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The Finely Balanced Issue of Remote Recruiting

By February 28, 20136 Comments

Recruitment is one industry that technology has influenced more than many others.  The process was sped up with e-mails, the advertising of jobs amplified by online job boards, and nowadays we have smart phones, tablets, cloud-based CRM systems and Skype interviewing enabling us to recruit on the move, from anywhere, with instant global reach.

This situation has created an interesting tension within recruitment, though.  We are an industry of (mostly) sociable, outgoing, networking types who often benefit from the shared energy generated by open plan workplaces and bouncing ideas off one another.  Certainly in recent years, regular knock-backs, clients’ hiring freezes, misbehaving candidates and revenue targets extending further out of reach necessitates some human interaction in the workplace purely in the interests of maintaining some form of sanity.

Nevertheless, technology has given birth to an increasing ability to recruit remotely, work from home and, in an industry where recruiters are measured on output and results more than many others (billings in agency; time-to-hire and direct hire percentages in internal), it shouldn’t really matter where you as a recruiter are located while producing those outputs should it?

That’s why the furore generated at Yahoo! this week by CEO Marissa Mayer’s dictat raises very similar arguments for us within the recruitment industry.  For those hiding under rocks this week, you can read the whole memo that was sent out in this article here, but in essence she has ordered all staff with work-from-home privileges to change their arrangements and move from Home-ton to Yahoo-ville by June, or join the jobless on the streets, saying:

…it is critical that we are all present in our offices. Some of the best decisions and insights come from hallway and cafeteria discussions, meeting new people, and impromptu team meetings. Speed and quality are often sacrificed when we work from home. We need to be one Yahoo!, and that starts with physically being together.

I’d be interested to gauge the opinion of you, New Zealand’s recruitment community, on whether or not this revisionist approach to flexible working arrangements is the way we should also be regarding things in recruitment.  I can certainly attest to the typical reaction of most of my agency side clients when I mention the availability of a skilled, experienced, networked recruiter who can only work part-time, or half a week in the office and half a week from home…. It’s that regretful drop of the eyes followed by slight cock of the head and drawn out sucking of air through the corner of the mouth than essentially says “no bloody way”.

Many recruitment firms do enable remote working, but pay lip service towards actually allowing it, with an employee’s refusal to join the rush-hour clogging up of New Zealand’s arterial roads severely frowned upon.  There are also those that simply refuse it outright.  The fact these firms also seem to have the highest turnover of staff probably isn’t a coincidence, and the damage done to Yahoo’s employer brand will provide long-term pain in terms of talent attraction, superseding whatever short-term gains might be made in productivity and “ideas-sharing” amongst a more visible workforce.

Having said that, I’m on the fence on this particular topic (makes a change, I know) as I for one am far happier working alongside my colleagues and feel it makes for a more effective and successful work environment.  Even moving our desk arrangement recently, from having our backs to each other, to now facing in on each other, has made the world of difference in terms of energy and positive vibes, which are frankly really quite important in a sales and recruitment environment.

The difference, for me, is that I think we as recruiters should be enabled to recruit remotely if it makes sense and outputs aren’t affected.  Unleash your teams from their office drone existence and you’ll probably find they spend almost as much time at the desk anyway, just in a different frame of mind because no-one is telling them they have to be there.

Jonathan Rice

MD at New Zealand rec-to-rec firm Rice Consulting and co-founder of on-demand recruiter offering Joyn. Recruitment agitator and frustrated idealist, father of two, husband of one, and lover of all things Arsenal and crafty beer.


  • Brian Thompson says:

    I especially agree with the last paragraph. I’m lucky at my agency as we have the option to work from home and there are no expectations that you have to be in the office. You’re right – the office is full on most days but its not unusual for people to work from home 1 day per week for different/individual reasons. I feel the major advantage of working from home is that I can be more productive as I can focus on deep searches with no typical office ‘distractions’.

  • GaryBt says:

    As I sit at home and read this the puppy is shredding a toy at my feet and the Tuis are serenading in the Kanuka…. Well that’s the side I sit on. However I need the time working with others and ability to bounce ideas around. We are a small organisation and with a focused industry sector and all share candidates and brain storm roles but we have flexible hours, work from home is an option and most of us spend at least 4 days in the office. As we get more technologically connected, which isolates us from people, I see the longing for more human interaction but these needs to come from us as individuals and not dictated by ‘the man’. “Time’s they are a-changin’.”

  • Kevin C says:

    Like GaryBt, I am writing this looking out my window at the gorgeous trees on the lawn and native bush across the road with the odd car going past – after all it’s early on Friday for the usual rush-hour, which is normally still quite quiet.  My last appointment allowed me to head off and miss the traffic, and pick up my son from school and have a great Dad-son natter….

