The Way We Work
November 13, 2013 by Catherine Raney

A writer by education and trade, Austin is proof positive that a business founded on respect for great work—and for the people who do that work—can lead to a happy ending.

Austin’s first project using online freelancers was to build a website for his father’s insurance agency. His dad knew nothing about website creation and had little money set aside to get it done, so Austin wrote the copy himself and went out and hired the people he needed. The result was a custom WordPress site created on a shoestring budget that managed to thrill both Austin and his dad.

And so began a mutually beneficial relationship between entrepreneur and online work. Today, Austin’s company, Bright Newt, is a thriving marketing, branding, and app development shop. He and his confederacy of creative conspirators even created a ridiculously fun app called Mustache Bash in April 2012, which continues to bring smiles to folks both with and without facial hair.

As Austin’s company took off and he found himself with a rapidly growing cadre of freelancers, he developed his own best practices for identifying talent, managing virtual workers and inspiring great work. His strategies all demonstrate that the basic principles of good leadership—like treating workers well—are extremely effective in building a successful remote team. Here are five of his best pieces of advice.

1. When evaluating candidates, trustworthiness trumps skills.

For Austin, the single most-important thing he looks for in a freelancer—and ultimately the most critical component of a long-lasting work relationship—is trust. So, when he interviews candidates, he tends to focus on character rather than skills. He explains, “Skills in my mind come last as the minimum requirement for the job. I’m trying to evaluate character. I’m trying to evaluate personality. To evaluate attitude and motivation.” He adds,  “At the end of the day, after a successful project I’d like to have become friends with the person I hired.”

2. Design interview questions to access insights into character and personality.

To successfully identify candidates that he can trust, Austin developed a series of specific questions designed to provide insights into a candidate’s character. He likes to ask questions like, “Can you make my job a priority?” and, “What’s a big frustration you have when working with clients?” and then tries to judge whether or not the freelancer is willing to give an honest answer. For example, if a freelancer responds that at first she can only commit a limited amount of time, it shows that she’s honest and therefore might be worth waiting for.

3. Seek out and build a deep bench of talented freelancers.

So that you can be prepared to tackle a project as soon as it comes up, Austin recommends identifying a number of freelancers that you feel confident hiring. He says, “You don’t just need one star point guard, you need multiple people who can play each position well.”

4. Treat freelancers well and you’ll be rewarded with excellent work.

Given that both in-person and remote workers produce better results when they feel respected and appreciated, Austin offers this simple piece of advice for remote managers: “Don’t be a jerk.” He adds, “Apologize if you do something wrong. If you misunderstood something then say, ‘Sorry, I misunderstood, that was my fault.’ Decency motivates people to do good work, and I take it for granted that people want to do good work.”

5. You’ll get better results by simply asking “Do you think this could be better?”

In Austin’s experience, this very simple question often results in a huge improvement in the quality of work. He explains, “Just because they created it doesn’t mean they think it’s the best they can do. So I ask the question all the time: Do you think this can be better? Do you like this? You’ll find that people have sent you stuff they don’t really like, and then you say ‘Well, send me something you like!’ Typically, what they send will be better than your original vision.”

Through following his own advice and making sure his freelancers know that they are valued members of the team, Austin has built lasting and productive relationships with many talented freelancers. As a result, his company, Bright Newt, continues to produce great results for clients far and wide.

Want to hear more tips from Austin on how to best motivate your remote team? Visit our Client Resource Center, read his latest guest blog post, or check out our free eBook. And don’t forget to share your own online work best practices in the comment section below!

Catherine Raney

Marketing Coordinator

Catherine Raney is the Marketing Coordinator at oDesk, focusing on creating educational resource materials and building recognition programs. Before joining oDesk she worked with different international nonprofit organizations including Ashoka and Asylum Access, where she developed a deep interest in globalization and social change. Catherine recently graduated from Claremont McKenna College where she majored in history. She was just awarded a Fulbright Scholarship, which she… read more