The challenge of recruiting remote employees is one of the objections small and medium business owners have to remote working. How will we hire the right people, the CEO or owner wonders, if we can’t get in a room and talk to them face to face?

The truth is that hiring is hard, remote or not. And while it can be extra challenging to find the right employees if they live outside your immediate area, opening up your recruiting geography also gives you access to a larger talent pool.

Some businesses—like many software startups—go 100% remote, or even start there. They may have an office of three in Boulder, one employee in Chicago and another in the Netherlands. Their next hire could be living in Singapore, but planning to move to Bangkok next year. For companies that primarily work over the internet, it just doesn’t matter.

But what about other organizations? The ones whose business models do require some physical presence? Or larger companies, who need to hire dozens and dozens of people?

For some businesses, cluster hiring, or recruiting remote employees in a few different metro areas or regions, can be a good middle way.


Cluster Hiring for Remote Work

Cluster hiring simply means recruiting several remote workers who live in the same general area as one another.

Let’s say a company has a few dozen remote workers all living in and around Cleveland. Rather than hire individuals in ten other states, they could choose one place to focus on, and hire a cluster in and around, say, San Antonio.

Now they’re still remote, with people working wherever they can be most productive. But instead of having all their employees in one metro area, they’ve got two clusters. The remote employees in San Antonio may work out of their various home offices, but they’re still close enough together to meet in person once in a while.

Clustering remote employees can be a way to combine the benefits of both co-located and distributed work models. Your team gets the flexibility and productivity benefits of remote working, while still having the team cohesion boost that comes with occasional face-to-face connections.

But if you’re thinking of hiring in a new place, the question remains: where?


Choosing a Remote Cluster Location

The right place for your remote hiring cluster depends on many factors. What’s right for your business won’t be right for someone else’s. Here are a few questions to ask as you narrow it down:

What’s important to your business?

Knowing why you’re recruiting remote employees in a new place is the first step to figuring out how. If you identify what are the most important benefits you hope to gain from this new location, you’ll be better positioned to recognize places that can provide those things.

Where are you now?

Where is your business now? And what new location will complement your current coverage?

Complementary locations can help you hedge your location bets, adding something to your company that you don’t currently have.

You may choose to make a location decision based on time zone, especially if you have a lot of customers far from your original place of business. If you’re on the east coast, you might benefit from a location in the Pacific time zone, so your eastern employees don’t have to cover those early mornings out west.

You might want a location in a different region just to protect yourself against extreme weather or even natural disasters. If your company is located in a place prone to those events, having some employees elsewhere can help you stay operational even when some of your employees can’t get to work.

What skills and culture are you looking for?

To find something, you need to know what you’re looking for.

Taking the time to define the skills and other characteristics you value is an important first step to choosing a place to cluster your new hires.

This might be a good opportunity to put your company culture in writing, in some form. As Simon Sinek says, a business needs a why. What’s your why? What is your mission, and what are your values?

When you have a clear idea about those things, you’ll be in a better position to recognize people who share your mindset, or who might embrace it.

But remember, remote hiring is also a great opportunity to diversify your workforce. So the new place where you hire staff doesn’t have to be exactly like the place where you started your business.

Bottom line: you need to find out if the place you’re considering has a talent pool that can do the jobs you have to offer. And if it does, can you compete for that talent? Does the cost of living in the region you’re considering make your compensation package competitive?

If your wages can’t pay the bills in the city you’re looking at, you’ll have a hard time drawing anyone—let alone the best people—to your company.

Where is remote work embraced?

To be successful hiring a clustered group of remote employees, you need to focus on places where remote working is embraced.

The problem is that cities where remote working has been widely adopted already tend to be more expensive places with a healthy technology sector.

Don’t forget to consider some more rural areas as well. While remote working may be less common there, jobs of all kinds can be scarce. Remote working can be a great benefit for people who live in those areas. While access to fast internet service can be a challenge, there’s still a lot of opportunity to hire remote workers off the beaten path.


Using the Data

When we’re considering a new state to hire in, we like to go for a visit. But there’s plenty you can do to narrow down your list before you buy those airline tickets and book a hotel.

Data from the census or from local city and state governments can tell you a lot. Population figures and unemployment rates can give you a rough sense of where you’ll be most likely to find the talent you need.

Dig a little deeper into demographic data such as education levels to build a profile for the place you’re looking at, and compare that to places where you already operate. Whether you’re looking for more of the same or a something new depends on your particular business needs.

Median household income and average pay rates can tell you where your compensation package will be competitive, which is obviously a critical factor in recruiting. When you have a pretty good handle on what the numbers can tell you, you’re ready for a visit or two to get a sense of the more intangible aspects of finding the right location for your next hiring cluster.


Keeping up with Rules

Before you head out the door, don’t forget to do some research on the laws and regulations of any place you’re considering.

Taxes, especially, vary widely from place to place. So do employee leave and benefits regulations.

Don’t just depend on what you can find here in this post, or anywhere online. To be sure you’re doing it right, you need a good lawyer to advise you on employment laws that may apply to your situation.

Besides your lawyer (and again, you need one if you’re hiring anyone, anywhere) you can get information from the Department of Labor and Industry for the state in question (the exact name of the bureau may vary). Another good resource is SHRM, the Society for Human Resource Management. Check out their state and local updates for the latest info on new developments.


AnswerConnect in Florida and Montana

Jewel and Sarah take a break from recruiting remote employees to visit Disneyworld

After careful consideration of all these factors, we’ve decided to start hiring in Orlando, Florida, and Billings, Montana. In addition, we’ll be focusing our North Carolina hiring in Wilmington. While there are great places throughout all these states, our analysis led us to believe these cities would be the best fit for our business.

Have you hired in a new city? What process did you use to select the location for your remote hiring? Let us know in the comments.