How to Manage Remote Tech Talent: Three Key Lessons for Nonprofits

July 3rd, 2023

In January 2023, 28% of all job openings were advertised as remote, and a study published by McKinsey last year said 87% of workers embrace remote work when offered. The numbers indicate that there were approximately 80 million Americans engaging in remote work in 2022.

Nonprofits embracing remote work can appeal to an extremely wide base of tech talent that are especially moved by mission-driven work. When nonprofits combine a meaningful sense of purpose with flexible work hours and work-life balance, they have an opportunity to compete for the best tech talent in the world.

As an agency representing some of the greatest freelance tech talent in the world, many of whom prefer remote work, we thought we’d share a few insights on how to best manage remote freelance talent.

Every person is different and responds to different motivations, but there are some general lessons we’ve learned after a decade plus in business, so we’ve highlighted three that we’d like to share:

  1. Build Trust With Your Talent – Trust Goes Both Ways

There’s a great article, 7 sure-fire ways to earn your employees’ trust, that’s worth a read for some strategies on building trust with talent. For experienced freelance tech talent, we’ve found that you can often build trust by providing independence and having confidence in your talent.

Avoid micromanagement and allow your talent to deliver results without a lot of interference. Every freelancer we represent is well-versed in delivering work without significant oversight. They value their independence and take pride in providing exceptional service without hand-holding. Of course, setting clear timelines and expectations from the start makes sense, but great talent will earn and keep your confidence to be more self-sufficient.

Trust is a two-way street. When you demonstrate trust in your talent, the good ones will return that trust and provide exceptional value.

  1. Prioritize Your Values – Be Clear About What Matters Most To You

For some managers, knowing that remote talent is working 8 hours a day, from 9am to 5pm, might be the most important factor in evaluating their performance. If that’s the case, have your talent submit logs or timesheets.

For others, focusing on the talent’s output as opposed to the number of hours worked might be the most important factor.

Be upfront about what you value from the start. Here are three things you can consider:

  • Quality of work
  • Speed of completion
  • Overall cost

You don’t have to choose only one, but you can almost never get all three. It is imperative for everyone to know your priorities in advance and obtain agreement of expectations up front. Stressing what you value most can help you find the best candidates early on in the interview process that adhere to your style.

  1. Establish Communication Parameters – Be Upfront About Communication Expectations

Outside of trust, communication is the most important element of managing remote talent.

Maintain consistent contact with remote talent. It doesn’t have to be every single day if that’s not your style, but it should likely be multiple times per week so there are no surprises. It might take some practice, but knowing what situations call for email/Slack/text vs. what situations call for a phone call/video call is an important distinction. Sometimes, verbalizing something has a more meaningful impact than writing it in a message. Find a communication cadence that works for you and for your talent. And be upfront about communication expectations prior to the start of an engagement. 

Part of our screening process is evaluating our talent for project management and communication skills. Even the most skilled talent is ineffective if they can’t communicate and stay on track. 

We also recommend having a clear point of contact from your organization to oversee remote talent. Otherwise, conflicting messages and conflicting priorities from multiple people at an organization might become a problem.

Trust. Prioritize What You Value. Communicate.

We could expand the list, but these are three factors that we’ve found crucial to the success of remote engagements: Trust your talent. Prioritize what you value with your talent and be upfront about it from the start. And communicate in a consistent and concise way with your talent.