Today’s all-star candidates are focusing on remote roles that offer flexibility. Recruiters need new strategies to win them over—or risk being left behind.

Traditional recruiting strategies are designed to reach and attract employees who will work full time, in an office, close to where they live. After the COVID-19 shift to remote work, however, the majority of workers who can do their jobs from home want to continue doing so after the pandemic. A foundational shift in employee expectations is reshaping the future of work, including the ways recruiters must find and attract top talent.

What Today’s Workforce Wants

Many employees who never telecommuted before the coronavirus pandemic are now well versed in remote work—and a large chunk of them don’t want to go back to the office any time soon. According to a recent Pew Research survey, most respondents whose job responsibilities can mainly be completed at home had rarely or never teleworked before the pandemic. In December 2020, 71% of them reported working from home all or most of the time, and more than half said they wanted to continue doing so even after it was safe to return to the office.

Other surveys back up those findings. Microsoft’s 2021 Work Trend Index found that more than 70% of workers want to keep their flexible work options in place, while research by the international child- and eldercare organization Bright Horizons found that 58% of working parents who started doing their jobs from home at the beginning of the pandemic want to stay remote.
Future of remote work after COVID-19 is hybrid work

These shifting attitudes about remote work are rewriting potential employees’ requirements, says Ben Gotkin, Principal Consultant at Recruiting Toolbox, Inc., a talent acquisition consultancy that works with global brands such as Google, Nike, and Amazon. “There are candidates who are saying very clearly [right now], ‘I will not consider employers that don’t offer remote work options,’” Gotkin said.

What Work Will Look Like in 2021 and Beyond

Despite a clear shift in employee desires and expectations, some major global players are opting for a full return to in-office work in 2021, including JPMorgan Chase and Goldman Sachs. At a conference in February, Goldman Chairperson and CEO David Solomon called remote work “an aberration that we’re going to correct as soon as possible.” And in a speech at The Wall Street Journal’s CEO Council Summit in May, JPMorgan Chairperson and CEO Jamie Dimon said, “We want people back to work, and my view is that sometime in September, October, it will look just like it did before.”

Many more companies, however, are heeding the call for increased flexibility. Out of almost 250 HR professionals polled by Gartner in March, 59% said they will allow occasional remote work, an increase of 21 percentage points since November 2020. Just 1% of respondents said they expect all of their workers to come back to the office full time.

Among the global leaders moving toward a more permanent hybrid or remote workforce in 2021 are IBM, Ford Motor, General Motors, Spotify, Facebook, Twitter, and Citigroup. IBM said 80% of its employees will work in a hybrid model after pandemic restrictions cease; both Ford and GM recently announced moves toward flexible work-from-home plans for their employees; Spotify and Citigroup announced that their workforces will include remote, hybrid, and on-site roles; and both Facebook and Twitter said some of their workers will permanently work from home going forward.

In addition to on-site, hybrid, or remote roles, more companies will start to blend contingent and freelance employees with their core full-time workforces using on-demand talent platforms such as Toptal, Fulcrum,, and Upwork. Out of 700 senior business leaders surveyed by Harvard Business School and Boston Consulting Group in late 2020, close to 50% expect their use of these digital talent platforms to increase significantly in the future. And nearly 90% believe that these platforms will be “somewhat or very important to their organization’s future competitive advantage.”

PNC Bank—where roughly 11,000 employees had flexible work arrangements even before the pandemic—has adopted what Catherine Grover, an Executive Vice President in human resources and talent strategy, refers to as a “total talent philosophy,” using a mix of full-time workers, part-time workers, freelancers, and contractors. PNC uses talent platforms to find specialized workers for “unique staffing situations,” says Grover, and will continue to do so.

Companies tap into these contingent staffing networks because they feature highly skilled employees who work remotely and flexibly—and can fill companies’ changing skill gaps as businesses adjust to new opportunities and pain points, explains Mike Radice, Director of Recruiting at Toptal, a global staffing agency.

