Freelancers are the hidden heroes of the workplace. Capable of filling talent shortages and adding high-level expertise for short-term projects, many skilled workers appreciate the flexibility and autonomy that this kind of work can bring. And with freelancers making up the fastest growing segment of the European labour market, it’s clear the freelance revolution is here to stay.
For success in this new world of work, companies need to figure out how to integrate freelancers into their teams — while also honouring their status as independent contractors. The best way to achieve this will look different for each company, but one element that should always be involved is plenty of feedback — in both directions.
Why Collecting Feedback from Freelancers and Contractors Matters
Feedback shouldn’t be a one-way street. While you might be used to giving feedback to your freelancers around the completion of their latest projects, you likely have no idea how they feel about your systems and processes. With 53% of HR leaders already recruiting freelancers (or planning to) to fill gaps in their talent pool, if your freelancers don’t think that their work or perspectives are valued, there are plenty of opportunities for them to seek other projects elsewhere.
This can create a revolving door of short-term workers, which may create resourcing challenges and stress among existing team members when they don’t have a stable source of support. Meanwhile, if freelancers end your working relationship without explaining why, you run the risk of the same thing happening again when you recruit and onboard the next one.
Freelancers are in high demand, and despite often working remotely, the freelance support network is strong — meaning poor processes could leave you at a disadvantage down the line, too.
“Freelancers talk,” said Dee Primett, owner of Wicked Creative and founder of the Female Copywriters Alliance. “If you don’t treat your freelancers well, you miss payments, or your processes are clunky, don't be surprised if outsourcing your projects suddenly becomes much harder.”
Collecting constructive feedback from your freelancers can help shut that revolving door — meaning you can improve your internal systems and processes and create a better experience for your freelancers.
Primett identified four key elements of freelancer retention:
- Show that you understand the value of what they bring to your business
- Provide clear briefs and useful feedback
- Be respectful of their time by appreciating that they have other clients so may have limited availability
- Pay them on time without the need for chasing or reminders
Our Rethinking Work report found that 50% of HR leaders already include freelancers within their employee engagement and feedback programmes. But another 10% haven’t made any changes to accommodate their freelance staff. And that means they’re missing out.
“Freelancers are a fantastic source of open and honest feedback about your company,” said Victoria Pelletier, managing director at Accenture. “They don’t come with any history or bias towards your leaders or processes, and are less concerned about the anonymity of surveys than some employees can be.”
Tips for Gathering Feedback from Freelancers
Collecting freelancer feedback is a great way of improving your processes, as well as encouraging a transparent dialogue.So what’s the best way to collect feedback from your freelancers? “Just ask!” said Primett.
“But at the same time, bear in mind that the communication preferences of each freelancer will vary,” she added. “Check if they like your preferred method of communication, or if there would be something easier for them. Many freelancers aren't keen on being part of an instant messaging platform like Slack, purely because of the immediate expectation to respond — which doesn't really fit with the freelance life.”
Rather than seeing your freelancers as separate from your contracted in-house employees, consider embedding their responses into your wider engagement metrics to help identify differences in experience. “There are many ways to integrate freelancers into your HR systems,” said Pelletier. “If their responses are recorded within your employee feedback system, it’s a good idea to flag their profiles so you can assess each source of feedback and identify full-time versus freelance responses.”
Asynchronous surveys may work better than face-to-face meetings for some freelancers, depending on what timezone they’re in. “I’ve been seeing a much more global labour pool of freelancers,” said Pelletier. “While there may have been some reticence to go offshore for certain types of work — even when companies were using freelancers — they are much more open to it now.”
Survey freelancers across a variety of categories.
Just like employee feedback, you’ll want to collect feedback from your freelancer workers across a range of categories, including the ones we’ve listed below. To find more examples of questions for each category, download our Employee Engagement Survey Template.
Categories of feedback questions:
- Fit and belonging
- Example: My work style matches the work style of the company.
- Work relationships
- Example: We regularly take time to figure out ways to improve our work processes.
- Example: I feel recognised for my hard work.
- Example: I feel comfortable giving feedback.
- Psychological safety
- Example: When I approach my contact with a problem, I trust that they will listen.
- Example: I have all the information I need to complete my tasks.
These categories can be collected across a range of feedback tools and formats, including formal surveys, informal formats, like catch-ups or chats, and feedback relating to a specific project or context..
Use formal feedback to understand your culture and processes.
With long-term freelancers, setting aside some time for formal feedback is extremely valuable. Primett suggests scheduling a one-on-one debrief once a month to ask them how everything is going. Most freelancers are experts in their fields and work with a wide range of companies, all with different processes and deliverables. That means they’re usually confident about what does and doesn’t work — knowledge you can use to your advantage.
“Ask for input on the culture, leadership, policies, procedures, and processes of your company,” adds Pelletier. “Be clear that this is coming from a place of care and advancement of the workplace environment and business.”
Formal feedback can also be collected using an adapted version of your existing employee experience or engagement surveys. Give your freelancers a heads-up to help them prepare their thoughts, and include open-ended questions, plus a section for additional comments or suggestions that may not have been addressed by your survey.
Surface informal feedback to identify recurring patterns.
The feedback and constructive criticism provided from informal contexts can be just as valuable as formal feedback. While you’re communicating with your freelance team, you might notice a comment about the quality of your briefing details, or a query about workflow and invoicing processes. Emails, messaging platforms, and meetings can all be great opportunities to listen out for informal feedback and make a note of any recurring themes.
Create specific feedback loops to identify contextual insight.
If you just wrapped up a large and complex project, now is a good time to schedule brief check-ins to ask for follow-up feedback from your freelancers. Equally, if you’re developing a new briefing template for onboarding, or just curious if your processes could be streamlined or improved, it’s a great opportunity to ask some specific questions about these areas.
Just as your feedback to a freelancer can be positive, neutral, or negative, theirs may be the same. Freelancers are usually working with a range of other clients simultaneously and may be able to offer deeper insights around specific aspects of your processes that full-time employees may not. Following strategies for receiving feedback well, including disconnecting your feelings and asking clear questions, can help you get the best results from their assessments of your processes.
Feedback Fosters a Transparent, United Culture
As the freelance revolution continues to gain pace, more companies are relying on freelancers for long-term content creation, short-term digital transformation projects, and everything in between. Fully incorporating your freelancers into your overall company culture — while still respecting the legal and practical limitations that distinguish them from full-time employees — helps to boost your team unity and promote the kind of joined-up culture where everyone on your team feels like they’re making a difference.