Location Location Location

Working from wherever?

Having spent many years in executive search, I have had the pleasure of placing people in all manner of locations, nationally and internationally. I have also witnessed to the increasing mobility of professional people over the last couple of decades. Not long ago (at the start of the pandemic), I wrote a piece that looked at how, in some areas of technology, we were seeing a return to cottage industry in the UK. Describing how, in disciplines like development, forward thinking leaders were enabling scarce and much needed talent to work from anywhere, whilst contributing as part of a team. It had become almost impossible to maintain any kind of critical mass of development talent, so this innovative way of working was allowing businesses to grow, and deliver product, regardless of location.  By their very nature, Technical and IT departments have always been ahead of the curve when it comes to remote working, as they have evolved to underpin global businesses and historically have embrace outsourced/offshore models of service.  However, any leader in a geographically dispersed business will know what it takes to operate in this way… so what’s changed?

Fundamentally two things have changed. The first is the obvious way in which, for the time being at least, we have all become remote workers. This kneejerk rection to a global catastrophe will of course be tempered with time and seems likely to become a more blended model of home and office work. Some businesses are waiting to see what happens, whilst other have already dictated a full or partial return to communal working. Bur crucially, for the last eighteen months, all leaders have had to trust that their staff will do the work, despite their lack of presence. It is this change that is the most significant in the long term, because it has highlighted that it is necessary to lead rather than to manage especially when your people are at a distance. This change will create one of the largest skills gaps I have ever seen in my lifetime as a recruiter.

The second thing that has changed is that ‘it doesn’t matter where you live’. Already we have seen an exodus of people from the city to more rural locations. At the same time, businesses that are based in the North and Midlands are losing staff, in key disciplines, to companies that are used to paying more for those skills – an assessment that used to be based on location. Say, for example, that a retail digital director working in Coventry, is offered a role where they can stay in Coventry and get paid £30k more to work for a London firm, what does that mean for the economy? It means that traditional geographical pay divides will diminish or re-write themselves. It means that economic migrancy will be reduced and the north/south divide will lessen over time. It could even help to revitalise the high street, although perhaps I am getting ahead of myself there. For the smart employer it means access to more talent, an opportunity to get ahead of the competition to fill the leadership gap, but only if you get ahead of the game and act fast!

These two changes, taken by themselves are significant enough, but combined they are driving a once-in-a-lifetime upheaval to the world of work. There are many unknowns, but what seems clear is that for many teams and organisations, taking the ‘wait and see’ approach could be fatal. IT leaders, especially those who have embraced outsourced, flexible and hybrid models of working are in a position to truly lead by example, and encourage their organisations to make the changes needed to stand out in the candidates market that is coming. Whether by modelling flexible working, or leading an operating model transformation, now is the time for the technical leaders of the business to take the lead.

To discuss this topic in more detail, or discuss your organisations’ needs, contact Neil Pilkington on (neil.pilkington@normanbroadbent.com)