How to retain top talent now that remote work expands job opportunities

Working from home is now the norm for many employees because of COVID-19. Find out why tech leaders should be thinking about how to hire and keep the best remote workers.

Headshot of female candidate have online interview on laptop

Image: fizkes, Getty Images/iStockphoto

Large tech companies have been announcing that remote work is now the preferred method of working, and that they'll allow employees to live virtually anywhere in the country, or in some cases outside the country. Some have cheered the move as a way to break the dominance of the west coast as the geography of choice for top talent, while others lament the ability of companies like Facebook or Amazon to now poach skilled resources who were unwilling to relocate to California or Seattle. For companies big and small, it's worth considering how this new dynamic will affect how you source and retain your technology talent.

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Will there be a Silicon Valley exodus?

While several technology companies announced ever-extending temporary work-from-home policies, Twitter was the first major technology company to announce that workers could work remotely on an indefinite basis. As expected, dozens of other companies followed suit. Where fancy free meals and coffee bars were once draws to a physical location, the post-COVID-19 era made these liabilities that are quickly being shuttered or repurposed.

Not only have workers largely remained productive while remote, the costs of retrofitting offices to focus on sanitation and social distancing rather than collaboration and impromptu socialization is appearing increasingly prohibitive. This is expensive from a financial standpoint, but also one can't help but wonder why anyone would want to work in an environment that is some combination of hot and humid, full of arrows and boxes dictating where you can and cannot stand, and accessed through a series of temperature checks and questionnaires that might make the TSA look efficient.

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We've all heard past predictions of the death of Silicon Valley or urban centers in general, so it's anyone's guess whether this becomes temporary or permanent, but if fancy offices and nice restaurants are no longer viable draws, moving away from an expensive location may look increasingly viable to top tech talent.

The double-edged sword of the end of the Valley

The obvious benefit for companies located outside the west coast, particularly in attractive and lower-cost areas, is that their area may suddenly swell with highly skilled technology talent. The geographic proximity argument goes that if someone is living in my back yard, I have a much better chance of pulling them away from a competitor. However, if your company hopes to access this talent, it needs to offer something more than a new laptop and a different Slack channel to join.

Community and an ability to become a part of the local culture could be the differentiator that you can leverage, especially if you're unable to directly match Silicon Valley wages. Think through how you can structure benefits programs, working flexibility, and community engagement to offer something compelling to workers that are now physical neighbors who commute via VPN.

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The threat to widespread remote work is that relocating your family and life hundreds of miles away, to an expensive city, is no longer a prerequisite for working with the world's leading technology companies. Being able to draw on a nationwide talent pool may do everything from force other companies to accept a lower tier of technical competence by hiring their top performers, to depressing wages through access to more talent. This problem will be particularly acute for big-fish-in-small-pond companies that were leading employers in smaller cities. While your company might be spoken about in hushed tones and broadly respected within a 100 mile radius, it could now be competing for talent with Facebook, Amazon, Google, and Microsoft, without requiring job-changers to board a plane or pack a moving box.

Similar to the strategies you might employ to attract workers from these companies, consider how you'll retain your best talent, particularly if your workers have transitioned to remote work. If your top developer, who is sitting at home with her family and unwilling to relocate, gets a 20% bump in salary for doing little more than swapping laptops and the depositor name on her paycheck, how will you compete?

Consider hiring next steps now

While much of the news is focused on the doom and gloom resulting from COVID-19, there will always be a market for top talent. Assuming that your best performers are unlikely to leave or that you simply can't offer anything of value to people working for a tech giant is a recipe for complacency that will lead to missed opportunity. Spend some time with your HR partners planning how you'll differentiate a job at your organization that goes beyond a liberal remote work policy and all-you-can-eat VPN.

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