If you find yourself faced with gaps in skills among your team or short on staff because of mounting customer needs, the answer may be more freelance help. Elance, the global online employment platform, surveyed 1500 businesses around the world and found some interesting trends for this year and beyond regarding freelance workers.

For starters, a majority of companies surveyed (84 percent) now believe that hiring freelancers online gives them a competitive advantage. Among those, 53 percent said that hiring online reduces costs; other advantages are access to a greater pool of talent and faster time-to-hire.

Last year, employers picked up the pace with 73 percent of respondents reporting they hired more freelancers in 2012 than they did in 2011. Of these, 27 percent employed on-site freelancers while the remaining 73 percent used online contractors. Looking ahead, respondents estimate that 54 percent of their workforce will be online in the next five years because they find the talent better than or equal to what is available locally.

What’s not clear is how many of the Elance survey participants are clients and so predisposed to working with freelancers. Still the survey highlights the benefits of employing highly skilled freelance workers in your small business to cut costs and expediently secure skills– long term or project focused – that your company needs to move ahead.

Work at homeHow to manage freelancers for best results

Mobile technology – laptops, smartphones and tablets along with a headset for conferencing – have eliminated the problems of communicating with your team wherever they are. Storing your small business data in the clouds also ensures that remote team members have access to the information they need to get the job done.

Still there are communication challenges in managing a freelance team whether they are 10 miles away or overseas. Also consider that a freelancer may have more than one client, which means they are juggling projects.

Here are some tips to help ensure you get the results you want from your freelance workforce and avoid miscommunication.

  • Be clear on the assignment: Document your direction, details of the assignment and what results you expect.
  • Understand their schedule: Freelancers more than likely have schedules that do not map to your office hours. Before you get started, understand their schedules so you know when you can expect them to be available for your work.
  • Maintain consistent contact:  Don’t just hand off an assignment and hope for the best. Set up a regularly scheduled conference call to discuss status or ask for periodic updates via email or in written reports turned in at agreed-upon intervals. Don’t hesitate to drop a note to check in on progress or share ideas.
  • Request time tracking:  Especially if a freelance team is working hourly, determine in advance a time tracking system. You could ask for weekly or biweekly time reports to avoid any surprises on your end and ensure you pay your freelancers in a timely fashion to meet their needs.

Do you use freelancers in your business?  What have you learned about managing the relationship?