One of the key responsibilities of a company regarding an innovative corporate culture is to ensure an efficient knowledge management. Employees should always be willing to share their knowledge with all other members of the organisation. This involves permanent employees as well as freelancers. The only difference between them is the average length of time they stay with the company.
Your major goal should be to keep the freelancer's external know-how permanently in the company, so that it can benefit everyone!
Almost 80 percent of freelance projects have a duration of one to six months, and only 19 percent last more than one year. This was the result of a survey by freelance.de in 2015. Permanent employees in Germany between the age of 15 and 64 stay in the same company for an average of 10.4 years. Even if freelancers leave the company again after a relatively short time, their knowledge can be kept in the company in the long term through relatively simple means. The advantage of freelancers is that they are used to providing short-term support in various areas within different projects and to reliably document their knowledge, so it can be used after they have left the company. In contrast to a permanent employee, who often leaves the company out of the blue, you can plan the end of the project much better in advance.
It is important that you are aware of the project's targets when creating the specifications. At the same time you should consider the need of a sustainable documentation.
The first steps of the project's start should be well planned ahead and you should communicate the start of the external freelancer to the team beforehand! The freelancer's areas of competence and those of your employees should be clearly defined in advance so that the freelancer can do his work independently and your employees do not interfere too much in the tasks of the expert or feel "threatened" by him. The integration into the team must be clearly distinguished from integration into the work organisation (⚠️ Scheinselbständigkeit).
What tools can help with knowledge transfer?
You can probably already imagine that it is not promising if the freelancer just makes a few notes on his own. You should think about a suitable medium in advance and involve your team. It is recommended to set up a solid infrastructure for documentation before the project is launched.
1. "Lessons learned" in all documentations
The term "lessons learned" refers to knowledge that is based on practical insights. It is important to document positive and negative experiences. Preferably, lessons learned should be reported at regular intervals, not only at the end of the project.
2. Internal wiki or knowledge base
A wiki can be set up internally so that only employees or people who work for the company on a temporary basis can add and change content. For example, if a new software system is launched, the latest updates or the future tasks can be collected. You should already think about the user permissions and the content structure before the freelancer's first day.
3. Code reviews
If your company employs permanent developers and it is also the freelancer's task to write code, you should rely on "code reviews" from the beginning. This means that all the code the freelancer writes is regularly reviewed by one (or more) of your developers. This way, problems such as badly structured code or code that does not adhere to the requirements or guidelines of your development team can be detected and fixed at an early stage. In addition, you prevent your development team from getting the feeling that the freelancer is working alone and that they get the result in the end without having the possibility to have any influence on it.
4. Handover meetings
Towards the end of the project, handover meetings are a good way to ensure that the knowledge remains in your team. It can be beneficial that a moderator of your choice guides these discussions. This way also implicit aspects can become more apparent, meaning knowledge that the freelancer may take for granted and would not include in a handover protocol. The conversation should definitely be documented or recorded.
Keeping a freelancer's knowledge and the lessons he learned in your company is not an easy task. You should think about the documentation as early as possible and carve out a handover period where you can discuss key aspects such as lessons learned and challenges of the project. You should communicate the handover period to all involved collaborators. The planning involves giving your employees as well as the freelancer the time they need for a smooth handover.