The Benefits of Remote Workers

Access to the best talent is one of the major benefits of hiring remote workers. As noted in Microsoft's 2021 Work Trend Index, now more than ever before, remote work is a lever businesses can use “to attract the best and most diverse talent.” Gotkin, for example, recalls working with one Silicon Valley tech firm that experienced a major talent boom when it started recruiting remote candidates. “It opened them up to the world, and the possibilities that offered were tremendous, as opposed to being limited by just what was in their backyard or the people who were willing to relocate.”

When you recruit for a remote position, “you can get pickier because suddenly you have access to a much, much bigger pool of talent, and that means you can find better people, faster,” says Sharon Koifman, author of Surviving Remote Work , who founded the remote recruiting agency DistantJob after more than 15 years of entrepreneurship in the tech, HR, and recruiting industries. Radice agrees. As employees continue to seek flexible, remote employment opportunities, on-demand talent networks are able to recruit more and better talent. “We’ve seen a huge uptick in [applications to join] our freelance network over the last couple of years,” he says.

Another benefit remote workers bring to the table is lower costs to the business. Companies can save on office space, equipment, insurance, and benefits such as reimbursement for commuting. There may also be potential savings in the salary department. It’s no secret that salaries in expensive cities like New York and San Francisco tend to be higher than those in less central locations. And the move toward permanent remote work is igniting a debate among recruiters, HR professionals, and business leaders about how compensation should be handled. During one of the company’s weekly livestreams with employees, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg told employees that if they choose to work remotely from a new city, they must notify HR. “We’ll adjust salary to your location at that point,” he said, noting that “there’ll be severe ramifications for people who are not honest about this.”

Some skilled workers may be willing to accept a pay cut. Jeremiah Owyang, a well-known tech industry analyst, published an informal poll on Twitter asking if people would take a 10% reduction in pay if their companies let them continue to work from home indefinitely. Out of 717 respondents, 44% said they would take the cut.

That said, Gotkin, Radice, and Maribeth Bearfield, CHRO of Bright Horizons, told us that they believe such cuts will not become commonplace—instead, they project that compensation will trend toward more pay equity as remote work continues to take hold: A particular job has a certain market value, and an employee will expect to get paid that market value, no matter where they live.

How to Recruit Top Remote Talent Now

Recruiting for remote positions widens your pool of candidates in a way that challenges some old-school recruiting strategies. Perhaps one of the biggest shifts recruiting teams need to make, says Gotkin, is to move away from searching for a single “target candidate profile.”

“It’s been a growing trend over the past decade or two that organizations have become so focused on defining the ‘perfect candidate profile,’ that they have ruled out larger talent pools that might have qualified candidates for those roles,” says Gotkin. “That has had a negative impact on time to fill as well as diversity.” Rather than looking for a singular profile, recruiters and hiring managers have to accept the idea that there are likely multiple different successful candidate profiles for a role, including a prospective employee’s location, education, and prior experience.

Embracing this model of recruitment is a necessary step for companies branching out into remote recruitment, and reaching employees in markets previously untapped. The first step in recruiting more top-level remote talent is to formulate a well-thought-out strategy. “You have to know thyself, and if you’re going to make [any] type of transitional change, you better build a strategy out for it,” advises Matt Abbott, General Manager of The Sourcery, a Bay Area recruiting firm for tech startups that has worked with clients such as GoPro and Slack.

That means recruiters first need to work hand-in-hand with company leaders to determine the operational and recruitment risks and benefits of switching certain roles to hybrid or remote. Once that hard work is complete, these strategies and processes can help your business reach and attract the best remote and hybrid candidates in 2021.

Sell a Strong Culture for Remote Employees

With new remote and hybrid roles flooding the job market, you can make yours more attractive by showing that your company has a strong cultural strategy around remote work. Companies have to realize all of the in-office bells and whistles—like pingpong tables, free coffee and doughnuts, or food trucks—don’t matter for remote recruits, says Radice. “Your assets are now almost exclusively your people,” he explains. “How are you going to make them feel supported? How are you going to make sure that the work is equitable?”

You have to “be able to answer some tougher questions around whether somebody’s going to feel like ‘This is a place where, working remotely, I feel like I could be a part of [the company culture] almost in the same way as if I were there in person,’” says Gotkin.

