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Pandemic hiring shift: Some companies say new hires can live anywhere

Pandemic hiring shift: Some companies say new hires can live anywhere


Pandemic hiring shift: Some companies say new hires can live anywhere

Adrienne Roberts
| Detroit Free Press
DETROIT – TorranceLearning’s office in downtown Chelsea, Michigan, is a point of pride for founder and CEO Megan Torrance — it’s in a historic clock tower building that used to be an old factory, it’s 7,500 square feet, way more than needed for 22 employees, and is used to host 80-person paid workshops several times a year.But her employees haven’t stepped foot into the office since March, and it’s possible that some never will.That’s because, for the first time in the company’s 14-year existence, Torrance is hiring for remote-only positions, a decision driven by the desire to widen the hiring pool as the instructional design company expands.The idea that the new hires could work remotely indefinitely became easier to envision in the pandemic, Torrance said.”We have had people turn down offers, we have had great employees who just couldn’t keep up with (the commute) and we lost them,” said Torrance. “So that was hard from a location perspective.”‘A lifeline’: Small businesses shift to Amazon, Etsy to surviveLibrary book late?: Overdue fees are going away at many librariesIn the fall, Torrance felt like she needed more employees to keep up with clients who were resuming work after putting projects on hold at the beginning of the pandemic, and new clients had a need for corporate learning videos.”We realized that we actually have in 2021, despite the pandemic, the opportunity to intentionally grow and do some really cool things,” she said. “At the same time, when I post jobs, most of the resumes I get are not from southeast Michigan.”Torrance used to specify that applicants need to live locally. “But then we said, ‘Actually, it doesn’t matter.'”Now, she has two new employees: one who lives in North Carolina, the other in Minnesota.Expanding the talent poolTorranceLearning is one of a growing number of companies in Michigan that despite having an office are offering potential hires the opportunity to work fully remotely. Silicon Valley technology companies were some of the first to head in this direction even before the pandemic, a shift that has only intensified recently, said Jerry Davis, a professor of management at the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business.”The impetus to have remote workers is exacerbated in places like Silicon Valley, where housing prices are insane and the traffic (pre-COVID) is soul-destroying,” Davis said. “So, I expect to see a lot more work-from-home after COVID.”But even in Michigan, where housing prices and traffic aren’t as much of a factor, some companies are moving in this direction.General Motors Co. said in November it’s hiring 3,000 engineers, designers and technology specialists by the end of the first quarter as it works to bring more electric vehicles to the market quickly. Most of those people can work remotely, opening up the talent pool across the nation, GM said. More: How 3 Michiganders are improvising while working from home during coronavirus crisisMore: COVID-19 has transformed work. It could revolutionize the office nextMore and more companies like GM are hiring after a tough year. The U.S. economy added 49,000 jobs in January, the U.S. Department of Labor said Friday, bringing the  unemployment rate down to 6.3%. Still, that’s higher than it was before the pandemic, and many companies and workers may have to be flexible in finding the right fit.When Ann Arbor, Michigan, cybersecurity startup Blumira removed the location requirement from its open positions, the company immediately began getting national attention from prospective employees.”We were explicit about the opportunity to work from home, whereas before it was Ann Arbor with flexible work,” said Mike Behrmann, director of security at the 2-year-old company.Blumira more than doubled in size to 30 employees during the pandemic, hiring employees with backgrounds in forensics, along with front- and back-end developers, from as far away as Connecticut, and in Ohio and other parts of Michigan.”Really, in order to make a best-in-class company, we have to hire best in class,” said Behrmann. “And that just means opening up our application pool nationwide.”While a transition to remote hires may be ultimately beneficial for companies, it will make jobs more competitive if location limitations are removed.”If what you do can be done by remote workers connected via Zoom, then the potential pool of applicants for that job could be global,” said Davis.To be sure, many jobs don’t have the option of being done remotely. Michigan has a higher proportion of jobs in the manufacturing sector compared with many other states, jobs that most often must be done in person.Remote work isn’t for everyoneEven if a job can be done remotely, said Linda Ferrante, vice president of operations for the recruiting firm RFT Search Group, not all employees are happy doing that long term.Ferrante said even before the pandemic, large organizations whose leadership was spread out across the country were hiring for remote positions, such as project management and executive assistant positions. “But if it was so great, I wouldn’t be talking to candidates who are doing that and looking for something new,” she said. “They’re missing connectivity with people. It’s hard to get to know somebody through a 20-minute Zoom call or through an hour phone call a day.”Some companies, though, like the staffing firm Kelly Services, say remote work is the way of the future.The company started its “Kelly Anywhere” program four years ago, allowing corporate employees to work remotely for three days a week. That only accelerated during the pandemic, and Kelly Services is now hiring employees who  don’t live near an office and may work at home full time, said Alexandra Foster, senior director of people strategy and experience at Kelly Services.Hiring for these remote-only positions has ramped up in the pandemic, she said.But more applicants are looking for that option”What you see is that people are really looking for that,” Foster said. “You’re finding pockets of talent in places that didn’t exist before. We’re just being agile and responding to the marketplace.”So far, Jen Hoeke, who just started working for TorranceLearning this month from her home in Minneapolis, is enjoying her remote position. This isn’t Hoeke’s first time working remotely — she did contract work for many years that required a combination of in-office meetings and working from home. But this is her first time starting a full-time job remotely, which feels different. “Normally in an office, when you first get hired you meet people in the lunchroom, when you’re going into work and when you’re leaving,” Hoeke said. “You get a chance to chat and build that rapport with them.”Instead, Torrance scheduled one-on-one video meetings with Hoeke and her coworkers. She’s enjoying it so far, especially because her job is creative and she needs to concentrate.”In a typical office environment, I would find myself working late, or coming in really early to get some quiet time and get into the zone,” she said. “One thing that’s really a positive for me when I work from home is it’s a little bit easier to create that for myself.”Contact Adrienne Roberts:

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