4 ways to compete for talent if your workforce can’t be remote


By Emily McCrary-Ruiz-Esparza

It feels like employers that offer remote work have all the advantages right now. Demand for remote work is greater than the supply of remote jobs, and organizations that employ workers whose jobs must be performed on-site—think manufacturing workers, retail staff, librarians, educators, food service workers, and healthcare providers—may encounter more friction when recruiting in 2023. 

But they’re not out of the game. These companies must be strategic about how they appeal to workers in the new year.

Provide flexibility in creative ways

Flexibility doesn’t only mean remote work, says Carmen Canales, chief people and belonging officer at healthcare network Novant Health. For on-site workers at Novant, flexibility includes the ability to choose schedules like the “9/80 program,” in which workers complete 80 hours of work across nine days, while others may choose to condense a full work week into just three days.

“What used to be the traditional twelve-hour clinical shift, we’ve really reconsidered that,” says Canales. “Now you can thrive in healthcare with a four-hour shift, a six-hour shift—every different version.”

Canales also looks for ways traditionally on-site employees can do any portion of their work remotely. Administrative tasks and scheduling, for example, can be done off-site, she says.

Flexibility also includes employees’ ability to attend to personal matters, so employers should staff accordingly. Francely Salinas, a dental assistant in Raleigh, North Carolina, says that flexibility makes her life as a parent possible. With previous employers, “it wasn’t easy to ask for time off or ask for days off because no one could cover you,” she says. “But [my current employer] definitely makes it a lot easier. If I have an emergency with my child, I can say, ‘Hey, I have this emergency,’ and everybody will be like, ‘Yeah, go, go.’”

Flexibility is particularly important to caregivers, who are most often women. “Employees who can choose to work in the arrangement they prefer are less burned out, happier in their jobs, and much less likely to consider leaving their companies,” says Diana Ellsworth, who leads DEI work at consulting firm McKinsey, via email. “Women’s needs are varied across the board depending on their personal experiences, and offering choice, when possible, will go a long way.”

Consider the commute

“Another thing that certainly makes a difference is transportation and commuting,” says Rachel Lipson, cofounder and director of the Project on Workforce at Harvard University. 

For on-site positions to compete with remote jobs, there has to be some acknowledgement that the commute is a problem for many. “One of the things people value about remote work is getting back those extra hours in a day in commuting time,” says Lipson. “Being able to advertise in job descriptions if you’re close to a public transit option, or if you offer ways for folks to get to work, seems to be another competitive advantage.”

Respect workers’ time

Because on-site workers don’t get to recoup commute time, it’s imperative that employers pay close attention to expectations for workers while on the clock.

Ellie Botoman, a graduate student in New York City who has worked several on-site jobs, including as a retail associate and an art librarian, prefers in-person work for the social and collaborative aspects, but says that she’s been expected to pick up the slack of her remote colleagues because she’s on-site. She says this produces tension and frustrates staff.

“I really want to look for jobs where there’s an in-person component and people are taking advantage of that hybrid model, but [I don’t feel] pressure put on me to fill in the gaps where other people might not be as present.”

Prioritize a sense of belonging

Kam Hutchinson is the global director of talent acquisition at materials manufacturing company Owens Corning, which employs 19,000 workers, 85% of whom work on-site. She says that what she hears job seekers asking for is an employer that cares about their future. They want to know that their workplace is one where they can belong.

“What we’re hearing from candidates is, ‘How am I going to grow? How am I going to develop? Are you intentional about that?’ And we are. We’re looking at creating enterprise leaders. How do we develop leaders to be able to move across our businesses?”

Corey Yribarren, chief people officer at beauty retailer Sephora, says that expanding the company’s employee resources groups to in-store workers has cultivated a sense of belonging. “Our retail teams are very eager to get involved in programs, as these groups focus on building a supportive community network and providing a forum for events and discussions.” Plus, these groups “influence business decisions and initiatives around inclusion,” she says.

The company also administers regular engagement surveys and listening sessions to hear from current employees about what they need “to better understand gaps and how we can improve the working experience for everyone.”

Advertising a sense of belonging in your workplace is all talk until potential employees can experience it for themselves from inside the organization. But, according to Harvard’s Lipson, in a market where job seekers are looking specifically for remote work, employers can win over job seekers to on-site work through enthusiastic word-of-mouth. Tap into your existing workforce and “get them to be your best brand ambassadors out there.”

Fast Company