Over the past few years a mountain of studies has been published, reinforcing our instincts about employee engagement at work: flexibility is key. A new report by Staples found that 90% of employees say that allowing for more flexible work arrangements and schedules will increase employee morale. And according to a 2018 study by Werk, 96% of employees in the US workforce need some form of flexibility at work, yet only 42% have access to the type of flexibility they need. Being flexible means being more inclusive of a wider variety of personal circumstances as well.
This great desire for flexibility is one major reason that seasoned professionals turn to consulting and contingent work assignments like our work at Projectline. They can pick which clients they want to work with, and they often have more control over their hours and more choice over where they do the majority of their work.
But this isn’t always the case. Some of our client’s work cultures have yet to embrace the flexibility of remote work, and they sometimes lack the experience of how to truly get the most out of their consultants without seeing them at a desk every day.
If you have ever felt hesitant about hiring a consultant or contingent team located in another state, or worried about how you’d manage a senior person who you’ll never meet in person, you are not alone. Some company cultures are still built around more traditional in-office environments.
But you can buck the trend. As a professional in charge of determining what resources to apply where in order to meet your goals, you also have the freedom to embrace more flexible management styles to ensure you get the best talent. And once you do, you’ll need a few new structures in place. Here are our top 5 tips for managing remote consultants:
- Weekly report: Establish an unbreakable weekly communication pattern. Whether it’s an email report that the consultant sends at the start of every Monday, or using a tool like 15Five (which is what our leadership team uses), establish a cadence of clear, documented accountability reporting. We recommend including what was accomplished the previous week, what’s on deck for the coming week, wins, and any barriers or challenges. But you can request exactly what you need to know from your consultant—this is your report.
- Habits and discipline: Setting up rhythms of business (ROB) that can be counted on by you and any member of your remote contingent talent team is essential. It is this discipline and structure that allows for the flexibility we all seek. Beyond the weekly report, you might consider monthly roundtable progress meetings, quarterly business reviews (QBRs), daily scrums or huddles—it really should be driven by the type of work and collaboration required. What is needed for you to feel confident that great work and impact are happening? Ask for it.
- Proactive communication: Most good consultants are familiar with adage “communicate early and often,” but not all. Knowing something is going to happen before it does builds trust. Not everything will go right. Mistakes happen. Just ensure that you have established yourself as someone who can be trusted to hear the hard truth, and respond fairly and in partnership, even if it isn’t good news. And provide the same to your consultant. Losing budget? Contract ending early? Progress not adequate? They need to hear from you before anyone else.
- Level interactions: If some members of your team are co-located and some are remote, we highly recommend that you make many of your group meetings 100% remote, leveling the communication and interaction for everyone. You will find that the focus and engagement is much higher than at blended meetings, and in some cases can be even higher than meetings that are 100% in person.
- Clear expectations: One reason that you may have hired a senior professional to work on your project or program is because you’d like to have to do as little management as possible. That is fair. But at least once, at the start of the working relationship, establish your expectations for communication (tips 1 and 3), rhythms of business (tip 2), and any other assumptions you might have about productive work. Do you have expectations for hours of availability via phone and/or instant messaging? What about expected email response times? Service level agreements? Notes from meetings? Your list of expectations may be long or short, but every consultant is dreaming of having this list right from the start so they can provide what you need.
Join the flexible future and bring other leaders with you! Together we can make the world of work more engaging, more productive, more supportive, and most importantly, more inclusive.
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