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There’s a war on for top performing tech talent. Growth companies realize this coveted group of employees is critical in providing a competitive edge and delighting customers. However, top performing employees have an edge in today’s employment market fueled by a perfect storm of factors:

  • Tech unemployment is at historic lows, and some tech sectors have an unemployment rate of zero.
  • A popular approach to filling talent gaps with H-1B visas now faces new levels of political scrutiny.
  • Unprecedented demand for IT skills in traditional tech hubs, specifically Silicon Valley, has resulted in an employment market where most employers can’t afford to pay the demand for wages and a cost of living environment where most employees can’t afford to live.

What’s the answer to attracting the best and brightest in this climate? Flexibility.

A recent Deloitte study found that 64 percent of Millennials already have flexible locations for work, up from 21 percent just last year. Many in the succeeding Gen Z — the first generation to always have had in Internet connection — will never consider an employer that doesn’t offer flexible work environments.

The definition of flexibility will vary from company to company. At my company, we started by targeting the best available talent regardless of location and have experienced tremendous growth because of it as a virtual organization.

We still want our teams to do their jobs from wherever they are. We never would have attracted the talent required to support our growth by chaining employees to a desk.

Our experience is that top performing employees beget top performing employees. As a result of this organic growth in our number of employees, we’ve had clusters of talent forming in various cities, including St. Louis, Austin, New Orleans, New York, Washington, and Victoria.

The skeptics of completely virtual organizations argue that in-person employee-to-employee communication is crucial for collaboration and productivity. These skeptics are right; they are also wrong.

Communication in any organization is critical to success. Water cooler conversations can result in increased collaboration. This can also be offset by the increased levels of productivity and cost savings related to employees working in a comfortable, quiet, familiar environment. The tools available for remote collaboration — Zoom, Hangouts, Slack — have dramatically increased in functionality. These tools facilitate our daily standups and company-wide meetings.

Still, there is value in actual face time. Our organic hub-centric growth has allowed us to create employee centers in various cities. Employees are not expected to report to these centers daily. While most companies offer a “work from home” day to inspire or reward employees, we have established “work from work” days. Employees come into the centers refreshed and inspired to collaborate on tech jams and code sprints.

We also use these hubs as places to mentor the next generation of top performing employees. All new team members are assigned a mentor located in their same geographic area. I also use work-from-work days to meet personally with all employees.

Regardless of the type or organization — traditional office, virtual environment, or hybrid model — communication with employees will always be a key to success. At the same time, communication in any environment will never be perfect, and that’s OK as long as you recognize that and adapt to it.

There’s no end in sight in the war for top performing tech talent. While there is still great value in direct communication with employees, long gone are the days of shackling them to a desk in an office park.

The winners in this war will be companies that offer flexible workplace arrangements that meet the needs of both companies and their employees.

Andy Dearing is CEO of GIS platform company Boundless. A commercial pilot and self-taught geographer, he has been working with GIS for nearly 15 years. He lives in Missouri with his wife and four kids.

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