The Pros and Cons of Hiring a Distributed Workforce When Talent Is Scarce

By Jeremy Johnson as published in EntrepreneurIt wasn’t long ago that labor came in two varieties: in-house or outsourced. Today, however, the team dynamic isincreasingly shifting to a distributed workforce: employees work in a range of locations from the office, to home, to off-site locations, while some juggle multiple locations in the same week.The ability to work with anyone with an Internet connection has upped the intensity of the race for talent. The competition is hardly fiercer than in the search for software developers. In fact, employment of software developers is projected to grow 22 percent from 2012 to 2022, much faster than the average for all occupations, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Some companies, like WordPress parent Automattic, employ an entirely distributed workforce to meet their hiring needs.Every innovation, however, elicits some form of push back. Many technology companies are beginning to insist that their developers remain “co-located” in the same space, arguing for the irreplaceable merits of “face-time.”Distributed development is not right in all circumstances. Here are some criteria to help determine what is right for the business.

When distributed development won’t work.

Short turnarounds. If tasks require hourly or daily turnarounds, geographically disparate teams may pose a challenge.Poor collaborative infrastructure. Certain organizational processes, tools, and structures need to be in place for distributed development to work well. The success of a distributed workforceis largely dependent on the use of management tools, clear processes, and integration between team members, a 2009 case study of software developers at Microsoft showed.Lack of time to vet developers. Let’s face it, the quality of remote workers is uneven. All of us, including me, have had bad experiences hiring a developer remotely for a lower price only to find that the cost of labor and time spent in training, managing and making course corrections exceeded the money saved.

When distributed development is a smart option.

Access to top talent. While it is true that the quality of many offshore developers is often uneven, it is also true that brilliance is evenly distributed, and extraordinarily talented individuals can be found anywhere. Savvy entrepreneurs will look for the best talent wherever they are, not simply the best talent that happens to live 10 feet from them.Talent is scarce. When I was at 2U, an educational technology company that partners with universities to deliver online degree programs, we struggled to find entry-level Salesforce developers for closer to six figures than most would believe. The need for developers is exploding, and there aren’t nearly enough developers to meet the demand. Companies can either wait for trends to reverse, or they can get started immediately by exploring every possible avenue to find the talent they need.Growing a global talent pipeline. Companies large and small need to think strategically about where they want to source and develop their talent pipelines in the coming years. “Where will the workers of tomorrow come from?” is a question being asked in boardrooms across the globe. There is an opportunity to invest in training workers in some of the world’s youngest, fastest-growing countries, which is whatAndela, the company I lead, is doing.Value. As quality tech talent becomes harder and harder to find, salaries for U.S.-based developers are rising. Hiring remotely can yield comparably skilled developers at lower costs.Social impact and diversity. The positive social outcomes achieved through “impact sourcing” are undeniable. Impact sourcing provides sustainable sources of income for many disadvantaged populations. Companies benefit from a global workforce, as well. A survey of 1,800 professionals conducted by the Center for Talent Innovation in December 2012 found that diverse companies were more innovative.The decision to dive into distributed development requires serious and thoughtful assessment, but hopefully, the criteria above provide a good starting point.

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