How To Avoid Micromanaging Freelancers and Empower The Best Creative Work

Resource managers often confuse effective delegation with micromanaging. How do you find the right balance, especially at scale? In this article we’ll explore the best ways to empower the best creative work from your freelancers, and avoid micromanaging them.

An increasing number of companies are hiring contractors to fill gaps in their workforce, and it’s a great time to do so. 47% of the global workforce are now freelancers (around 1.57 billion people) and the freelance market size is predicted to grow to $12 billion by 2028. 

There are numerous benefits to curating a freelance talent pool. However if you’ve never worked with contingent workers before, it can be difficult to know how to manage them—without micromanaging them and stifling their creativity.

We’re sharing some micromanagement traits to eliminate from your workflow, plus six tips on how to empower your freelancers to do their best creative work.

Micromanagement traits

If you’ve ever worked in an office environment, you’ll most likely have met someone with a few micromanagement issues.

They’re the ones who:

  • Have difficulty trusting their team members to get the job done
  • Have an annoying habit of hovering “over the shoulder,” or checking in every five minutes to make sure work is happening
  • Find it hard to relinquish tasks, succumbing to “I’ll just do it myself”

When work goes remote (e.g. when you’re working with global freelance talent), people with a micromanagement style can find it even more of a challenge to oversee projects. How can they check if people are actually working if they can’t see them anymore?

This anxiety can manifest itself in the form of constant emails, texts, and meetings, which can take up a lot of unnecessary time for both contractors and project managers.

Micromanagement creates a stressful dynamic for freelancers. This is problematic for hiring companies, as contractors know they have many options available to them in terms of work, and can easily quit to find another client who isn’t so overbearing.

These are some of our top tips to help you avoid micromanaging, and enable your talent to deliver their best work.

1. Do your due diligence before hiring

Sourcing and hiring the right talent is the critical first step to find people who have the necessary experience, self-motivation, and creativity to deliver work that will benefit your company.

It’s important that you carry out due diligence as you would with an employee, including:

  • Checking talent profiles
  • Reviewing resumes & internal reviews on the work
  • Examining portfolios
  • Interviewing candidates

Getting to know your freelancers before you hire them ensures you have a better feel for whether they’re going to need a lot of handholding from your company, or whether they’re an experienced professional who can have projects delegated to them, and deliver high-quality work without needing to be closely managed. 

If you’re using a Freelancer Management System like Worksuite, you can easily delegate/assign tasks according to what experience and trust level is needed from a contractor. Your ideal goal is to move towards hiring freelancers who can be trusted to do a great job without the need to be closely supervised.

The 6 levels of delegation for effective freelancer management (to help avoid micromanaging)

2. Set clear expectations before work begins

Before a freelancer begins an assignment, it’s important to clearly set out:

  • The scope of work
  • Timeline of work (e.g. milestones and deadline)
  • Timeline for revisions
  • Anything specific will be required as part of the project (e.g. interviewing experts or regular team meetings)

You should also ensure your freelancers sign an independent contractor agreement which clarifies all of the above. This can be tailored for ongoing work, or be sent out specifically for each new assignment.

Setting expectations for your freelancers gives them the chance to raise questions, push back against things if they feel uncomfortable, and agree to timelines.

Many micromanaging issues arise because freelancers don’t have clear expectations or directions before they begin a new project. Make sure you frame the challenge properly with enough context on the “what” and the “why” — without necessarily telling them how to do their job. It’s a fine balance. Your freelancers will often come up with a far better solution if given freedom with a framework.

A problem well stated is a problem half solved.”

Charles Kettering, Head of Research, General Motors (1920-1947)

Pro Tip: When using Worksuite for your project management + freelancer management, brief the assignment using “Task Templates” to speed up your process. Provide clear expectations & context upfront., at scale.

3. Implement a project management system

Having a robust project management or task management system in place can help sidestep micromanagement issues that stem from managers not having the ability to access or view information about freelancers, projects, and task progress in real time.

