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Recognizing and managing active and passive freelancers

The statement above applies even more accurately, for example, to people who work from home (remote workers) and independent tech experts. However, many questions arise to this dilemma above.

Is proactivity dependent on the location of work? Do independent developers need many fixed hours to give you quality work? Should they fully manage their own time? Is it expected of them to add ideas or just do the assigned work? Or maybe your doubts are whether or not software development experts are expected to be proactive in the first place, or just conduct technical assignments only?

It’s a good idea to delve deeper into these questions and dilemmas and settle everything before you hire a independent developer. Knowing everything in advance removes worries or lets you prepare ahead, and you’ll know what to expect from freelancing work conditions.

How to recognize a proactive independent developer?

As a business owner, it doesn’t hurt to recognize whether a freelance developer will be proactive or passive and idle. The dynamic of the working relationship itself sets the tone for the whole work relationship, and it is more important than you think.

You need to consider several things, though, and not too complex. Let’s evaluate a simple example of a freelance writer who depends just on internet access and a remote location of their choosing.

The first crucial telltale sign of proactivity is what they include in their time management. Apart from trusting them to organize their own time (to which we will get more in detail later on), you will be able to see if they just ‘do the work as told’ or do the work and contribute with an excellent idea you didn’t mention so far. In this case, the freelance writer could write content and suggest beneficial new topics you haven’t thought of.

You can apply the same to a freelance or independent developer. An expert with a fantastic skill set will not disappoint and will ‘bring more to the table’ than initially asked for. If a freelance or independent developer does their job as agreed upon but also goes the extra mile to do something better, more than asked for, you got yourself a proactive worker.

Traits and characteristics of proactivity

  • Extensive knowledge of programming languages – it is not a strict or fixed rule. Still, the more experience and expertise the person has, they feel more comfortable sharing their ideas and suggestions, backed by their substantial work experience. This instills confidence to be proactive, of course.
  • Established freelance career success – Based on their resume, you can see what they worked on in the past and how well they did it. Don’t be put off by just a few previous employers in the resumé; as long as those employers were incredibly relevant in the IT (or other relevant) industry, the developer's expertise is also relevant.
  • Good quality of past provided work – This one is as clear as possible. If the dev passes the technical assessment, you can expect them to deliver the same quality later. Besides, excellent work is also seen in their resumé and portfolio of engagements.
  • Good management of their work-life balance – There is no need to investigate the dev’s social media to see their work-life balance. A productive, positive, and proactive worker shows it in their attitude, not just work. They are eager to work on tasks because they master the job. An excellent work-life balance tells you this person values both aspects of life without nearing burnout on either front.
  • Team player and good communication – Yes, an independent developer still needs to be a team player, even if they do solo work most of the time or in their hours and how they manage them. Team player attitude means being less prone to uncooperativeness. Inquire what sort of environment they worked in before the task you give them.

Productivity expectations of remote developers

Set realistic expectations for your distriubuted teammates. Do you need a developer for full-time work hours for a challenging and complex engagement? Or perhaps you need a part-time developer for a short-term engagement? See the pros and cons of various work arrangements, such as freelance vs. vetted contractors, and go for the one benefitting you most.

Remember that productivity does not depend on set or fixed hours, location, or similar. It depends on the candidates, their work ethic, and their compatibility with the company culture, the project, and the communication dynamics. And, of course, their ability for successful task management.

Can you ensure the remote developer is a good fit for your engagements?

In a gig economy, part-time or full-time jobs, remote or not, nobody can ever be 100% sure the remote worker is a perfect fit, but there are some promising signs that they are as perfect as possible for that particular engagement. One way to do this is to work with experts for vetting.

To stay on top of someone is not the solution and it equals micromanaging. Still, another way to ensure productivity is to rely on experts that do vetting to guarantee the quality of a hired dev.

If remotely working, distance is not an obstacle to providing quality work

Predominantly, freelance jobs are done in a remote or hybrid setting, allowing for more freedom than the previously widely accepted onsite full-time method. But, if you sometimes believe distance might be one issue that triggers passive work behavior and lack of initiative, think again. Remote freelancing is not an issue if you rely on quality communication and trust in someone’s expertise and work ethic.

The management system of your company doesn’t need to be highly strict, let alone rely on micromanaging. With the ability to chat often and be available for calls on various apps, like Google Calendar, for example, you can conduct meetings more regularly, organize time better, and still nurture good communication with remote independent tech experts and every team member for that matter.

For example, in a previous case study with our client from Svea Solar, their Head of Software, Erik Tilleby, said that remote working brought benefits to their dynamic, contrary to their expectations.

“Working from home actually adds a dimension of production or velocity in the way of working that is positive for software developers.”

How to promote a better dynamic and nurture a collaborative environment?

Big or small businesses, everyone is at some potential challenge of working with a developer that could, later on, prove to be a less-than-fully-ideal fit, and it is nobody’s fault should it happen.

Sometimes it happens that someone may be a not-so-ideal fit for a team culture or company regarding a proactive work attitude. Still, you should review and objectively see whether there is room for improvement before finalizing decisions about those freelancers and employees.

It’s essential to treat everyone equally in terms of inclusion and discussions, whether they are full-time, part-time, contractors, or freelancers. Dividing employees based on the work agreements does not lead to anything beneficial, and the opinion of a freelancer matters equally as the one of a full-time employee. In other words, productivity, talent, and expertise are not, nor should be, limited to the types of work contracts of any sort. You never know who has a good idea and when they will share it, so what you can do is encourage communication and inclusion for all.

“I think just having that mindset when you work with contractors is the best way to make people feel included. It’s not like the words of the full-time employee weigh heavier than those of the contractors. We don’t make any separation in day-to-day working and decisions. If you were to go to one of our daily stand-up meetings, you wouldn’t notice who is a contractor and who is a full-time employee, and that’s the way it’s supposed to be. The key is there.", Tilleby adds.

In this way, you can ensure the retention of the best talent you have included in your company, regardless of the job statuses, contracts, and similar.

However, what project managers can do, if everything else doesn’t work well, is find a solution for a suitable replacement for hiring developers anew all over. Perhaps, one good way to do so is by developing a hiring and retention strategy for software engineers or improving the existing one. Or also, they can rely on a job board and ads for hiring, but ideally, they would save time and resources for another lengthy recruitment and vetting process, as Proxify proved to do it excellently for numerous satisfied clients.

The takeaway

Freelance gigs usually include certain levels of freedom for independent tech experts to manage their own time and tasks, too.

However, this fact does not mean you cannot have an independent developer that is productive and proactive. As long as you set and engage in clear communication, avoid micromanaging, and act in an inspiring way, the team member will undoubtedly want to continue nurturing that healthy work environment by contributing to your business through their professional loyalty and ideas.

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