As one way to cope with high demand for technology skills, employers have become more open to the idea of hiring tech pros in distant locations and allowing them to work remotely. However, recruiters and executives say, whether a company pursues that course depends on a number of factors, ranging from culture to the skills involved to the dynamics of a particular market.
For example, Will Kelly, a recruiting director in the Dallas office of Modis, a professional-staffing organization, sees employers engaging remote employees across a range of skills, especially within software and Web development.
But in Boston, WinterWyman partner Ben Hicks sees few organizations considering remote workers, because they view the local talent pool as being deep enough for their needs. At the same time, he added, “I wouldn’t be surprised if statistics showed [remote work] was increasing… It is a tough market.”
Despite the challenges involved with managing remote workers, many companies prefer telecommuting to an expensive relocation package, Kelly points out. Some find that remote workers are more cost-effective than onsite staffers, since employers usually tie their compensation to the worker’s home base rather than the company’s location.
For instance, Kelly has a Palo Alto client who is searching for developers in both Silicon Valley—where such skills are especially hard to find—and Dallas. By exploring the possibility of hiring remote workers, the client not only expands its potential candidate pool, but also takes advantage of Texas’s lower salary levels.
Challenges and Advantages
The remote-employee trend works in the favor of those tech pros who live in secondary markets. Not only has the technology for integrating remote workers improved; more corporate cultures have evolved to accept the idea that an employee doesn’t have to sit in a particular location in order to be productive. As a result, a developer in a place like Tulsa or Jacksonville can find themselves with more employment options than just a few years ago.
Businesses such as Dell actively promote remote work as an advantage of working for them. For most roles, Dell “tends to focus on finding the best talent,” regardless of location, said Clinton Littlejohn, a director of talent acquisition at the company.
Engineering cultures (despite their technical expertise) often resist the idea of remote workers. “There is this culture of collaboration among engineers and they can feel like they’ll lose that spontaneous collaboration,” explained Littlejohn, adding that some of Dell’s technical groups initially resisted the firm’s vision of a “connected workplace.”
Agile shops in particular can face challenges when it comes to incorporating a remote workforce. “Agile’s highly collaborative, and real Agile shops find this tough,” Kelly said. “They need a good virtual environment to make this work.”
In addition to the usual challenges of the job hunt, candidates interested in remote work face several hurdles. First is identifying potential employers. While many companies will flag remote-job openings either by labeling or tagging them in their listings, others may not. Don’t rely on job ads alone; talk to people in your network to learn if they know of companies who offer remote positions.
Though Littlejohn suggests he sees more “location-agnostic” job postings, he and Hicks agree that larger companies are more open to the idea of remote work because they have the infrastructure to support it. “Small companies are more resistant because they like the energy of having everyone in the office,” Littlejohn added.
Once they’ve found the right opening, candidates have to prove that they can deliver results with a minimum of supervision, are flexible, and will be available and reachable when they need to be. Some points to bear in mind:
- Those who’ve previously worked remotely will have an easier time of it. Provide descriptions of projects you’ve successfully completed from home, including details such as the number of hours worked, the number of meetings attended and a code-release schedule, Kelly said. Also, show the hiring manager that you’ve got a lab or workspace that’s ready to go.
- Emphasize your commitment to “results,” Littlejohn said. “We’re interested in the work you produced, and less interested in where and when you did it.”
- If you don’t have experience working from home, talk about your attraction to results-based environments, how you want to work for a company that’s focused on getting things done. As part of the discussion, stress the discipline you bring to the idea of delivering results and meeting deadlines, and talk specifically about how you plan to apply that discipline to the position.
- At some point, you’ll need to discuss travel requirements. Many, if not most, employers will require you to visit headquarters or a business-unit office, often several times a year. Be sure you understand what’s expected upfront. “You can’t completely get away from the office, and you don’t want to,” Kelly said. Some developers travel to mark project milestones. Others attend sessions where plans are laid out for the coming quarter. Whatever the reason for meeting, avoid situations where you show up “just to see each other,” Littlejohn advised. Whenever you visit, have an agenda.
Despite the moves of some companies to bring their workers back to the office—as Yahoo did last year—most observers expect the trend toward remote work to grow. In addition to offering cost-savings and an expanded talent pool from which to draw, the idea is popular among younger workers. “I think it’s going to become more prevalent,” Kelly said.
Littlejohn agreed, adding: “I think it’s one of the most underrated competitive advantages a company can have.”