A freelancer management system like Worksuite simplifies every step of project management,  giving companies the ability to:

  • Provide clear, customized onboarding
  • Centralize freelancer data including time tracking & productivity analytics
  • Hire the right people for every project
  • Communicate easily with freelancers
  • Set clear expectations on rate, due date, scope and milestones
  • Check up on task progress without it feeling overbearing for contractors
  • Provide timely feedback
  • Approve & pay invoices tied directly to tasks

4. Keep in touch without being overbearing

If you’re not using a project management system, it’s important to establish primary channels for communication with your freelancers. 

Most teams that work with freelancers employ some kind of asynchronous communication tools, such as:

  • Video (e.g. Loom)
  • Chat (e.g. Slack)
  • Whiteboards (e.g. Miro)
  • Design (e.g. Figma)

Asynchronous tools like Slack are ideal for quickly sharing task progress and information between managers and freelancers. They also ensure that important conversations and information are kept in one place, and can easily be referred back to if your contractors need direction or clarification.

These tools make it simple for your project managers to communicate clearly and regularly with freelancers in any time zone, without making it feel like they’re being micromanaged. 

If you’re looking for a new task management system for your growing talent pool, or trying to find one that integrates with your existing tech stack, Worksuite might be just what you’re looking for. You can implement our API tools, or simply sync up with Zapier to get up and running fast.

5. Trust your freelancers to work autonomously

Once you complete your due diligence and you’ve hired the perfect talent, the next step is to trust in their skills and expertise to get the job done with minimal hand-holding. 

Melissa Zehner, former Editorial Manager at Foundr Magazine and Lendio, advises leaders that:

“If you’ve hired good people and given them the resources they need to do their jobs, then get the h*ll out of their way so they can execute. Maybe they won’t execute perfectly the first few times and the outcome will only be a B- instead of an A+. That’s okay. 

You still have the opportunity to coach and guide them up to that A+. And you’ll be doing it in a way that gives them the space and the practice they need to do the job well”.

As a manager, it’s important for you to provide feedback and guidance, but not to the point where your freelancers no longer have the independence to come up with solutions and make decisions on their own.

You chose to work with each contractor because they were a great fit, so you need to remember to step back and give them space to do their best work.

Melissa Zehner quote - hire great people and get the hell out of their way (avoid micromanaging!)

6. Check in regularly (but not too much)

Even though freelancers aren’t your employees, they still need to feel like a valued member of your team, and know that their work is making a positive impact for your company.

Checking in with your contractors is important to give your talent the opportunity to ask questions or raise any issues they might have. It also helps you clarify expectations and keep projects on track.

Depending on the type of work your freelancers do, frequent check-ins may or may not be necessary. If projects are being delivered weekly, it can be a good idea to have a weekly check-in. Otherwise your catch-up schedule can occur as-needed, e.g. at the start of a project, or at specific milestones.

When deciding how and when to check in, be respectful of your talents’ time (and timezones). Discuss how often you plan to catch up with them, and decide what communication style works best for both parties. For some projects, video meetings work best. For others, a quick Slack catch-up might be all you need.

As well as project check-ins, we recommend sending out a regular satisfaction survey which lets your freelancers rate how they find working with your company, and what you could improve on. 

If they feel like you’re micromanaging them and it’s having an impact on their work satisfaction, surveys are the ideal way to surface this information.

Avoid micromanaging your freelancers

If you’re hiring freelancers, it’s essential that you set up processes to avoid micromanagement problems creeping in, and to help your talent excel at the projects you assign them.

Creating an environment for your contingent talent to do their best creative work means you’ll get the best possible results from them—without micromanaging them. You’ll also create better working relationships with your contractors, earn their trust, and ensure higher levels of freelancer retention. After all, happy freelancers will stick with you and become your go-to trusted resources.

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