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Chattanooga? When my daughter recently told me that she was leaving a secluded role in sunny Santa Barbara for a new job in Tennessee, I was surprised. But the more I thought about her move, the more sensible it made – and the more light there was on how to win the battle for talent in the post-Covid economy.
The pandemic may initially have triggered a global recession, but with the "great reopening" the global battle for top talent is heating up. A record 42% of small business owners in the US now report vacancies they cannot fill. With many people now able to work from anywhere, it is clearly a labor market.
In this context, “remote work” has emerged as the ultimate trump card for many recruiters. Companies with big pockets can hire the best talent regardless of their geographic location, so they can work with anyone, anywhere. This leads to bidding wars and rising salaries across borders, which poses a threat to smaller businesses in regional centers.
But my daughter's story, coupled with my own experience in running a robotics company with several hundred employees, suggests a completely different result. Even in a remote work context, weird, old concepts – geography, community, even purpose – can be more important than ever. And smart employers would do well to use them as a competitive advantage.
Related: About half of Americans want to return to the office at least temporarily
Remote control isn't everything
During Covid, my daughter's company went far away. For many professionals, especially those who live in a tech hub on the beach, this could be paradise. It wasn't for her. And she is not alone.
While many employees have noticed the benefits of working remotely during the pandemic, it has also taken its toll. Case in point: 27% of people said they felt they couldn't separate from work at home, while 16% said they felt lonely and separated.
This is difficult and shows that community and geography are important and can be beneficial in finding talent. My daughter moved to Chattanooga to be part of a personal team and part of a city. Conversely, being physically based in Boston is an absolute plus for my own company. Proximity to some of the world's best technology schools is part of our strength and helps us attract top talent from around the world.
It is important that geography can also be beneficial in hybrid work contexts. We opted for a mixed model during the pandemic that enables remote work while also providing offices in multiple cities where people have access to laboratories and workplaces. When we switch back to the office, this hub model allows us to hire limitless talent while maintaining the sense of community and the chance to live and work in vibrant cities.
Aside from the issue of working remotely, there are other important ways a small business, for example in Chattanooga, can compete with global powers for the same talent pool.
Be the Outsider: Who doesn't love a David vs. Goliath situation? Lean on it. I've worked for big companies and don't think I'll ever do that again. When I take on a new role, I look for a chance to do new things and build something that can compete with giants. I want a goal not to be a cog in a giant corporate wheel, and I am not alone. Studies show that almost as many millennials see room for growth and determination as a top priority when looking for a job as those who put salary first.
Sell your superpower. Every company needs something to stand out from the crowd. At our company, we can ask people if they would like to work with teammates who have achieved extraordinary things, like landing a helicopter on Mars. I mean, how many other places can ask that question in an interview? Find what makes you unique and make it an integral part of your pitch.
Related: When we emerge from a global crisis, it is time to rethink the way we work
Culture is priceless. As management icon Peter Drucker often said: "Culture eats strategy for breakfast". To get an employee, you have to sell your culture to them. A 2017 study found that 37% of people looking to change jobs were primarily looking for a better corporate culture. It's about how a person is treated and valued in the workplace and knowing that your company stands for something important. You can't put a price tag on it.
In the end, Chattanooga won over my daughter – and me too. After helping her move in and learning more about her decision, I fully understood the appeal. The battle for talent is really limitless now, but that doesn't mean that smaller or regional companies are disadvantaged. It's important to remember that these negotiations are about more than just money and remote perks. Determination can be a strong selling point, as can a physical community, even in a remote world.