Freelancing and the digital workplace: Challenges and how to face them

The sharing economy, cloud-based collaboration tools and a big generational shift have all contributed to the rise of the digital workplace. Many startups and small businesses across the globe are opting out of hiring full-time employees and are, instead, hiring freelancers. The rise of the millennial generation–in numbers and influence–is also contributing to the shift toward less-traditional working arrangements. According to latest statistics, at least 34 percent of workers in the United States are freelancing. Going to the physical workplace during the regular 9-to-5 on weekdays has been replaced by co-working, remote offices, as well as all kinds of digital working arrangements. In a six-month study published on Human Relations, freelancing professionals are found to have certain advantages over their full-time peers. For example, even if they encounter the same pressures in the work environment, they feel better in terms of flexibility, control and variety, which contributes to better satisfaction. However, freelancers still face increased anxiety and reduced enthusiasm as the demands of the workload grow. In this article, we explore five of the common challenges to productivity and satisfaction in the digital workplace and how to deal with these concerns.

Finding the right collaboration platform

As with any business, effective collaboration is key to ensuring a smooth flow of information across key personnel. This is especially amplified in a digital environment, particularly one that involves freelancer workers situated across different geographies. You will need to find the right tools that can ensure that people working across the globe can easily communicate with one another as if they are in the same room. You have a wide array of choices, although for an organization distributed across the globe, a cloud-based solution will be the most accessible. Collaboration platform also have their own unique advantages and features. For example, Slack is considered to be a modern mIRC, which provides chatroom functionality for organizations. Trello offers a card-based system for organizing tasks and just about any information. Podio is a highly-customized platform for project management–excellent for use when creative team members are involved. Yammer is another example–offering a private social network geared toward both small and big organizations.

Ensuring workflow transparency

A big limitation of working in a distributed setup across different geographies is that team members don’t always see what everyone else is doing. Thus, it’s important to use the above-mentioned collaboration platforms not only in providing visibility for project managers, but also to let everyone else see how other team members are doing. Ensuring transparency also helps improve teamwork among digital workers. Using collaboration platforms properly will help assure team members that everyone is pulling their own weight. Transparency also helps build synergy across team members, even if they rarely–or never–see each other face-to-face.

Providing reasonable benefits

Freelancers don’t get to enjoy the perks and benefits that regular employees have. These include a health and dental plan, annual bonuses, and paid vacations among others. Regular employees may also enjoy other perks, like the use of office equipment and facilities. Some organizations even provide free lunches, transportation benefits and others. Consider enrolling freelancers under your employ with worker collectives that enable individuals to avail of health plans at group rates. In the Philippines, for example, a startup called Horsepower.PH lets solopreneurs and startups the option to sign up for such benefits. It even offers HR, accounting and other administrative support for solo-preneurs and startups–something that can help them focus more on core business activities.

Keeping payments consistent

Payments and funds are also a big concern among freelancers, especially those that rely solely on their freelancing activities as their main source of income. The key to a good relationship here: pay right and on time. A study among self-employed individuals in New York, for instance, found that at least 35 percent had late-paying clients at least once during the preceding year. Fourteen percent encountered clients who never paid at all. Herein lies the importance of agreeing outright regarding payment schemes and amounts. For instance, will it be a per-project fee, or will you pay an hourly or per-item rate? Also, something important for people working across international borders: which currency and mode of payment will be used? For many, tools like PayPal and bank transfers might be the norm, although Bitcoin is becoming a popular choice, due to its speed and negligible fees. Speaking of fees, you will also have to work out with freelancers whether they bear the burden of paying bank or transfer fees, which can add up to a big amount, especially for international transfers.

The takeaway

Many professionals are turning to freelance work due to the flexibility it offers. However, there are also drawbacks and limitations, although organizations that hire freelancers should take heed of best practices in order to attract and retain the best talent. By integrating the right tools, workflow practices and other benefits that a traditional employer might provide, you can ensure a productive, streamlined, agile and profitable relationship with freelance talent.

J. Angelo Racoma

I am a storyteller for startups and enterprises. <!--more-->I am a storyteller for startups and enterprises. I help brands and businesses engage and connect with audiences through effective content s

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