    Apart from the absence of overheads (here he goes again…), what on earth does an office add to the service we offer to our clients?  Nothing.  And in my “workplace”, there’s no egos to contend with, no grumpy moods, no politics.  The reality is that attendance has nothing to do with productivity.  In fact the distractions caused by the issues I mention mean that productivity is usually down, compared to working from a dedicated home office (this is an important factor).

    I will admit it takes a moment or two to adjust, but once you exert self-discipline and don’t turn on the tennis or cricket, it’s a “no-brainer”.  Stress less environment, low or no fixed overheads, ability to charge appropriately and still retain a great bottom-line, and again, no politics…

    I have also seen some clients change their focus and not be as paranoid about whether people work on site and they now have more choice, better skills, and a more harmonious workplace.  I think Yahoo! will suffer as will others who start tightening the screws about attendance, because that’s all it is.  You can replace “corridor and cafeteria talk” with other more contemporary means of communication which I’m gobsmacked that Yahoo! can’t see.

    So now that my day is over, I shall leave the office, walk 20 seconds downstairs, and pour a glass of cold Pinot Gris, and celebrate another great week where I don’t have to worry about my outgoings and only focus on what I do best.  And I’ll be thinking of the rest of you, as most, especially those in Auckland, will be battling the traffic home.  Cheers!!

  • Susan says:

    I don’t think people were annoyed with Marissa Mayer so much for her ‘get to the office’ comments, as for her ‘motherhood is a breeze’ comments. And lets face it, when nanny’s are raising your children and you can build a purpose built nursery next door to your office, it probably is pretty easy. 
    Women Like Marissa, and stars like Angelina Jolie who chirp on about being full time mothers and working full time, live in the lah-lah land of nannies and large bank accounts. 

    You can’t work full time and be a full time mother. It doesn’t work that way. Being a stay home parent (father or mother) is full time. It’s like saying I can be a full time doctor and a full time Lawyer, it’s two jobs.

    I’d love to know the last time Marissa cleaned her own house from top to bottom, did the washing, changed 6 nappies, washed baby, fed baby every three hours, went to the supermarket, gardened, attended a parents group, paid the bills, signed up for something, answered the phone, counselled a friend…and that’s just Monday. I’m sure she doesn’t do all this and then a 10 hour day at the office.

    Women like Marissa let down the side (of parents at home) by making out raising kids is no big deal. If it’s so easy,why does she need a full time nanny, being paid a full time salary?

    To the work at home issue…
    I think ideally a combination is best. We live in a new world of technology. We no longer have mum at home taking care of business, while dad goes off to work. Mum works, dad works, we’re all working and there needs to be a balance.

    I find working from home on specific things that don’t require input from others is best for me, I can sit down and knock off a report or update the database and get it done.
    However, there are times when the office noise, chit chat and energy is necessary.

    It needs to work for the office and for you and that might mean 40 hours at the office or 32 at the office and one day at home. Or some other combination.

  • Guest says:

    I think if you work for yourself, yes, why not  But if you have staff, the power of a room full of people encouraging, challenging , competing and sharing ideas together is far more powerful than one person in a home office. If working from home increased productivity, why do we have high rise offices full of people? Surely companies would embrace it immediately, fatten the bottom line and everyone would be happier? Seems either it is not the case or people are just slow on the uptake!

    As far as recruitment goes, how do you wheel a colleague into a meeting with a brilliant candidate you have just met so they too can get out to their clients – you can’t……

      As the Google guy says on his thoughts around Telecommuting, and I think this holds some pretty serious weight, “”There is something magical about sharing meals,” Mr Pichette said of working at an office. “There is something magical about spending the time together, about noodling on ideas, about asking at the computer ‘What do you think of this?’ These are [the] magical moments that we think at Google are immensely important in the development of your company, of your own personal development and [of] building much stronger communities.”There is no I in team, and unfortunately working remotely make you an I to the rest of the team, and meaning you get left out 

    • Kevin C says:

      Guest, some relevant points you make and I would agree if you’ve got a business where people are “training”.  The remote model only works with those who are experienced, and who know the fundamentals.  I’m not sure whether the “magical of sharing meals”, “noodling on ideas” applies so much to the ego-centric, driven recruitment sector personalities!  As a sector, in general, we’ve been dragged kicking and screaming into innovation and new ideas, and always have been reluctant to share our thoughts and “build communities” within.  I recall as a business owner under the traditional model, spending most of my time massaging egos, and wishing my that my “open door” had a cattle stop at the entrance so that the high heeled shoes and the designer lace-ups got stuck in it!

      Talking about candidates?  Easy-peasy…. To borrow from an ad campaign currently running, there’s a “toy” called a telephone through which you can communicate.  And email and Skype and catching up for coffee regularly.

      The beauty of the remote model is that it is entirely client and candidate centric and all the noise disappears.  Communication is done by contemporary means and meetings are in neutral and “enjoyable” territory.  

      You do have to be of a particular persuasion for it to work, but that persuasion is one that works brilliantly, and once you’ve “mastered the methodology”, you just wouldn’t go back.