“Employers are going to have to start being more creative,” adds Bearfield. Remote and hybrid candidates aren’t interested in hearing about just medical and dental benefits, she explains: They want to hear about educational opportunities, tuition payback plans, and support plans for working from home.

At PNC, recruiters highlight the company’s dedication to and support of employee volunteerism efforts, says Grover. At Toptal, they emphasize companywide programs such as a “TopPal” mentor system, quality-of-life benefits such as free subscriptions to the Calm meditation app, and virtual employee mixers such as art classes and game nights, says Radice.

Once a company has a strong remote culture plan mapped out, it’s the recruiter’s job to sell it to candidates. “The recruiter needs to build a quick relationship and needs to be a real ambassador,” says Bearfield. “They are the ones helping the candidate understand this is a great company and here’s what it would feel like to be here.”

Perfect the Virtual Interview Process

The coronavirus pandemic forced many recruiters to dive headfirst into virtual interviewing in 2020. Virtual interviewing has many advantages, but also some potential pitfalls to look out for. “It’s a given that it speeds up the process,” says Maureen Aryee, HR Leader for the NA Strategic Partnership Group at Johnson & Johnson, a global maker of consumer health products, including one of the three COVID-19 vaccines approved for emergency use in the US this year.

That said, when interviewing or asking for information virtually, Gotkin says it’s important for interviewers to remain cognizant of biases that can occur. With a virtual interview, you’re essentially invited into a person’s home or other personal workspace. You might notice the room they’re in (is it an office or a bedroom?), the paintings they have on the wall, or other markers of their living situation. If those details don’t factor into their ability to do the job, be mindful of not using them as a bias against the candidate.

One way to make sure your recruiting team is ready to hire remote talent is to offer remote-specific interview training. “In the initial screening and the interview itself, you need to become very comfortable and confident that you’re getting really good evidence of how somebody is able to effectively work remotely,” Gotkin says. Recruiters hiring for remote teams need to be able to assess whether candidates have the tech skills, drive, and personality for remote work.

At PNC, “some of the things we really look to identify in the interview are when and how they’ve worked independently and without supervision, can they be a self-starter, [and] how they remain engaged with their team without being in the office,” says Grover.

Koifman adds that it’s important to filter out what he dubs the “noncommittals.” These are the people who love the flexibility of remote work, but don’t necessarily want to be committed to your organization. “You’re looking for a career-driven, focused person who is excited to integrate as part of your company processes,” he says. One way to weed out the people who are just looking for any remote gig is to assess how much they know about your company upfront, adds Bearfield. “When I interview somebody, I want to know that they’ve taken time to understand the company,” she says.

Leverage Tech and Automation

A year after remote work forced recruiters to rely on technology for every step of the recruiting process, the use of tools such as artificial intelligence (AI), video-screening apps, and programmatic marketing (i.e., software that automates ad buys in a highly targeted way) is still on the rise. This has benefited companies’ recruitment efforts by making it easier to identify candidates who have competitive skills that companies need and eliminating unconscious bias in talent platforms and processes, says Aryee.

But with the proliferation of such emerging technologies, talent leaders need to be strategic and intentional in identifying the ones they need most, she adds. Gotkin recommends Greenhouse, a data-driven hiring software company that provides an organized platform to guide both recruiters and candidates through every step of the process, as well as Paradox’s Olivia, a conversational AI assistant that automates a number of recruiting functions, such as scheduling interviews, sending reminders, and answering questions in multiple languages.

Radice likes GoodTime for faster, automated interview scheduling. His recruiting team also records the majority of the interviews it conducts through a program called BrightHire. The software automatically records and transcribes the video interview, “so if we need 10 people to weigh in on this candidate, we can share one interview and more efficiently reach a decision,” he says. “It’s allowed us to do a better job moving candidates through, and it’s also useful to help train recruiters.” (For more tech recommendations, check out RecruiterHunt’s curated list of tools organized by category and ratings.)

