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Tips for Managing Outsourced Workers

One of the biggest challenges for managers of remote teams, particularly project managers, is working with temporary workers or outsourced resources. What are some best practices for getting Outsourced workers, freelancers and temps up to speed?

Often we don't have a choice in who we work with, but we're still responsible for helping them get up to speed and work well with the rest of the team and the organization. This is made even more complicated by the fact that they might work for a third party so mind share, performance expectations and loyalty need to be built quickly and often from scratch.

Cory Liu works for Hivedesk, a software firm that specializes in helping employers manage remote workers. It helps them by automatically tracking time worked, sending worker screenshot updates every 10 minutes, as well as watching mouse/keyboard activity levels. Other software and tools in this space are oDesk, Peerdrum and eLance.

Because Cory works with temps and their employers every day, I thought I'd ask for some tips on how the most successful companies create highly functioning teams and keep them humming.
What are the 2-3 things that manager team managers need to take into account when working with outsourced help?
1) Worker's skill and ability: are they competent in whatever skills you require for your project (design, writing, coding, SEO, backlink building)? Can they understand English and communicate effectively? Look to their track record or portfolio, and references if possible. Its also okay if you need to train/teach the tasks you need done (such as running specific software or doing manual work). This will occur in almost every outsource project. What's more important is the quality of the worker; the cheapest option is not necessarily the best.
2) Worker's dedication: Does your project require them to focus only on your job? Many outsource workers will try to work for several people at once. It doesn't make sense for you to pay them to work on projects that aren't yours. This is where it may make more sense to use results based billing (per project) rather than hourly billing.
3) Good help is hard to find: you will probably NOT find your savior worker on the first try. You may have to try several people before landing one you like. Don't get burned; constantly keep in contact through the early stages of your relationship. Ask to voice chat on skype for an interview. If they start falling out of contact or reply late and start making excuses, this is a sign of things to come and you should fire them. But once you find a worker you like, pay them on time and keep them happy. You will save much time and aggravation by sticking with someone you like, even if the pay rate is slightly higher than a cheaper worker.

What tools do you use for communication?
Cory likes to keep my technologies simple. Google Docs; create to-do lists and share them with your worker. Tell them to check it daily or weekly and move whatever tasks they've completed to a "DONE" part of the document. The Google doc will always be available online, and always up to date, simple but awesome. Skype for voice communication; if they can speak English. Call them up and see how they're doing, communicating by voice is far more efficient than by IM and gives your relationship a human touch. Also, any screencasting software for recording instructional videos. You can go step by step on your own screen and record audio to explain how to complete tasks.

What skills do you think managers, especially managers new to remote leadership, need to develop most?
"Commitment to the outsourcing process", says Liu. Most managers think outsourcing is a cost cutting procedure, and that the value lies in saving dollars on a project. They only look to outsource when they need something done. But when outsourcing is done right, you can automate so many of your businesses tasks and save a LOT of time as well. Things like data entry, link building, sort/filtering/organizing. This means you can focus more of your energy into more complex concerns, like figuring out your business model, or how to get more customers. This is a shift in the frame of mind, as you don't have to spend as much time worrying about menial tasks, and focus on bigger strategies.

While many people are uncomfortable with using freelancers and outsourced workers, it is a reality and frequently beyond the direct control of project managers. What is in our control is our ability to create strong, efficient communication lines that make the most of the hand we're dealt.

Photo from flickr user stars_alive CC 2.0

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