In this first of a two-part blog post, Marc looks at how a secular shift to freelance work preferences may affect the management of employment brands.

During my prior work with eBrands, we maybe twice during a ten year span came across the rarest form of employment brand brief – tackling the existing perception problem of a company department.

This came back to me as I read Mary Meeker’s Internet Trends Report for 2015, which you can read by following this link at Kleiner Perkins Caulfield and Byers. It’s full of great information; the stimulus that prompted my thoughts were statistics presented on the growing trend towards freelance work, indicating that “3 to 4 people in the United States consider themselves an independent contractor”.

The growth of freelancers is doing all sorts of things to confuse consensus thinking around the interpretation of employment statistics. Current debate rages in the US about how ‘strong’ existing employment data (i.e., continuing lower jobless claims) continues; despite the background of low levels of workforce participation and less full-time workers. Is there less work? Is there more work? Who benefits from the trend – employers, employees or both? We might explore that in a future post. However for now, let us deal particularly with the shift to freelance.

One known driver in the shift to freelance/contracting is that employees desire increased personal choice and freedom. Freelancers can thrive through the ownership of niche employee skill-sets and an increase in flexible demand.

This may mean that companies are going to have to inspect their employer brands on a ‘micro-level’. For example, a high-street bank might have pulling power due to a well-managed employer brand, but perhaps their mortgage business, foreign trade desk or their IT departments have trouble recruiting. The ‘micro-environment’ is key to freelancer attraction, as they will be more intimately familiar with their demand markets and their available choices, while being potentially less aligned with a long-term version.

This presents the freelance challenge. An employer brand manager has several options available to begin to tackle this, and frankly several factors that are potentially beyond their control. Do you shift strategy and resources to reinforce further the master brand to increase pull while risking disconnect with the micro-level employment experience? Alternatively, are there strategies available that can align the coalface experience of the freelancer with the organisation ethos?

The functionally ability that the employer brand manager needs, is to be able to report dissonant micro-environment experience back to people in the organisation that can make changes. This information can often be sourced from social media.

Freelancers & contractors exhibit traits that unify them as peers. They own advanced networking and connectivity skills, and behave with hivemind tendencies within their own peer groups (for example freelance/contract and niche skill employment sites contain many support systems that would typically be offered by a permanent employer). The increased levels of participation in online communities to do with their occupation are typically stark compared with long-tenured peers.

All of this adds up to good news. The information is there that can allow an employment brand manager to think about the departments of their organisation as parts of an overall ‘portfolio’, and to think of freelancers as ‘customers’ of the portfolio.

This presents interesting and real challenges. It is possible to deliver employment brand strategy that focuses on both the master brand and the portfolio, so now we have an opportunity to turn freelance employee data into improved micro-level strategy.

Sounds like a lot of work? I am guessing the shift towards freelance is not going to make this an optional concept.

Next week’s post takes a closer look at this in Australia.

Comments? Thoughts?