As an optimist, it’s in my nature to look for silver linings in difficult situations. And in recruitment terms I think I’ve found one. The shift to remote working accelerated by the Covid-19 lockdown has created an opportunity for retailers to attract talent from far further afield than might previously have been the case.
While it’s not unknown for senior executives to live at the other end of the country from their employer, or even overseas, the pool of those willing to be away from home for days on end in order to maintain a presence in the office has understandably been small.
Geography has historically been a critical factor in whether a candidate considers applying for a position in the first place, and is often a decisive factor in whether they accept it.
For firms headquartered in London, talent will invariably be drawn from a 50 mile radius around the capital unless people are willing to relocate (which is quite plausible at a young age but becomes a bigger ask once people have started a family).
Clarks, with its head office located in the relative backwater of Street in Somerset, comes to mind as a retailer that has to fight extra hard to land the best quality talent due to its geographical setting.
Covid-19, and the shift to remote working, could change all that. The opportunity to work predominantly from home has enormous potential to increase the scope of the search process. I recently received an instruction to recruit a director-level role where the head office is located a long way from the main talent pool. A requirement to be in the office just two days a week, however, has opened up the possibility of a candidate commuting from far afield, staying two or even just one night locally, before returning home. The chances of that client landing the right person for the role have increased significantly because of the flexibility they are willing to offer.
The implications are not just for the most senior level roles. Retailers that have learnt how effective home-working can be during the pandemic should no longer be afraid to consider candidates at all levels whose skills and experience make them suitable for the role but whose location would otherwise be prohibitive.
For candidates living in provincial parts of the UK, the opportunity to work for a major retailer without having to absorb travel or relocation costs as we enter a recession will surely be attractive. Who knows, it might even relieve some of the pressure on London’s housing market!
Not every business will be sold on the idea. Some more than others will want to maintain a strong central office presence as we emerge from the pandemic.
Businesses will need to think carefully too about how they on-board new recruits. Especially at a senior level, new hires may initially need an intensive period of assimilation at head office in order to build relationships and understand the business’s culture and ways of working.
Competition will also be fierce. With redundancies inevitable the talent pool will swell – if your business is prepared to offer flexible working in order to attract a wide range of candidates you can bet your rivals are doing the same.
Ultimately, however, a desire to attract the best possible talent should convince retailers that spreading the net as wide as possible makes good business sense in a post-Covid landscape.