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As I gear up to re-launch my recruiting business under a new name and brand (to be announced), I have been giving a lot of thought to the values of this company. One of these values is flexible work. Marissa Mayer made the headlines when one of her first actions upon joining Yahoo! as CEO was to eliminate remote work situations. I understand that in some situations working remotely is not ideal or even plausible, but my guess is that it could work in a lot more situations than what currently exists and that this would promote a company’s ability to hire the best people possible for job openings. Flexibility might be a company’s most powerful weapon in the war for talent.
As the stakes become higher in finding the right person for a role, a company will most likely need to make some compromises. In the circles within which I recruit, primarily, technology startups, for many roles it is becoming an employee’s market. There are roles – for instance in “marketplace” companies – where there are few people on earth who actually are in similar roles and filling these roles presents a time-consuming and complex recruiting challenge. For other fields like acquisition marketing, the demand far exceeds the supply of well-qualified leaders. One compromise may be to hire the next-best candidate who is local and can be in the office on a regular basis, rather than the person with the ideal background in another state who may not be able to relocate but could come into the office for a few days each month. Or the compromise may be to hire the latter. In this case, technology creates the possibility of regular real time communication and even face-time with team members who cannot be onsite daily.
Flexibility might be a company’s most powerful weapon in the war for talent. My own experience with successful remote working relationships certainly informs my opinion. I worked for a retained executive search firm with offices only 20 minutes away from my house, but because I had young children and also traveled regularly, I wanted to spend as much time at home as possible during those days I was in town, often working two to three days a week from home. Not only that, I actually got more work done at home because I didn’t have the distractions of the office, and I was more inclined to get back at it after the kids were in bed. Of course, I was not combining work with also providing full-time care to my kids, but I was much more present and visible than if I was away at the office.
One argument against working remotely is that it does not foster teamwork and collaboration. This has a lot to do with the type of people you hire and how you manage them. For several years, I worked freelance with a recruiting firm where I never met most of my coworkers in person. To date, this is one of the most collaborative and cohesive teams I have experienced. I attribute this to the personality and ethics of the person running the firm and the quality of the people she was able to attract and retain. By the way, most of the team members were moms who worked part-time or had flexible schedules to work around things like school pick-ups.
In my own firm, as I began to expand and needed to add recruiting assistants, I did not intentionally recruit moms, but two of my team members work part-time from home so that they can devote ample time to raising children. Because these women are responsible, committed and efficient, they get a lot done and I am continually amazed at how much they care about their work.
One of the things I hear in discussions about diversity is how women who opt to leave the business world for a season to raise their kids are a valuable resource that businesses are missing out on because of the lack of opportunities to engage these women on a part-time, flexible basis. I believe that the companies that can create innovative solutions that allow them to harness this powerful resource will have an advantage. I intend to build a company that models this.
While there are valid reasons for requiring team members to be onsite, and I actually sided with Marissa Mayer in her decision given the circumstances, I wonder how many company leaders limit their ability to engage the best possible talent – which might mean a remote working relationship – as a result of personal bias, a lack of creativity or even laziness. If there is any community that should be able to find innovative, non-traditional ways to engage talent, it is the community I am crazy about – the tech startup world.