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The five principles that matter when it comes to managing remote contractors.

One of the most significant effects of the pandemic has been how it’s changed the way many people work. The need for organisations to operate remotely, using teleconferencing and other technologies, is likely to leave a lasting effect on how workplaces function in the future.

In the case of some businesses, however, it’s merely accelerated a process that was already underway. Managing contractors remotely was a firmly established reality before anyone had even heard of COVID 19. As an organisation grew larger, it became impractical to recruit, train, and manage every contractor in person. It was essential to establish processes that not only handled their onboarding and oversight, but also took care of the complex and abundant paperwork required by various government legislations.

Business sectors such as retail, facilities management, aged care, healthcare and franchises, have been managing large numbers of remote contractors across multiple sites for many years already, providing valuable learning for other industries and organisations to take guidance from.

So let’s look at the five key principles of managing remote contractors and how it differs slightly to the new way of work for other remote teams.

  1. Communication is key.

It’s vital to establish clear communication channels that encourage a dialogue between management and remote contractors. Ideally, this would utilise various technologies that allow you a choice in how to communicate. For example, an initial discussion might be a teleconference, followed up by a detailed brief via email, and then more casual check-ins handled by a messaging app.

It’s important to realise that the benefits of all these technologies do come with some drawbacks. Humans are used to using non-verbal clues when conversing and context can be lost when only communicating with text. What you might have intended to be a gentle suggestion could be misinterpreted as an aggressive threat. You’ll get more accurate communication using a phone call or teleconference than you will over a text chain. And it’s always worth switching to a call if a messaging or email conversation seems to be getting more complicated than it needs to.

Where appropriate, communication tools, such as Slack, offer the flexibility to integrate with other apps like Trello, Dropbox, and Google Drive to create a comprehensive communication workflow system and record useful pieces of information.

  1. Set expectations.

Every remote contractor needs to have a good understanding of what’s expected of them. And this goes far beyond just a job description. Aside from their specific job requirements, relay your expectations of deadlines, when meetings will be scheduled, specific daily tasks, their behaviour, use of safety equipment, and so on.

Make sure your contractors are aware of how you plan to manage them from afar. Random video calls at unexpected times may be resented; discuss how you want to handle communications. And following up calls with documents that outline what was agreed ensures that everyone is, literally, on the same page.

  1. Use technology to help collaborate

Where appropriate, task management tools can help you manage remote contractors more efficiently by organising and prioritising related tasks.

They help you manage and organise workloads by defining which items have priority, allow you to increase efficiency by applying the optimal amounts of resources and time, and improve collaboration because everyone in a team has a shared understanding of what needs to be done. The quality of the work is likely to be improved, waste reduced, and deadlines more easily met.

  1. Use contractor management solutions to reduce your risk

As your contractor workforce grows, so do the logistical challenges of handling it. It’s important to remember that any errors or safety issues caused by contractors not only reflect badly on your reputation but may put you at serious legal risk.

You need to balance the recruitment of contractors with the complex regulatory environment that governs this sort of employment. If you don’t adequately manage the risks, and establish appropriate policies and procedures, your business could be in real trouble.

To avoid issues like poor project outcomes, budget issues and safety incidents, you need to manage them effectively.

There are several areas of risk to consider:

Capability risk. Your contractor management program requires a procurement or prequalification process to ensure you’re hiring contractors capable of performing the work expected. The wrong hire can cost you significant money and time.

Compliance risk. Manually tracking contractor compliance is complex, time-consuming, and expensive. You need to chase documentation, check it, and perhaps follow up with further questions. And the more remote contractors you have, the more complex it gets. Making mistakes can have serious repercussions; incorrectly classify a contractor or have an injury involving safety non-compliance and there can be substantial financial penalties.

Safety risk. It’s your responsibility, under health and safety law, to provide the necessary information, training, and supervision to enable everyone to work safely, including contractors. Accidents or illness not only puts you at risk of financial penalties but can badly affect your organisation’s reputation.

Security risk. Checking the credentials of potential contractors is important to determine you’re not introducing security risks as well. This doesn’t have to be intentional fraud or theft; inexperience or human error can just as easily cause an issue.

A good contractor management solution will comprehensively assess a contractor’s organisational structures and operations to make sure there are no potential problems. And ensure that all the details are recorded and kept up to date.

Instead of having to beg contractors for the documents you need, you can use a quick and efficient automated process to verify their public liability insurance, professional indemnity, workers compensation, and ABN/GST registrations. If any issues come up, you’ll be informed and you can investigate them further.

Not only does this greatly diminish your compliance risk, but it also reduces your paperwork by providing a complete paper trail that can be accessed any time you need it.

  1. Good management starts with good contractors.

While the techniques discussed here can help you better manage your remote contractors, the most important element is ensuring that you choose the best contractors to work with. Do your due diligence by knowing your obligations and the credentials required from your contractors to ascertain the safety of them, and your business.