Onsite or Offsite: Which type of freelancer works for you?

Lots of small business need continuing maintenance on their websites. For some it makes sense to have your employees or yourself do the edits and updates that need to be done. Sometimes though it takes someone that has more technical knowledge in web design to do the edits for you.

When you are at the place where you need some outside help with your website on a regular basis many business owners ask themselves if the person should be onsite or offsite. Ultimately both have their benefits to both parties so lets take a look at what they are.

Working Onsite

In my experience business often wants their freelancers to work onsite. They often feel that there will be a greater degree of control over what the freelancer does if they are onsite and they are right. If you have a freelancer working onsite you will be able to make sure that they are doing what they say they are doing. You will have a bit more artistic control over new items as they are made, since you can walk over to where they are working and have changes made as they are working.

If you have a freelancer onsite they are a real person. Sounds weird but some employees will have a hard time working with someone that they only have talked to over the phone. They value the face to face interaction that can be provided by having someone onsite. You may also find that employees are jealous of the ‘freedom’ that freelancers have (trust me 10 hours at a desk is not freedom no matter what the view is). That jealousy can cost you in un-productive employees that with-hold information from the freelancer just for some sort of control over the ‘free-spirit.’ I know that we are adults but that doesn’t change the fact that those things happen. Having a real person on site can really bring someone into the office culture which may be great for a creative individual.

When considering having a freelancer work onsite you must also include the cost that it may incur. Firstly while many freelancers have laptops to work on not all do which means you may have to provide a work station for them. A work station for a graphic designer is no trivial undertaking. It require nice hardware (easily over $1500) and expensive software (again easily over $1500). If your hiring someone for print design you also need a monitor that can be properly colour corrected ($500+) and the tools to colour correct ($500+). That makes the initial set up of a freelancer for print work over $4000. Don’t forget that you will be replacing that work station every 2 years or so, along with the software.

Other costs that will be incurred are interruptions from other people in the office, including yourself. How many hours a day are used when people stop by other cubicles or offices just to talk for a bit. Yes this is a healthy part of a good office culture but when you paying big bucks for a skilled freelancer each minute wasted with interruptions is pretty expensive.

Finally that creative control you have may actually produce poor results. I can’t count the number of times that I was just a few minutes into a good design session and someone peaked at my screen and loved what I had already and wanted it frozen there. No matter how much I tried that was what they wanted. Sure they saved a bit of cash but their site paid for it by looking generic and not fully developed. The creative process takes a while sometimes, especially if you don’t have an environment set up that fosters creative people. You hire people with different specialized talents for those talents so let them use the talents where ever they are.

Working Offsite

Most freelancers want to work offsite, at least from evidence I have seen. Many have worked for business before at a design firm or as an in house designer and decided to make the switch to freelance because they felt that the regular daily job just wasn’t for them. Whatever the reason many are reluctant to commit to coming into a business to work on a regular basis which can be difficult for business owners who need some regular site maintenance.

By working offsite freelance designers gain freedom in their creative atmosphere. I know that sometimes I work well at home but not always. If I’m really stuck on a site design I will often go hit the local used book store find a good cheap book and then hit the coffee shop for some mental relaxation. After about 20 minutes I pull out my sketch pad and start drawing site elements. Yeah I’m not working in Photoshop but many creative ideas for site designs have come from sitting and sketching. Once the idea catches I’ll dash home and get them into Photoshop as a site mockup.

Having an offsite freelancer can also make the work cycle seem very quick. If you are in different time zones you can send a project out to the freelancer and overnight they can have some ideas back to you. You make some comments during the day and in the morning you have a new version. This can be very effective if both parties buy into turning projects around quickly.

Offsite work can also allow people to work when it suits them best. I know that 5am is a very productive time for me. I fade often around 2pm and have some more work in me around 8pm so if I can, I work around this schedule. Why force someone to come into an office during set times if they aren’t at their peak? The reality is that you get a better return on investment when people work during their most productive times, which may not be when it’s most convenient for you.

Solitude can also be a benefit for people working offsite. I know that when I am working specifically for a client I turn off my email, twitter, and generally ignore my phone. I get to focus on what I am doing with very few distractions. I turn up my stereo and really drill into what I am doing. Many times a few hours later I realize that I have worked over lunch or dinner, or forgot to pick up the wife (really a bad idea) but man did I get a lot done.

Conclusion

Ultimately you need to do what works for your business. Some places need onsite, some offsite. I suggest trying out both and seeing what works for you.

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