By J.T. Ripton

Freelancers are becoming more and more important to businesses across the globe. The wide variety of online tools designed to aid remote work has opened the doors for professionals to go self-employed and make good use of their skills on their own terms.

A recent survey revealed that 37 percent of employees questioned had worked remotely one or more times, a significant jump from 30 percent in 2006. Only 9 percent claimed to have experienced remote work in 1995, which is unsurprising given the era’s limited internet-accessibility.

As more and more businesses embrace the growing freelance workforce, overseeing a team of remote workers can be daunting. How can you keep track of their progress and manage them effectively?

Focus on Freelancers’ Productivity

Just because an employee sits at their desk for eight hours each day doesn’t mean they spend every minute being productive. In-house employees with the security of a fixed salary may have little motivation to complete tasks ahead of deadline or work to the best of their abilities, as they will be paid regardless.

This complacency is missing from freelancers: they will complete jobs quickly and to a high standard, as their reputation depends on positive feedback. This means remote workers may not log quite as much time on projects as you believe suitable, but focus on the quality of the work itself rather than the hours put into it.

Embrace Technology for Easier Collaboration

Communicating with your freelance workforce is vital: you must ensure workers understand tasks assigned to them to minimize the risk of time-wasting mistakes.

Try project-management tools to keep in contact with freelancers. You can use these to monitor their progress, deliver feedback, and invite them to collaborate on tasks in real-time. The best include live chat systems, so yourself and remote workers can discuss tasks in progress regardless of the distance between them.

Check In on a Regular Basis

You won’t get to see your freelancers in the flesh every single day (or, if ever), but that’s no excuse to ignore them.

Don’t simply set your remote workers tasks and expect them to perform exactly as you would like without guidance. By checking in on a regular basis, you can create a cohesive working relationship and give your freelancers plenty of opportunities to raise concerns.

If you set a time and date for a check in, stick to it. Failure to do so will suggest you undervalue your remote team and possibly cause freelancers to start work without knowing exactly what’s required.

Use Video as Often as You Can

The proliferation of video-chat tools gives you the power to communicate with freelancers in a personal, engaging manner. Your check-ins will be more intimate than simple emails or text-based live chat, and can incorporate visual aids. Tony Zhao, CEO of video chat company, highlights the importance of a strong connection:

“Trying to contact freelancers in distant countries or those with weak infrastructures can lead to such technical issues as interrupted sound or lagging visuals. Popular apps like Google Hangouts and Skype may not be up to the task, and poor communication may lead to frustration, wasted time, and inefficient management overall.”

Work to Build Trust

You can see when your in-house employees are struggling with a task or seem to be having a bad day. A good manager will make an effort to speak to them, to offer assistance and listen to their problems.

Picking up on such issues with your freelancers can be much more difficult, but make an effort to build a rapport anyway. Make it clear that your door’s always open, and that you’re happy to give support when needed.

Trust and respect makes long-distance working relationships far easier, leading to better results in the long run.

Balance Schedule Inconvenience

Conflicting time zones are a common problem when working with freelancers scattered around the world. Scheduling meetings and deadlines that suit everyone’s routines can be complicated, especially where you may be several hours behind or ahead remote workers.

However, staying in touch to discuss projects and deliver feedback is too important to let time zones get in the way. Compromise when scheduling, and take everyone’s preferences into account.

You may have to stay up later or set an earlier alarm, but this will get easier with time.

Nurture a Company Culture

Establishing and nurturing a company culture in one building or one site helps to make your workforce feel like one big team. Achieving the same level of comfort and familiarity with remote workers is more of a challenge, but is essential to ensure they feel valued and important to the business.

Keep your freelancers up to date with changes to the company, ask for their suggestions to make processes more efficient, and ensure they understand your brand’s values and objectives.

The more immersed freelancers feel in your company culture, the more loyalty they will demonstrate towards the business. They’re more likely to genuinely care about their work too, encouraging them to perform at their best.

Working with freelancers can be incredibly rewarding for your business, providing you with a global talent-pool and candidates with diverse varieties of expertise. Following these tips will enable you to get the most out of your freelancers, and to build a strong working relationship for years to come.

Have you started to work with freelancers, and if so, what tips of your own do you have?

J.T. Ripton is a freelance writer out of Tampa, who focuses on topics relating to business and technology. Follow him at @JTRipton.