continue to do good work, they keep getting larger and larger projects until they are “fully part of the culture.”
3. Embrace collaboration tools, and make sure they are used across the company to be most effective.
Because in-person meetings are not always possible, MCF Tech has also perfected the art of virtual communication and team building. Govind holds all-hands meetings every week via GoToMeeting, where the entire company gathers to share business updates, company news, technological discoveries, noteworthy client deliverables, and personal news. They are also in the process of implementing a weekly “watercooler hour” where everyone signs on to Lync—the video and instant messaging platform that MCF uses—and just chats informally. Govind explains, “Using these kinds of collaboration tools is an absolutely critical piece of making this work.”
4. Treat freelancers like employees; involve them in company meetings and programs, talk about their long-term career goals, and reward them for a job well done.
Treating freelancers like valued members of the team, Govind has discovered, is an important business strategy that goes a long way in motivating remote teams. Govind says, “We treat our freelancers like employees. We give raises, we have conversations about their long-term role with us, they join our company meetings, they are part of the company reward programs. All of the cultural things we do as a company to make our employees feel valued, we also do for our freelancers.”
5. Don’t be afraid to try out newer team members on projects, but make sure you have trusted, established team members there with them to mitigate any problems.
Once a new hire has demonstrated their skills on smaller tasks, they're assigned to bigger projects and given more responsibility. To mitigate the risk of investing in new talent, Govind uses a “triangle offense” strategy. This means that each project has three key roles, one of which must be filled by a senior, trusted team member. This allows new people an opportunity to grow, but if it doesn’t work out, a senior leader is there to help the team recover quickly.
Using these strategies, Govind had been able to harness the power of a global workforce and rapidly grow his business. He says, “With oDesk I have an army. We went from trying to figure out how to get stuff done to, ‘This is so much fun.’”
Want to hear more tips from Govind on the importance of investing in freelance talent? Check out our free eBook. And don’t forget to share your own online work best practices in the comment section below!