Build a Positive Working Relationship with an International ContractorGuest_Blogger | Feb 13, 2012
Technological advances of the past decade—such as high-speed Internet access and low-cost computing devices—have created a truly global workforce. Companies can now contract with a web developer in Pakistan or Russia just as easily as one who lives down the street. In fact, an Elance survey shows that eight in 10 small businesses plan to hire at least half of their workforce online in the next year, and the platform’s pool of qualified contractors consists of candidates from more than 150 countries.
There’s a strong financial incentive for U.S. companies to work with international contractors: professionals who live in places with lower costs of living often charge more affordable rates. However, working in a global marketplace offers a few initial challenges, such as language barriers, cultural differences, and varying time zones. Here are a few strategies to help you establish and maintain positive working relationships with international contractors.
1. Hire through a reputable source. Outsourcing agencies and platforms typically vet candidates before they allow them to bid on any client jobs. For example, Elance requires contractors to pass an admissions test before they can complete the registration process. While it is up to clients to continue evaluating candidates on their own, having a primary level of admissions standards is important.
2. Start on a small-scale, trial basis. As with any worker, you don’t want to invest too much time or money in a remote contractor before you’re certain that he or she is the right fit. Before signing a big contract, assign your top candidate a smaller task that’s worth a few hundred dollars or less. The low-risk collaboration will give you an opportunity to size up the contractor’s work and communication skills—and determine whether it makes sense to move forward with larger projects.
3. Make your expectations clear. Some international contractors may speak English as a second or third language, so it’s essential to make the terms of your project as clear as possible, in writing. Email an outline, written in the simplest words possible, that plainly describes the terms of the work to be done and the relevant deadlines and milestones.
4. Develop an ongoing communication plan. It can be difficult to keep tabs on a remote contractor’s work in real-time, the way you might with an in-office employee. To make sure that your contractor meets the goals you’ve set, and plan regular times to talk, so you can ask for a progress report and whether any issues have come up. Consider setting up a weekly chat or videoconference call; use a tool like the World Clock to figure out time zone differences and choose an hour that suits both of you.
5. Take advantage of time zone differences. Although you and your contractor may rarely be at your desks at the same time, you may benefit from having a contractor who’s ready to begin the day just as yours ends. If you assign tasks on a daily basis, email a to-do list before you leave the office, so that your contractor can hit the ground running. Check your email—from your computer or your smartphone—after-hours and respond to questions, if necessary, before you go to bed. By the time you wake up, you’ll likely have something that you’re able to review.
6. Learn more about your contractor’s culture. If you plan to enter a long-term working relationship with an international contractor, take time to learn a bit about his or her culture. This can go a long way in preventing personal misunderstandings. For instance, find out which holidays are most important in the contractor’s country, and make it clear that you won’t require any work on those days.
Technology has made it easy to hire highly skilled workers from anywhere in the world, and outsourcing certain projects can dramatically reduce your expenses. By making efforts to establish respectful, open working relationships with your remote contractors, your business can reap all of the benefits that a global workforce has to offer.
About the Author
Kathryn Hawkins, a Null Media author, is a Maine-based freelance writer specializing in small business and entrepreneurship. She writes for publications including BNET, Intuit Small Business Blog, Portfolio.com, GOOD Magazine, OPEN Forum, and Family Business Magazine when not chasing after her two-year-old daughter. She also co-owns and operates Gimundo.com, a site dedicated to positive news.