Freelancers benefit your business and your internal team by providing specialized skills, fresh perspective, flexibility, and cost-efficiency. But it may not always be sunshine and rainbows.
Just like conflict with full-time employees can creep up, you may have to navigate some friction with your freelancers from time to time. As a manager, you should address conflict in any form to maintain a positive work environment and ensure productive, successful collaboration.
Proactive Steps to Avoid Conflict with Freelancers
Strong social skills, self-regulation, and empathy make a truly successful business leader. While effectively managing a freelance team demands those same qualities, it also requires a unique process. So let’s dust off your emotional intelligence superpowers and jump in.
The best way to avoid potential conflict with your freelancers is to be proactive. Set expectations from the beginning – the majority of conflict comes from expectation misalignment – and establish consistent and open communication.
Seriously, don’t miss this point (that’s why we bolded it). Expectation and communication management will prevent 90% of conflicts. Copy that down and underline it.
Write out the details of the collaboration and discuss the SOW before your freelancer gets to work. This eliminates most confusion. A thoughtful onboarding process when starting with a new freelancer will also help tremendously. It may feel like overkill at times, but clarity is the quickest way to a smooth process.
Once they’re onboarded, give them a clear assignment brief. Make it a goal to use specific language (no squishiness!) around deliverables and timelines. Instead of “Freelancer will write 3-5 blogs,” put “Freelancer will write 5 blogs.” Don’t say “Due date is next week,” say “Due date is EOD on this date.” The brief also serves as a paper trail if there are future discrepancies about deadlines, deliverables, or processes.
Include your freelancer in conversations around these things as well. Perhaps you’ve written a deliverable THIS way, but the freelancer feels more comfortable with it stated THAT way. They may prefer to work in THIS manner instead of THAT one. Giving your freelancer some ownership builds a partnership, which can prevent potential defensiveness if an issue arises.
Yet despite your best proactive efforts, conflict can still happen. When it does, here are some tips on how you can quickly and constructively resolve it.
Strategies to Reduce Conflict with Freelancers
You’ve onboarded your freelancer, you’ve given them a clear brief, you’re keeping the lines of communication open, and BAM!
What might that look like with external talent?
Conflict: Delayed response time
If you’ve managed only internal staff, you may find it frustrating to have to wait for a reply to your email or Slack message, especially if it’s something that could use immediate attention.
Helpful Strategy: Plan ahead
Remember that freelancers typically work with multiple clients and may even work hours outside of the normal 9-to-5. In your onboarding process, include expectations for response time (we recommend within 24 business hours). Then, be sure you plan ahead. If you need them available during certain hours, then plan to book their time on a contract basis instead of a project basis.
Even though many managers have pivoted to working with remote employees, communication with freelancers demands special attention. They don’t receive the internal company emails and probably aren’t on the full-staff Slack channel. It’s rare you’ll meet your freelancer in person, so you’ll establish a working relationship strictly through digital means. Yes, it’s easy to shoot off a quick message, but urgency and tone of voice are often misread in written communication, which can easily lead to miscommunication.
Helpful Strategy: Take advantage of video chat
Whenever you have an opportunity, meet with your freelancer face-to-face. If it’s possible to actually meet in real life for coffee to get to know one another, do it! If it isn’t geographically feasible, at least meet virtually. It’s much easier to avoid miscommunication when we see each other as humans instead of avatars. And if there has been any conflict, don’t try to resolve it through email. Always hold important discussions via video chat so all parties can see facial expressions and hear tone.
Conflict: Push back on revisions
Receiving feedback and making revisions are part of the creative process. Freelancers expect this, but it doesn’t mean it’s always easy to hear. You may meet some resistance to implement your requested changes, especially if they are vague or delivered in a confusing way.
Helpful Strategy: Revise feedback process
Revisit your process to ensure your feedback is helpful rather than hurtful. Here is the process we recommend: compile all revisions into one document, set a time and place to deliver the feedback, focus it on the work itself, and include reasons for changes. Make the feedback process a conversation, allowing an opportunity for the freelancer to ask questions and offer their line of thinking. This establishes a collaborative mindset. With this approach, you’re more likely to reach your mutual goal.
Steps to Resolve Conflict with Freelancers
Even if you are proactive and implement strategies to mitigate conflict, you might still experience tension with your freelancer.
When this happens, it’s time to reflect:
- Where did the breakdown begin?
- How long has it been going on?
- What is the reason(s) for it?
- What do you need to resolve the issue and get back on track?
Then, schedule a time to sit down and work through the conflict.
- Discuss what you’ve observed and communicate your specific concerns clearly.
- Allow the freelancer to voice concerns and express opinions. Be an active listener and demonstrate empathy.
- Take a collaborative approach and find a solution together.
- Document everything. Send post-meeting “minutes” that includes the agenda, areas of discussion, and next steps. Again, you want a paper trail of what was shared and how you resolved to move forward.
If you value the relationship, give the freelancer a second chance. If you’ve had repeated conflict despite your best efforts, it just might not be the right fit. And it’s ok to walk away amicably.
Pro Tip: Build a Freelance Partner Relationship
Creating effective strategies and implementing processes to work successfully with freelancers take time to perfect. But you don’t have to do it alone.
At Uncompany, we partner with you to navigate the freelancer onboarding process, verify a solid brief, and maintain communication. Learn more about how we can work together.