Author: Chris Swan

As a global search consultant for more than two decades, I know the challenge that geography poses to recruitment. I'm astonished that in a matter of six months, remote work has altered this longtime hindrance.  

In 2011, HR thought leader Dr. John Sullivan reflected: "While there are pockets of industrialization that attract a greater percentage of highly educated and trained professionals, the vast majority of talent remains dispersed around the world. If your organization forces only local talent to be considered, there is no way your organization can claim to be hiring [the best] talent." As the international workforce becomes increasingly interchangeable and interconnected, geography's relevance to employment fades.

No doubt, the pandemic has been a time of tremendous tragedy and loss. It's heartbreaking to contemplate the scale of suffering that it has caused, and it’s worrisome to consider how we will get the Covid-19 virus under control. On the bright side, though, this experience is moving us into the future and creating a host of opportunities - a professional renaissance. In 2014, global futurist, best-selling author, and speaker Jack Uldrich remarked: "the future does not belong to 'a place.'" The pandemic has fast-tracked us towards this future.

As a result, we're experiencing a dramatic, systemic, and permanent change in many areas of life, particularly in our workforce. Enormous productivity advantages await companies that can take advantage of potential increases in productivity, skills, and compensation rates by hiring the best people wherever they live. Companies that can execute a seamlessly integrated approach that maximizes the value from this potential exponential growth in creativity, diversity, and efficiencies will see productivity expansion and increased profits. Of course, this is easier hypothesized than executed, but with the entire world working on seamless integration and explosive value coming from incremental and step-change value creation. It is a good bet to see dramatic improvements soon; this is what we might expect.

The sweeping change of in-office employment

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, nearly 25 percent of the workforce is already operating remotely. Offering flexible, professional opportunities is a favorable draw for companies. "The demand for flexibility in where and how people work has been building for decades. Before the crisis, surveys repeatedly showed 80% of employees want to work from home at least some of the time. Over a third would take a pay cut in exchange for the option.” Kate Lister, president of Global Workplace Analytics, explains.

Some companies are eliminating their headquarters, realizing that they no longer need to exist in a physical space. Uldrich saw these changes coming five years ago when he wrote: “The meeting room of the future will also no longer necessarily be a physical location. New and improved video collaboration tools are making it possible to conduct ad-hoc meetings anywhere, anytime.”

Likewise, the 9-5 workday seems an old-fashioned and unrealistically restrictive convention. Remarkably, all this change represents just the first generation of remote work. It will continue to evolve. It will become less rooted in geography as place ceases to matter as much. The new model is lean, flexible, and decentralized.

Something that is under-appreciated in today's remote Covid-19 environment is the increasing efficiency of remote work. My clients in the professional services areas have seen increasing profits due to reduced costs and increased acceptance of virtual meetings. As professional services companies get more sophisticated in evaluating workforce productivity, they will also find virtual collaboration more effective and efficient than in-person interactions.

The future is here, and we are only starting to realize it. The driving force will be technology integration, enhanced communication, workforce efficiency, and ever-higher human collaboration levels that will unlock incredible levels of global production that we have only just begun to recognize.

Impact on immigration and education

The pandemic is changing the imperative of immigration. Indeed, there are many reasons why people emigrate, but the pandemic had made it more difficult. New technologies enable qualified employees to remain in their countries and earn, potentially, higher net compensation without the dislocation of immigration. It's thrilling to imagine the broad talent pool that recruiters can access when place no longer factors into their search criteria.

Rather than the job market, other preferences will drive immigration decisions. Regions that offer the best health care, education, houses, and living standards will become destination countries. As opportunities for truly remote learning replace in-person higher education, the United States may lose some of its preeminence as the global higher-educational destination. The US needs to get its act together if it wants to continue to attract the best and the brightest global citizens.

Leaders the future demands

Leaders who capitalize on these opportunities will set themselves apart with greater agility, emotional intelligence, and authentic communication. The winning leaders of the future will be empathic, engaged with their teams, and skilled at delivering impact on challenging problems. At my firm, TRANSEARCH, we focus on finding culture-builders who are comfortable managing remote professionals and finding innovative ways to link people to support their strategic objective and create certainty in uncertain times.

Geography is an antiquated factor in employment decisions. As an organization, if you keep antiquated elements in your decision matrix, you are needlessly burdening your potential growth and profitability. The step-change challenge for the next decade is learning to integrate virtual teams seamlessly.

The future is brighter than you think

Decentralization will challenge cities, but people want to be connected in person and not just virtually. Virtualization means that it is more likely that your work friends are more likely to be remote and your personal friends local, which might not change much other than we might all need to build our local friendships and not rely on work friends to develop our social bucket.

There are a lot of benefits to businesses becoming virtual. It will be better for the environment by reducing unnecessary commutes. "The fact is, there is no easier, quicker, and cheaper way to reduce your carbon footprint than by reducing commuter travel." Lister points out. It will also minimize real estate requirements, create efficiencies, and make people happier.

If geography no longer hinders employment, then anyone can work and live wherever they want. Communities can focus on healthy lifestyles, safe and nurturing environments, and positive spaces where citizens can build stronger relationships.

The pandemic has been terrible, but it has accelerated trends as nothing else could. We can’t go back to the way things were pre-pandemic, which presents some fascinating possibilities.