At the end of the day, however, tools and AI only enhance recruitment when strong recruiters are there to utilize them. “I actually look at all of these tools that come up, and yes, they support the ability to be faster, maybe identify more candidates, but if you don’t have the core structure of what you do with more candidates or being faster, what that really means to your business, it’s all for naught,” says The Sourcery’s Abbott. “It still goes back to the human. The best recruiters I’ve ever met, they can move fast, they can be a personality. They can be drivers, but at the core they’re really good at communicating with candidates.”

Post Remote Jobs in the Right Places

Popular job boards like LinkedIn, Indeed, and Glassdoor will remain vital posting points for recruiters seeking remote workers. But recruiters should perfect their usage of those boards with intelligent research. “Market intelligence becomes really, really critical,” says Gotkin. “Otherwise, you’re just shooting blindly.” He suggests studying the market to find out where the talent you need resides. Find out where your competitors have employees around the country and the world. Research which employers in your industry are offering remote work, and which aren’t, to figure out how you can market an advantage to prospective employees, and reach geographic locations where workers might crave flexibility they aren’t getting from local competition.

Gotkin says great talent can be found just about anywhere these days, so it makes sense to search for remote workers based solely on skills and experience. But, he adds, if you want to target geographically for hungry remote workers, you might try Southern states where populations have grown over the past few years. South Carolina, Florida, and Texas are among the states that have seen the highest growth in the past decade, according to the US 2020 Census results.

Before you post anywhere, take a look at your template for job descriptions. In the past, companies could get by with a simple job description that listed a title, responsibilities, and experience requirements. That won’t suffice in the remote recruiting world, says Gotkin, because candidates want information beyond the job; they need to know upfront how your company supports remote employees and how you are prepared to engage them.

When you’re sourcing talent for a remote or hybrid position, the job description “has to include information about the remote culture and how that works,” says Gotkin. It’s even better if you go beyond a simple description. He advises companies to add video testimonials from current remote workers, and other tangible examples of how the company creates a collaborative environment virtually.

Consider Sourcing From an On-demand Talent Platform

As noted earlier in this report, companies are increasingly utilizing on-demand talent networks to find highly skilled contingent workers. Some popular and well-reviewed staffing companies include Fulcrum,, Fiverr, Catalant, Upwork, and Toptal, where Radice heads up recruiting. Each platform has different specialties and processes, he says. Toptal, for example, rigorously screens talent in software engineering, design, finance, and project and product management, and then matches them with clients who have upcoming projects. Upwork, which Abbott’s company has tapped for help, connects companies with freelancers in a variety of industries, including administrative and support work, marketing, content creation, and accounting.

Company leaders must do their research when deciding on a staffing partner, says Radice. Ensure top decision-makers have a plan for evaluating options in the market. They should ask for successful case studies from potential vendors and do a deep dive to learn about the skill sets they specialize in, how they vet their talent, what kind of onboarding and conflict resolution services they provide, and of course, what price points they offer. “Cost is always something to consider, and it usually goes hand-in-hand with the quality level in the network,” Radice advises.

Abbott adds that leaders should find out how the talent platform will represent your company when they speak to candidates—as recruiters with expertise in this area, you can help advise company leaders on the candidate communication strategies your company uses internally.

Once you’ve chosen a talent network, create a comprehensive contingent workforce strategy, says Abbott. Take a hard look at the capabilities your core employees already have—or can grow into—and which skills will be best sourced from an external remote worker or team, and set a timeline. “You have to have a full plan in place,” he says. “Not having a plan to hire on time is a plan to fail.” Rather than using on-demand talent platforms on a whim as needed, contingent work should be a carefully considered piece of the company’s workforce plan.

After more than a year of widespread remote work due to the COVID-19 pandemic, a majority of employees want to continue working remotely at least part time. But recruiters can’t attract these top-flight remote and hybrid employees using the same old strategies. That’s why it’s vital for talent acquisition leaders to pivot now, and build an updated recruiting plan. Doing so will allow businesses to compete for the wave of remote and hybrid talent that’s sure to hit the job market in the waning months of 2021 and beyond.