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Managing Remote Contractors and Sole Traders

Many companies hire and manage contractors or sole traders, they are hired because they are able to top up your existing workforce, offer a specific skill set or help out with important tasks. It is a partnership with many benefits, however as with all partnerships, building up trust is important, which can take time. This can become a problem if the contractor or sole trader you have hired is working remotely, which raises questions such as 'How do you manage them effectively when you can't supervise them directly?' 'How are you able to put your trust in them and not have it backfire on you?' 'If you feel you cannot trust the contractor/sole trader, then aren't you really just wasting your time and money?'

You might be asking what exactly are Sole traders and Contractors? For the purposes of this article they are basically one and the same, however they have some small distinctions. A 'Sole Trader' is someone who runs their own business and is legally and solely responsible for all that comes with it. A 'Contractor' is someone who agrees to offer services, equipment and goods etcetera in return for an agreed upon price. Both are only bound to do what has been mutually agreed upon and as such for the most part they cannot be treated the same as standard employees.

Both remote sole traders and contractors work for your company according to the boundaries agreed upon in the contract, and outside of said boundaries you have little control over them, in comparison to a standard employee, how then do you make sure that they are fulfilling their end of the agreement? Firstly, doing your research can go a long way to making sure you hire the right person for the job. It is important here to consider the work and skills that are required then consider what questions are the right ones to ask. Some examples of useful questions to ask are 'How will they fit into your workplace culture?' 'Do they have all that they need to be effective, in working remotely?' 'Are they actually as capable as they seem to be at working remotely?' remote work can seem attractive or enchanting to many, however if they aren't ready for the challenges it presents it may backfire on them and potentially you as well.

Software is important in most positions and so there is a good chance that your contractor will be needing to use it. If they are going to be using software in the course of their work, then it is in both of your best interests to make sure that they are using good quality software that facilitates communication and allows easy uncomplicated access to important documents. It is also important and perhaps should go without saying that this software needs to be compatible with the software you are using. If necessary, offer assistance in upgrading their software or the equipment they use to ensure a smooth working environment.

When discussing communication, it is important to recreate the idea of a close proximity environment as much as possible for ease of communication so simply having one method (such as talking over the phone) is unlikely to be sufficient, multiple methods are required. Just like working in a face to face environment where you can have multiple means of communication such as passing by to simply say hello and catch up after a weekend as well as having phones, notices and mice. Having multiple methods available to your remote sole trader/contractor assists by being able to channel the different types of communication. Examples of this are: being able to have a casual chat via a messaging app, video calls for updates, emails for more formal information etcetera.

Scheduling regular communication with your contractors is an effective way to ensure that they are staying on track. This should be done both at set times (for meetings, updates etc) as well as allowing them to freely communicate when needed. In short it is necessary to create a shared digital workspace to help remove the distance barrier created by working remotely. This will reduce the likelihood of miscommunication with information that is passed on.

Another area where trouble can often arise is when both parties suffer from a lack of clear direction and understanding. This can happen through problems of communication as listed above it can also be due to a poor job description. If the job description is not clear, then expectations can end up being clearly mismatched. This can lead to friction and conflict between you and them. With this information then it is important to make sure that expectations are clearly laid out from the beginning of your time together. Aside from general duties these expectations include deadlines, when meetings are scheduled, which meetings must be attended as well as any applicable daily tasks that need to be completed.

Contractors are an outside party which when combined with working remotely can have a negative impact on how they will feel toward your company as well as themselves. It is therefore important to manage the way in which they interact with the company. If they feel included, contractors are more likely to improve their work performance and they are also more likely to give positive reviews of your company when discussing it with other contractors. So, as with any new employee making sure that they feel included from the start will be a positive step towards their time with you. It is important therefore that they know whom they will be working with and how to contact them. If there are any meetings or events that they need to be involved in make sure to schedule them at a time when they can make it, if possible. The exact extent will of course vary between roles and does not have to be done in a face to face manner. It could be through any of the communication methods listed above, whichever works best for you and them.

It is important to remember also that although their time with you is temporary there is still a chance for them to experience the dangers of burnout. Contractors and sole traders perhaps are at a greater risk than other employees. As they can have several jobs going without a central body keeping track of them. Keeping communication open and checking in regularly will help, to prevent the dangers of this.

Managing remote contractors and sole traders is important to do well, for if it is not then a potentially positive and beneficial relationship can turn sour. Following the information listed in this article should make the managing of remote contractors and sole traders easier and remove some of the potential pitfalls and issues that can arise in the course of your partnership.

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