COVID-19 Ushers in New Outlook on Hiring Remote Workers

By Lin Grensing-Pophal April 21, 2020

​While remote work had been on the rise even before the COVID-19 outbreak, most employees taking advantage of the arrangement had some form of in-person relationship with their employer before they began to work from home. It is still relatively rare for companies to hire employees to work remotely from day one. But is this changing, or is it likely to change, based on the current situation?

There has been a dramatic acceleration of what was already a broader shift in the way businesses are recruiting, hiring, onboarding and developing their employees, said Jason Ferrara, chief marketing officer at talent intelligence company OutMatch in Dallas. "Companies aren't just looking at hiring workers who exclusively work remotely, but also at rejiggering the hiring process itself."

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Remote Hiring: The Time Has Come

The shift toward remote work has lagged the technological capabilities that make remote work possible. Even in a digital era, the vast majority of job postings stipulate that the work must be performed onsite, said Shannon Massena, SHRM-SCP, an HR and accounting consultant at Optima Office in Glendale, Ariz. "COVID-19 has forced some recruiters that were stuck in the more traditional way of recruiting to get out of their comfort zones. Some recruiters I have spoken to have now become familiar with the productivity and viability of remote recruiting and onboarding and now want to continue even after COVID-19 restrictions are lifted."

Others also believe that this forced shift to remote work is likely to change the hiring landscape—and related opportunities for both employers and employees—significantly.

"I think the biggest misconception that is being challenged right now is the requirement of needing to hire locally," said Tali Mandelzweig, chief operating officer and co-founder of MeetFox, an online meeting platform in New York City. "When only hiring someone in your desired area, you are limiting the talent pool dramatically. Many jobs can be done remotely, and hiring someone digitally can allow you to find better-quality candidates."

New Experiences Yield New Insights

As a result of government directives or the need to work differently, recruiters, HR professionals and managers are finding that talent acquisition approaches they previously dismissed as unworkable are becoming the norm.

"Companies are going to have to figure out how to hire and onboard new employees remotely during this crisis, and as long as they're moderately successful at it, I absolutely think we'll see more remote hiring once this is over," said Bethany Perkins, director of people and culture at O3 World, a digital product agency in Philadelphia. While her company hasn't hired remotely in the past, its leaders are having conversations about what the future might look like, she said. "We're nearing the end of the interview process for a few different open positions, and it's looking more and more likely that we'll be remotely onboarding new hires in the coming weeks. It's a huge change that happened almost overnight, but we're adapting."

Perkins is also seeing some potential in the prospect of hiring remotely. "Being open to hiring remote employees opens up a huge new talent pool, and, depending on your business, there could be advantages to having employees across different time zones," she said.

What Will Happen When Stay-at-Home Orders Are Lifted?

While there's much talk about "getting back to normal," some say that isn't likely to happen. For many organizations, said Tobias Porserud, director of AppJobs Institute in Stockholm, Sweden, things will not return to what they were.

"We are on our way to a labor market where you stream work in a similar way as you currently stream entertainment via Netflix and Spotify," he said. "Similar to the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis, the COVID-19 crisis will probably catalyze the emerging gig economy, and thereby accelerate the opportunities and challenges that come with increased flexibility and reduced security in the labor market."

As companies around the country and around the world learn how to make remote work work, the prospect of leveraging a much larger pool of candidates, especially for hard-to-fill positions, is likely to become increasingly attractive.

"With many employees desiring to work remotely more often, and now with demonstrable proof that they can make it work, there will be significant pressure to maintain the larger remote workforce," said David Magnani, president of consulting services at M&A Executive Search in Minneapolis. "Additionally, remote employees will advance in their ability to work remotely effectively and likely find creative ways to leverage videoconferencing and other social tools to replace everything they did in the physical workspace."

Lin Grensing-Pophal is a freelance writer in Chippewa Falls, Wis.



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