Work from home: More companies are letting new hires work anywhere permanently amid COVID-19 pandemic

Jul 21, 2020 | USA Today

Rasha Uthman was hunting for a public relations job that let her work from her parents’ South Miami home as they struggled with family health issues, but few, if any, local companies in her field were open to telecommuting. 

Insivia, a Cleveland-based consulting and marketing firm for the technology industry, was willing to hire a PR and marketing specialist anywhere in the country after shifting to a remote work setup during the coronavirus pandemic.

Since June, Uthman has been working for Insivia full-time from her childhood bedroom, about 1,240 miles from the company’s headquarters.

“Insivia has been so understanding of my situation,” says Uthman, 36. “I love the flexibility.”

WFH, even after COVID-19 fades

U.S. companies are doing more than just allowing local employees to work from home, even once a vaccine becomes available for COVID-19 and the health crisis passes, presumably next year. They’re also seeking out new employees anywhere in the country, and even beyond, and letting them work remotely for the long term.

The trend is creating a much larger supply of top job candidates for employers as well as more openings and lifestyle options for workers, many of whom are reluctant to move to a different city or state because it could disrupt a spouse’s career or a child’s schooling.

“With technology and work collaboration tools, companies see employees are able to be productive” telecommuting, says Paul McDonald, senior executive director at staffing firm Robert Half International. By scouting for potential hires across the country, “You’re able to tap into a pool of candidates that’s greater than what the company may have looked at before.”

Live in Illinois, work in NYC

For employees, he says, “You can live in Springfield, Illinois, and work in New York City in your dream position.”

Glassdoor, the job posting site, says its remote job openings are up 28.3% from a year ago, even while overall listings are down 23%. Staffing firm Manpower estimates that more than one in four jobs posted in the U.S. specify no location, up from 1 in 10 in January. Some companies, of course, are more willing to accommodate teleworking while the outbreak remains a threat.

But McDonald says most of Robert Half’s business clients -- in finance, technology, creative, administrative, legal and human resources – are receptive to hiring remotely for the long haul, especially for hard-to-fill roles. Before the pandemic, few were open to such arrangements, he says.

Another benefit of remote work is increased hiring of underrepresented minorities such as Black Americans and Hispanics. In May, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg predicted that as much as 50% of the company's 45,000-person workforce could be working remotely in the next five to 10 years. Zuckerberg said the shift would help Facebook diversify its workforce.

“When you limit hiring to people who either live in a small number of big cities or are willing to move there, that cuts out a lot of people who live in different communities, different backgrounds or may have different perspectives,” Zuckerberg said.

Top executives work from home

Many companies are even comfortable hiring top executives, such as department directors, to work remotely, says Jeanne Branthover, a managing partner at DHR International, an executive search firm.

While corporations still prefer that C-suite executives and company leaders, such as vice presidents, work at headquarters, many are open to allowing them to work three weeks a month at home in another state and one week in the office, Branthover says.

Hiring, of course, came to a relative standstill in March and April as states shut down restaurants, stores, movie theaters and other outlets to avoid contagion, an economic deep freeze that rippled to the professional service firms that can let employees work remotely. Now, however, firms are filling some positions that were open before the crisis as well as others created during the outbreak as employees quit to care for sick relatives, McDonald says.

After losing 22 million jobs and March and April, the economy added a net 7.5 million positions in May and June, according to the Labor Department.

Video chats encourage teamwork

Before the pandemic, Insivia required that all 18 of its employees work in the office.
“We felt a level of comfort,” CEO Andy Halko says. “If you see them in person, you think they’re working.” Now, he says, “I think that’s a fallacy.”

Halko also worried that “a lack of collaboration would be detrimental to the (work) culture.” But he says teamwork has improved now that employees are participating in daily video meetings and using work collaboration tools, such as Slack. He says Insivia is letting all employees work remotely, terminating the lease on its 6,000 square-foot office, and renting a smaller space for meetings and staffers who want to work in the office sometimes.

A natural next step, he says, was to widen his job searches. By looking only in the Cleveland area for a project manager who has experience with software companies, “The pool of candidates is about 50 people,” he says. But by broadening the search nationwide, as he did recently, “My candidate pool goes up to 600 to 700 people…We can find the very specific skill set we’re looking for.”

Flexibility to flee COVID-19

Uthman, his South Miami-based employee, has experience in tech-related marketing and public relations because she freelanced for Insivia before she was hired. She typically works from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m., and then spends time with family or runs errands before putting in a couple of hours in the evening, she says.

When the pandemic recently spiked in South Florida, she and her family moved to her sister’s house in the Nashville, Tennessee area, waiting for the flare-up to ease.

“If I wasn’t working remotely, I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to do that,” she says. And, she says, “If I want to move across the U.S. (and still work for Insivia) I could.”

The remote work trend is also providing new opportunities to laid-off workers.

ISHIR, a Dallas-based software development company, has shifted its 12 employees to teleworking and relinquished its office. The firm is also seeking new workers across the country, says CEO Rishi Khanna, recently bringing on programmers in Midland, Texas; Houston; and Tulsa, Oklahoma. All three had lost their jobs because of the coronavirus-induced recession.

“We feel we want to embrace having the greatest talent no matter where it is,” he says.

By widening his searches, Khanna says he runs less risk of losing software candidates to other programming firms in the highly competitive Dallas market.

Haig Service, which installs and maintains safety and security systems, was probably among the least likely companies to welcome a shift to remote work, acknowledges CEO Richard Haig. But since the crisis, the company has adopted video and collaboration technology and is allowing its 35 employees in Green Brook, New Jersey, and Fort Lauderdale, Florida, to work remotely for the long run.

Haig recently hired a University of Berkeley student part-time to redesign the company’s website and handle social media. He plans to transition her to full-time work when she graduates.

“The candidates I’m now getting wouldn’t even be applying to my company” if they had to relocate and work in Haig’s offices, he says.

Even medical and psychotherapy offices are making the most of the shift.

Amy Serin, a neuropsychologist with three clinics in Arizona, is seeking therapists anywhere – as long as they have a license to practice in Arizona – now that patients have grown accustomed to teletherapy during the pandemic.

And if she hires a New York City therapist, for example, “Now I can recruit patients in New York,” Serin says.

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