From Journal of Accountancy: A year after the start of the coronavirus pandemic, many companies are more comfortable with remote work — so much so that some are changing their hiring practices to recruit workers who live hundreds or thousands of miles away.
Eliminating geographic boundaries in hiring can be a great way to find in-demand skilled workers, experts say. It can also be helpful in keeping talented workers who want to leave more expensive, crowded cities and resettle elsewhere.
With many business leaders reporting little or no productivity loss with remote work, some say the shift is inevitable. By 2025, hiring managers expect 22.9% of teams in the United States will likely work remotely, more than double the figure in 2020, according to a survey by Upwork, which connects businesses, professionals, and freelancers. The survey, conducted in October and November, included 1,000 CEOs, small business owners, and human resource professionals.
Experts say there are plenty of benefits to hiring workers who live far away. But there are also challenges. Here are some tips for companies thinking of making the switch.
Shift your mindset
Hiring workers based outside your geographical area is not as scary as it might seem, said Tom Barry, CPA, managing partner at GHJ, a Los Angeles-based accounting firm with about 180 employees.
“People imagine it to be much more complicated than the reality is,” Barry said. “You’re not, like, jumping off a cliff and never going to see them again.”
Before the pandemic, GHJ had about 10 fully remote workers on its audit and tax teams, Barry said. Now, around 30% its workers live more than 100 miles from the company headquarters, including some who are out of state.
Barry said the firm’s leaders knew some prospective workers were wary of living in Los Angeles, where the cost of living is high and the commute times can be brutal. Allowing people to live outside the region helped solve the problem.
“It allowed us to hold on to talent and/or recruit talent that was the right talent for our firm,” he said. “And so our talent pool expanded dramatically.”
Jennifer Wilson, a partner at ConvergenceCoaching LLC in Nebraska, said it’s crucial for business leaders to put faith in their remote workers.
“I have to trust that my people’s intentions are good, that they are going to be competent and they care, and that they are going to work to their highest and best use,” she said.
Use short training videos
Consider creating short training videos that employees can access any time. They’re helpful when workers are spread across time zones, experts say.
Roz Allyson, CPA, a managing partner at accounting firm Mahoney, Ulbrich, Christiansen & Russ in Minnesota, said her audit team had already created training videos before the pandemic to help new workers through the auditing process.
“That’s been working really well, too,” she said. “People have appreciated that. Our tax department said, ‘Oh, that’s a good idea. We should do that, too.”
New employees at Zipwhip, a tech startup in Seattle, get a video tour of the company’s 75,000-square-foot office space, said Keena Bean, director of corporate communications. So even if they’re not there to enjoy the beer on tap, they get a feel for the company.
Facing plenty of competition in the Pacific Northwest, Zipwhip has been tapping into the engineering talent pool in Calgary, about 700 miles away, Bean said.
“Tech talent is really, really in demand in Seattle, and the competition is really intense. Because we’ve got Amazon, Microsoft, Facebook, Google, Apple — we’ve got all of them here. As a smaller midsize startup, it’s really hard sometimes to compete with those companies.”
Ensure equal access to technology
“This kind of goes without saying, but if your technology doesn’t work, you’re dead on arrival,” Barry said.
Most of his firm’s operations are cloud-based, and the company had previously upgraded its technology for employees who wanted to work flexible hours to avoid peak traffic times in Los Angeles.
Now, Barry said, it’s important for every worker to have the same tech experience.
“Whether you’re in the office or you’re working somewhere else, you have the same exact technology,” he said. “You have the same exact access to the network, using the same programs. There wasn’t a workaround, or you didn’t have diminished access to things. Everyone is equal.”