Remote Work — Why Geography Is the #1 Factor That Limits Applications

It’s a fundamental law in recruiting that you “are limited to hiring individuals who have applied for a position” (even direct sourced candidates will at some time will be requested to acknowledge application). Assuming you want an applicant pool that is bulging with superior talent, a logical question would be, ‘What factors restrict qualified individuals from applying?’. Prior to the most recent global economic meltdown, most recruiting professionals guessed that the top factors were pay, benefits, and employer reputation, which are important, but one factor has always trumped them: geography.

95% of the Qualified Candidates Are Not In Your Backyard

While there are pockets of industrialization that attract a greater percentage of highly educated and trained professionals, the vast majority of talent remains dispersed around the world. If your organization forces only local talent to be considered, there is no way your organization can claim to be hiring only top talent. Such an approach dictates that your organization is missing out on a huge group of qualified applicants (the 95% that exists elsewhere) simply because:

  1. They do not live within a commuting distance of your job
  2. They are not willing or they cannot relocate to the job location due to relocation costs, living preferences, underwater mortgages, or family issues
  3. Possible immigration/visa issues

Restricting recruiting to only local communities can have dramatic effects on results. For example, if you are the head coach at the college basketball powerhouse University of North Carolina, and the team was restricted to recruiting only players who currently lived within a commuting distance of the campus, how many months do you think it would take until the team would begin its slide into mediocrity?

If you want to have a strategic impact as a recruiter, you need to recommend any low-cost action that would dramatically increase the size of the qualified candidate pool: remote work. While many assume geography is an unavoidable barrier, the truth is that for most knowledge jobs, it simply isn’t. Allowing more remote work could literally increase the quality of your applicant pool by several hundred percent.

What Percentage Would Want to Work for You

Whether your talent pool is local and small or global and large, you still must convince the qualified individuals to want to apply and work for your firm. For the local-only talent pool, flexibility, work/life balance, and commute time/costs would be among the potential selling points. If you were offering remote work, you would likely immediately meet each of these three selling points.

In addition, if you are a global firm with relatively high pay, benefits, and outstanding management practices, you will find that an extremely large percentage of those qualified individuals around the globe would jump at the opportunity to work for you (provided that they didn’t have to relocate).

Great Brand, But Location an Application Killer

Zappos is a wildly successful online shoe retailer, with a powerful employer brand built on unusual but highly effective management practices. If you were one of the best online marketing experts in the world, chances are that an opportunity to affiliate with the brand would be attractive. Unfortunately, Zappos isn’t in New York or Chicago. It’s in Las Vegas, a place that gets an automatic reaction (often a negative one) when mentioned. Despite a great brand and exciting culture, there are a number of location attributes that negatively impact the size of the talent pool willing to work in Las Vegas, including the historical role of gambling, and extreme temperatures.

For those outside the U.S., immigration issues could prevent application. However, remote work by itself could be such a compelling draw to overcome most if not all barriers.

Remote Work Makes the Best Even Better

The European Champions League employs the most effective and powerful recruiting model in Europe. In an environment where winning the championship for a club is nearly a life-and-death experience, teams like Barcelona and Manchester United have developed a “cherry pick” global recruiting model, recruiting the single best player from the best football countries around the world.

Unlike offshoring, this model focuses on recruiting a single “game changer” from other countries. This approach, coupled with great team management, results in a level of performance that could never be reached if the club recruited players solely from their home country. A good as it is, this model also suffers from the “location problem.” Imagine if you could build a team as powerful, but allow players to remain in their home country; could the team be even more powerful? This is not possible in a physical game like football, but in business, where many of the professional jobs can be converted to remote work, it’s quite possible.

Obtaining a High ROI

Many assume that remote work jobs are expensive and that remote workers average lower levels of productivity, however, the data suggest otherwise. The most famous case of remote work, Best Buy, reported that by offering remote work options at its headquarters, resulted in as much as a 35% increase in productivity and a 90% decrease in turnover. McGraw-Hill and Cisco have both reported multimillion dollar increases in productivity as a result of remote work options.

Almost every firm that offers remote options has also realized that the practice dramatically increases retention and reduces real estate and office expenses. So overall, not only will you attract and hire better quality candidates, you are also likely to see an increase in productivity and a reduction in costs.

Offering 100% remote work options for mission-critical professional jobs may be the highest ROI recruiting solution there is.

Tips on Creating Remote Work Jobs

IBM has taken the most scientific approach to remote work and have found that there are steps that you can take to make any remote individual or team more effective. My research has also come up with a list of do’s and don’ts that you should consider when creating or implementing remote work jobs. Here are some recommended actions.

  • Selecting  jobs – obviously professional, knowledge-based, and white-collar jobs are the most likely targets for conversion to remote work, but you should also consider converting call center jobs (like JetBlue did), security, and customer support. Before you make any decision, develop a checklist for qualifying jobs for the treatment.
  • Periodic communications — remote workers need to feel like they are an important part of the team, so you should require periodic communications and interactions among team members.
  • Who can handle the independence — because no one is physically watching over your shoulder, remote work requires a different level of drive and self-management then traditional jobs. Some individuals simply miss the personal contact and face-to-face interaction. As a result, the hiring process needs to be rigorous enough to ensure that remote workers have the right skills and mindset to thrive under remote work.
  • Technology is required — getting high productivity levels from remote workers requires that they have access to many types of hardware and software.
  • Managers need convincing – first reaction on the part of most traditional managers is resistance. Because the support of hiring managers is essential, the recruiting function must make a clear business case that demonstrates to individual managers that they will see a significantly increased quality of hire, improved retention, and increased innovation and productivity. You’ll also need to provide them with a toolkit to help them quickly learn how to manage remotely located employees.
  • Metrics and rewards are essential — you can’t assume that remote workers are productive, so you need more sophisticated metrics and measurement processes to spot weaning productivity long before he gets out of hand. You might also find that remote workers require more recognition and individualized rewards then workers that see the boss every day.

Final Thoughts

Whether your organization has embraced remote work or not, it is a trend that will not be reversed. Nearly 25% of American workers have remote work options and over 60% would like to. Young workers and those who support a family are among the strongest supporters of this option.

A few leading firms are approaching the point where more than 50% of their employees can participate in remote work options. Although the trend is clear, the most surprising aspect of the increase in remote work is that the recruiting function has been almost invisible supporter of the approach. This is surprising because the recruiting benefits of remote work appear to be much greater than the benefits received, due to increased flexibility and work-life balance. If you’re not convinced about the recruiting advantages of remote work, try a split sample. After hiring is completed, measure the dramatic increase in quality of hire observed as a result of broadening your talent pool through remote work.

About Dr John Sullivan

Dr John Sullivan is an internationally known HR thought-leader from the Silicon Valley who specializes in providing bold and high business impact; strategic Talent Management solutions to large corporations.

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