How firms can successfully integrate freelancers into their organisations

Companies across sectors are increasingly relying on freelance talent to compete in the modern world. From plugging skills gaps to providing specialist expertise for distinct projects, drawing on fluid talent has a lot of advantages, enabling firms to operate in a much leaner way than they have in the past. Using flexible resources started in remote working and lower skilled areas, but it is getting more and more common at all levels. However, as an increasing number of roles are filled by freelancers, this can bring challenges, in particular the issue of managing blended permanent and freelance teams, and the turnover of short-term staff.

Permanent team members have their roots in the organisation, with their eyes on career progression and the long game. They have a deep understanding of how things work, processes and procedures, and where to find all the information they might need. Freelancers are different. In most cases they are coming in cold, but with a very specific focus and objective for their time in the organization. Yet, despite these differences, it is vital that these two groups are able to work effectively with and alongside each other.

Here are a few ways you can help to integrate freelancers successfully into your organisation.

Recruit right

It can be tempting to rush through the recruitment process for freelancers, on the basis that they won’t be with you for the long-term. However, this is approach is likely to make integration harder. While you might not have time to go through numerous interview and selection stages with freelancers, it is still important that you hire for cultural fit as well as based on skills and experience. Face-to-face interviews – or at least video calls – are essential to get an idea for personality fit, as well as asking freelancers for references from previous projects. Also, be clear upfront about what the project involves, so the freelancer can ensure it is right for them, aligning expectations, deliverables and timescales.

Onboarding

Freelancers are great at hitting the ground running, but they need your help to do that effectively. A well-planned onboarding process makes a huge difference to the speed that an individual will reach peak productivity and performance, by minimising downtime and maximising engagement. All it takes is a bit of preparation, to make sure they can get stuck in as soon as they arrive on their first day. That means ensuring everything is organised in advance, from access to the building, and logins to all your systems, right through to company and project background that they need to get started.

Facilitate collaboration

It isn’t uncommon for freelancers to walk in on their first day, and for the rest of the team to not have the first idea who they are or why they are there. This immediately puts everyone on the backfoot, makes collaboration more difficult, and shows a lack of respect to the freelancer. Freelancers rely on others within the business to achieve their objectives, so relevant team members must be fully briefed on what their role is, and how they will be working together, before an individual starts work. Arrange one-to-ones between the freelancer and anyone they will be working with as early as possible.

Set clear deliverables and timelines – and catch up regularly

Freelancers want to prove themselves quickly and start delivering for the business. That means clear deliverables and timescales are critical from the word ‘go’, to be reassessed regularly against progress made. Regular catch-ups with senior managers or directors are also a good opportunity to ask for freelancers for feedback on how things could be done better or differently to improve outcomes. You may need to do such catch ups more frequently than with permanent staff, at least in the beginning, to ensure you are maximizing the integration and performance. Remember, they are specialists and have worked on numerous similar projects elsewhere (perhaps even with your competitors) so are likely to have plenty of valuable insights to share.

Involve them in the culture

They might not be permanent team members, but the more a freelancer feels part of the team, the better their work is likely to be. So, it makes sense to embrace them into the culture as much as possible. Invite them to team socials, involve them in company-wide communications and add them to the company intranet for the period that they’re working for you. It will only increase their engagement with and understanding of the business, and ability to get the job done.  

Plan for the future & transfer knowledge

Freelancers are only with you for a distinct period, usually working on highly important projects. It’s therefore vital that you plan for when they leave so that all the knowledge doesn’t leave with them. For example, if they have been involved in planning a client strategy, ensure your team has everything they need to execute that strategy. Do they fully understand how to articulate it to the client, and roll it out, or is more background or training required? What more can they do to ensure their handover is completed thoroughly?

In our experience following these six principles ensures the clients get the most value out of the independent consultants and ensuring it’s a good experience for both parties!