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Tyler Paquette, who runs his own software development company in Brantford, Ont., has hired staff overseas to find the best talent, but says it can be hard for a small business to compete with big companies that can offer higher salaries.HANDOUT

As the owner of a small business looking to carve a global niche, Tyler Paquette goes all out to hire the right staff – locally and internationally – for his five-year-old software development company.

Mr. Paquette, 28, has been a tech specialist for about a dozen years, and he still does a lot of hands-on work while overseeing a half-dozen employees at Onamal Inc., a web development and mobile app firm. The Brantford, Ont.-based company has worked with clients in Canada, the United States, the Philippines, Britain, and China.

Onamal’s staff works remotely from wherever they want, and at one time, for example, two employees were based in Singapore. He says the trend toward remote work driven by the COVID-19 pandemic means his company can hire from anywhere and it is unlikely to be judged by clients for lacking a sprawling head office or a large staff.

If you can do the job for the right price, you’re desirable to potential clients, Mr. Paquette says.

“We’re a white-label business working along with other agencies,” he explains, adding Onamal recently began serving farms in the area around Fredericton. “They’d reach out to a company like mine, and we’d be able to fill the gap, including to complement their existing operations.”

Mr. Paquette and his staff are part of a trend that futurist Lindsay Angelo says has been heightened by the pandemic – the rise of the agile work force, and the “digital nomad” movement.

Ms. Angelo is also a speaker with expertise in consumerism and innovation. She says she anticipates remote hiring and remote work – including ‘nomads’ – will remain a viable and popular option, even as many companies bring employees back to the office full-time or switch to a hybrid model.

Ms. Angelo has embraced the digital nomad lifestyle herself.

“You can have a worker who wants to live in L.A. a few months, travel to Europe and want to work from wherever they want to work, to not ‘live’ in one location,” the dual citizen says. “I toggle between Seattle and Vancouver. It’s been great and I love the lifestyle.”

It has, however, become more difficult since the onset of the pandemic to get the right talent, as companies around the world have embraced hiring from anywhere, increasing competition for skills.

For Mr. Paquette, it meant losing his two Singapore-based employees, who told him they were “too busy” to continue working with Onamal.

“Similarly, Onamal was ‘too busy’ and so I could understand where they had been coming from [but] I believed they had been able to secure a higher-value arrangement,” he says.

The departure of his Singapore-based employees coincided with interruptions to IT services supplied by Ukraine, “who are often the front-line workers of technical support and maintenance teams,” he says. To keep his business rolling amid the continuing Russian invasion of Ukraine, Mr. Paquette found it easier to maintain domestic employees, but says he hopes to hire from outside Canada again.

The challenge of hiring skilled workers has been driven by several factors, says Toronto-based Nikolas Badminton, Futurist.com’s chief futurist, who analyzes business trends.

The pandemic, he adds, has also prompted workers to rethink their lives, with many retiring early, starting their own businesses or shifting careers – part of another movement dubbed the “Great Resignation.”

“It’s clear that people who are talented in marketing and content, and advertising and the creative side of things are forming their own agencies,” Mr. Badminton says. “The change was already happening [pre-pandemic] on a smaller scale with small to medium-sized companies turning to gig worker platforms like Upwork, Freelancer.com and TopTal, as well as smaller consultancies and independent consultants to build out their teams.”

Businesses of all sizes are hungry for skilled remote workers wherever they can find them, including “in cheaper places, like South America, Eastern Europe and India,” Mr. Badminton says. “They are finding that they get the same quality with little management overhead and larger margins.”

Through the pandemic, there’s been a “huge uptick in companies being more open to hiring someone remotely,” says Ilya Brotzky, the chief executive officer and co-founder of VanHack, a Vancouver-based company that matches software engineering, design, and digital marketing companies with employees around the world.

“The biggest motivation is just to be able to find talent in general,” Mr. Brotzky says. “There are over 200,000 open software developer jobs in Canada and startups are struggling to compete with the Microsofts and Amazons of the world who are able to pay enormous salaries.”

Experts say one reason so many niche jobs are not being filled by local talent is because those skilled Canadians are being snapped up by companies south of the border.

Mr. Paquette counts himself lucky that he has been able to find tech talent from Ontario at a time when there’s so much competition. He says he would “definitely” look for international skilled talent again should he need to replace or add staff.

Companies hiring remote workers gear their pay to where workers live. It’s not unusual for an employee in small-town Ontario or India, for instance, to be paid less than someone in higher-cost-of-living centres such as Silicon Valley. That’s where a company like Mr. Paquette’s may have an advantage.

Mr. Brotzky says for workers hired by VanHack, such pay differences are “not a big issue … Usually they are getting a higher wage than they were earning in their home country.”

Mr. Badminton says this pay inequity “isn’t an ethical conversation; this is a business conversation. … Someone who’s a developer in India who may be earning $60,000 is literally at the top rung of potential in the tech world in India. The business decision is not to give someone the same pay as you’d give to someone in Silicon Valley.”

Ms. Angelo says she’s heard of employees who have pushed back against the practice of pay geared to location. She adds she believes “the value the role delivers is the value it delivers, regardless of geography.”