The importance of onboarding

4% of new recruits quit after a disappointing first day on the job, according to the “Strategic onboarding can help new hires” study conducted by Bersin By Deloitte. The report also states that 22% of turnover happens within the first 45 days of employment. These premature departures represent a considerable cost for companies and require them to restart the recruitment process from scratch. The arrival of a new employee is therefore a key period that should not be neglected.

The thing is, onboarding is not only for employees, but also for freelancers. While freelancers are flexible, agile individuals who are often immediately available, they still need to be well onboarded in order to best succeed in their projects. This is all the more important when they are hired to work on long-term projects, when they’re brought on to a team that is already familiar with the customs of the company or whose social ties are already established. Inviting them to an onboarding day can help them better understand how the organization and its teams function. 

It’s also important to note that onboarding doesn’t stop after the freelancer’s first day. It should last throughout the entirety of their project. In this article, we share a series of tips to promote strong collaboration, from the onboarding of the freelancer, through the monitoring of the project, until their departure.

I/ The onboarding process: a key step to integrate a freelancer within a company 

Onboarding refers to the period of time between the signing of the contract and the start of the job. It is a key stage that allows the new collaborator to receive all the resources and instructions necessary for the success of their project.

Reminder of the project’s framework 

For Richard Yarsley, Malt’s Chief People Officer, it is essential to present the project with clear objectives: “The freelancer’s role is always very clear for me, Malt’s management and the teams with whom they will be working. To ensure this, we define their scope of work by means of a “scorecard”: a document on which we define the scope of the project and the objectives the freelancer must meet.” These objectives echo the framework of the project, or the reasons why the freelancer was hired by the company. These can also serve as a roadmap summarizing the results expected and desired by the manager. According to Richard Yarsley, this is a key point that determines how successful working working together will be: “The project must be very clear in the minds of all stakeholders: When it doesn’t work, it’s often because something isn’t clear from the start.”

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Sharing a high-level vision of what’s at stake

Sharing the company’s organizational chart helps freelancers gain in efficiency by clarifying who to reach out to for specific issues. It’s also a good way to teach them about the project’s current state, context, key figures and stakes at the company level. This also gives the freelancer an opportunity to dive into the culture of the company and appropriate its values. For Cécile Tuil, VP Communications at Albea: “Even on a highly technical one-off assignment, having certain values is important. Sharing the company’s culture is necessary for any interaction within the company.”

Involving the freelancer in the social side of work

The first encounter between the freelancer and their new team is a way to get to know each other informally, to integrate and lay the foundations of the collaboration. It is an important moment in setting the freelancer up for success in the project and helping them build good working relationships. According to Cécile Tuil, this trusting relationship is at the heart of a successful freelancer-company relationship: “The success of a project is a relationship of trust: The freelancer is not constrained by an obligation or hierarchical pressure. We have chosen to work together.”

Access to necessary tools and technologies 

The tools used at work differ from one company to another. In the era of digital transformation, there is no shortage of technologies to facilitate collaborative work. Each need has its own tech solution. For confidentiality reasons, and to fulfill cyber-security requirements, certain freelancers have to use the company’s digital tools. Cécile Tuil describes this need: “We give freelancers access to the intranet, internal communication, administrative tools, sharing platforms, etc. Freelancers are extensions of the team, thus they are informed of important messages”. 

Richard Yarsley shares the same vision: “We have set up certain processes to fully integrate freelancers into the team: For example, Anne-Clémence, a freelancer who collaborates with us, is part of our Weekly Talent Meeting. She also has access to Slack, our internal collaborative communication platform, and I hope that she will be able to participate in an “Offsite” with us one day (our annual company trip).”

II/ Maintaining the relationship: an essential part of the project’s success

The onboarding of a freelancer continues throughout the project. Maintaining this relationship is just as important as the initial onboarding step. The collaboration can be monitored to ensure that it is carried out in the best possible conditions. It would be unfortunate if a freelancer didn’t achieve the expected objectives due to a lack of communication or follow-up. Ensuring this follow-up is the best way to make sure that the work is going well. You might even join their list of favorite clients and keep them for future projects.

Monitoring the progress of the project

Check-ins are the perfect opportunity to make regular assessments. They allow you to follow the progress of the freelancer throughout the collaboration. Freelancing projects require objectives to be defined and understood by both parties. Nadia, a back-end developer and freelancer on Malt, regularly monitors her progress with her clients: “Every day we have a daily meeting. These are micro-meetings that allow us to review the tasks that were completed the day before, those in progress and those we have planned for the next day. Following this, we send a report to our client. This way, they know exactly what we’re working on. There are no secrets, no gray areas.” Ensuring that the purpose is clear and the objectives are understood avoids disappointments. Such inconveniences would be time-consuming for the freelancer, and they would represent a financial loss on the company’s side.

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A daily onboarding on the company’s global strategy

For the company, the collaboration with a freelancer starts from a need that represents a reduced image of a more global objective, on a larger scale. Each department of the company represents a microcosm that works towards the same goal. For Cécile Tuil, integrating freelancers into the company’s global strategy is essential: “Freelancers take part in team meetings to talk about their roadmap and present their current projects. The projects they work on are part of the company’s strategy. Including them in the brainstorming process allows us to use them as a support for other projects. The team becomes an extended team when freelancers are present for a long period of time”.

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III/ The offboarding process: benefiting from the freelancer’s feedback and advice

Freelancers are ‘improvement agents’ within the company even after their departure. They complete a know-how and improve the capacity to innovate by passing on part of their skills. Thanks to their feedback and external point of view, they help companies understand what needs to be improved internally.

Freelancer feedback

Collecting feedback from a freelancer allows the company to improve  through the fresh eyes of an outside expert. Indeed, thanks to their varied experiences, freelancers are often able to challenge an organization’s processes and suggest other tools, software or ways of working. Because they’re external, they bring a new and less hierarchical vision to the company. Anne-Clémence Sire, a freelancer at Malt, doesn’t miss out on an opportunity to give feedback: “What is interesting in my position as a freelancer is that I have “nothing to lose” by sharing my point of view: I have no promotion at stake, for example. My only stake is to make sure that the company succeeds in reaching its objectives and to reinforce the existing processes so that the teams can improve their way of working. Not having a hierarchy gives me freedom. I can express myself in a more objective way.” 

This advice can take the form of quick feedback during regular meetings, or the main contact person in the company could also ask for it directly. Regardless of how the feedback comes, it’s important to listen to the freelancer openly and attentively in order to make the most of it. 

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The cross-pollination of skills 

In addition to their technical skills or “hard skills”, freelancers put their “soft skills” to work for companies. According to our study Freelancing in Europe 2022, conducted in collaboration with BCG, 43% of them have been independent for over eight years in Germany, 47% have been independent between one and four years in Spain and 53% have been independent between one and four years in France. Their career has allowed them to work on several assignments of different lengths, in various contexts and sectors. They have therefore acquired very diverse working and innovation methods, which they share with the companies they work with. Jean-David Chamboredon, CEO of ISAI and Founding Board Member of France Digitale calls this the “pollination of innovation”: Freelancers are like bees that spread innovation and digital culture within companies. On top of that, freelancers spend on average more than half a day a week on self-training and upskilling, an effort that allows them to remain constantly at the cutting edge of their art!