Remote working has taken off in recent years and is beginning to take hold in many domains. Alongside this trend, remote management has come to the fore. This can take many forms. Within companies, it is sometimes necessary to re-think the workload of teams separated by geography, as well as the management of offsite providers. For freelancers working remotely, challenges can include project management and communication.
What do the main players think? In the first installment of our series on remote working, we will try to examine some findings on the main challenges of remote working with freelancers who encounter them daily.
Increasingly embraced, remote working very often means better organization and a certain level of flexibility at work. Amongst the advantages regularly cited by freelancers, one keeps coming back: “balance between professional and personal life”, which means thriving in a calmer environment or saving time on a physical commute. It’s especially the case in more complex missions requiring creativity or concentration: “productivity in technical interventions is often better when remote” Arnaud V. tells us. Vincent L. talks of “better productivity when remote” because there are “fewer distractions”.
But what are the important factors for ensuring successful distance working, and the pitfalls to avoid? Several aspects are discussed by the freelancers of our community.
The human factor, key to distance working
If communication is vital to all professional relationships, it really comes into its own when we work remotely: without a daily physical presence within the team we work with, human relationships and conversation become paramount.
As Vincent C explains to us., “It’s great to organize your days independently but your team needs to be ready for that. The only negative issue is not physically seeing colleagues.” Choosing the right team to carry out a remote project is thus important, as is spending time with collaborators, at least at the beginning of the project: “spending a decent amount of time onsite beforehand is of utmost importance” Vincent tell us.
“Fatigue takes a lot longer to set in when you have the option to work remotely (less travel time, less stress etc.) but presence with clients is still important to form a team, brainstorm, create links and be at the heart of need.” (Perrine)
A visit to the client is thus often essential! Many of the freelancers we interviewed agree, some even going so far as to say that “a partial onsite presence is preferable” as Vincent L. affirms. On the other hand, the importance of communication in videoconferencing is highlighted by a number of freelancers, all of this to “create more proximity”.
Whilst organizing your own workload and having the flexibility to work remotely have undeniable advantages, some measures are nevertheless necessary to ensure a good working relationship with the client.
The importance of well-defined processes
In order to instill good working relationships, it is important to establish organizational processes and good communication from the outset. Therefore, many tools are embraced by the freelancers we spoke to, who favor instant messaging services but also include client tools. Classic tools such as telephone, email, Skype, WebEx and Slack are often mentioned as well as Github, “an excellent tool for follow-up, issues and documentation”, according to Vincent C. For development, “it is essential to use tools such as Jira, Git and Jenkins” another freelancer tells us.
Beyond tools, it’s the framework established with the client that allows for a stable and productive working relationship. A certain rigor in the relationship is not incompatible with the freedom which remote working affords and can even prove itself beneficial for the freelancer as well as their client. That is what allows a permanent link to stay open and allows you to assure yourself that info flows well on both sides. “To gain productivity, it is very important to send a progress update every day by email as well as setting up regular weekly meetings” another freelancer tells us.
« Communication is vital when working remotely: Preparatory meeting, defining planning, tasks, deliverables…” (Jérôme B.)
Planning is essential and it has to start from the beginning: the goal is to define your rhythm with the client because each project has its specificities and each person has their own working methods. Freelancers from our community describe different processes depending on the context, some opting for “daily project status reports”.
“Fully remote working is a myth! (Jerome B.)
As we have seen, as long as there is efficient organization, remote working has many advantages. Nonetheless, although remote working has undeniable pros in the eyes of those we have interviewed, there are pitfalls to avoid in order to succeed in a mission.
Certain drawbacks of distance working arise again and again through our community’s testimonials, such as the “feeling of isolation” or the “lack of human contact and team spirit” for Vincent L. For Magloire F., the problem may come from a “possible deterioration of efficiency, reactivity because of the distance”.
Whilst many freelancers work 100% remotely without ties, a subtle balance between presential and distance working seem to be the key for many others. The partial presence in the offices and face-to-face discussions which this ensues are beneficial for comprehension or even for avoiding disputes because “sometimes emails or messages are too direct”, one freelancer tells us. In the end, remote working can still be an obstacle for some companies, and some freelancers tell us they accept missions in-house with clients to the detriment of remote working, in order to ensure they obtain interesting projects and maintain good daily rates.
“We have to democratize remote working. (Fayçal, member of the LittleBIG Community)
Towards a gradual warming to remote working
As we saw, the challenges of remote working are multiple and require good preparation from the outset. Whilst some clients are still reluctant, remote working is a really fundamental trend which should keep accelerating, especially in the freelance world. A progressive warming-up to this model could be key, as Fayçal H says. We will let him have the last word: “We have to democratize and regularize remote working. We are more productive in this work environment. One day per week of remote working is more than conceivable.”
We would like to thank all our freelancers from the LittleBIG Connection Community who took the time to share their insights and wisdom.
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