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Headhunting remote workers

What are you and your company doing to build good working relationships even when not everyone can be there for Pizza Friday?

5 min read


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“I love headhunting teleworkers. They’re easy pickings.”

I was speaking to the person next to me at a speaking gig not long ago. She was a lovely, young woman but that statement gave me a bit of a chill. After all, replacing a knowledge worker is not only a pain, but there are also real costs (about 5X their salary) involved in finding someone new. But it also intrigued me. Why were remote workers more willing to jump ship than those who commute to their workplace?

I began asking a lot of questions, and basically, her response came down to one thing: Many (not all, but enough to be statistically significant) teleworkers and remote employees view their work as transactional. One job is as good as another so why not chase a bigger paycheck or a more interesting job? The only time she encounters a problem is when the person is “married” to their current employer. In other words, employee engagement was the main barrier to someone leaving one job for another.

It makes sense if you stop to think about it. When you work from home:

  • You don’t have to decide if you have to change your commute or the time you spend getting to work. Every employer is an equal distance away. No barrier there.
  • If the job is task-oriented, the work itself is probably not much different between employers. Coding purchase orders is pretty much the same job everywhere you go.
  • Most of the pain of changing jobs has been eliminated. Paychecks get direct deposited, you already have the equipment you need, and the employee handbook is on line (and if you work from home the dress code battle was probably settled a long time ago.)
  • Your tolerance for nonsense is much lower. Why put up with a job you hate when there are others out there? If the recruiter calls on the day you just had an email battle with Alice in AR….
  • Since you don’t physically work (at least most of the time) with people, there aren’t a lot of relationships to end. If your teammates are just names on an email thread, you aren’t likely to get misty-eyed if you’re no longer working with Rajesh, and start working with Pilar. It’s just another name in your Outlook.

Looked at as a transaction, there really is no reason to maintain loyalty to one job over another. Except where we work is not purely a logical transaction. Emotion plays a larger part in the decision to stay or seek work elsewhere than most of us think.

The old adage “people don’t quit jobs, they quit managers” has never been more true.

As my headhunter companion pointed out, the biggest barrier to getting someone to leave their job is if they like the company they’re working for and the people they work with. If they have a strong emotional attachment to their current employer, it takes more to lure them away.

  • The company culture is vital. The reputation, the style and the mission of the company matter a lot. Do people take pride in telling others who they work for? Does the work matter to them on a gut level? If it does, they are likely to stick around. If it’s “just a job”, there’s no reason not to go somewhere else. Are your remote workers immersed in the company culture and feel like part of the larger mission?
  • The manager relationship is paramount. Do you respect, like, and get what you need from your direct manager? This is the one point of contact most people have and that boss is the face of the employer to the worker. If there’s a good relationship, if it’s (dare we say) fun to work there, and I’m getting the coaching and feedback I require to do good work, why leave?
  • The piece that is often neglected in remote work is the relationship with their co-workers. Because their job tends to be task-oriented, it’s easy to become “siloed”. Organizations that foster strong working relationships between team members tend to hang onto their people. If you think you’re going to miss working with Bob and Amy, you’re more likely to stay where you are. Does your company foster fun, team-building and a group approach to the work, or is it every person for themselves?

What are you and your company doing to build good working relationships even when not everyone can be there for Pizza Friday?

Employee engagement can often seem like a light and fluffy concept. Engagement might sound good, but if the work gets done, does it really matter? Well, it seems if you want to keep the people you have doing the work they do, then yeah. It really does.

Are you hoping that nice, young headhunter won’t call? What if she does?


Wayne Turmel is the co-founder and product line manager for the Remote Leadership Institute. For 20 years, he’s been obsessed with helping managers communicate more effectively with their teams, bosses and customers. Wayne is the author of several books that demystify communicating through technology including “Meet Like You Mean It – a Leader’s Guide to Painless & Productive Virtual Meetings,” “10 Steps to Successful Virtual Presentations” and “6 Weeks to a Great Webinar.” His work appears frequently in

Marshall Goldsmith calls him “one of the unique voices to listen to in the virtual workplace”. He works with organizations around the world to help people use technology to lead people and projects and build productive human connections in an increasingly remote and virtual work environment.