09/13/2022 • 3 min read

How to Attract Employees and Use Global Talent Flows

A Harvard professor explains how to attract global, innovative thinkers in the race for talent

by Haworth, Inc.

There has been an unprecedented set of challenges and opportunities for businesses to navigate during the pandemic. These include rapid technological revolutions, shifting global product and labor markets, an aging workforce, and growing skills gaps. 

“The pandemic has only exacerbated these forces, which are shifting the ways that businesses compete with each other and engage workers,” said Harvard Business School Professor William “Bill” Kerr.

He recently joined Haworth Connect to discuss key issues for business leaders and creatives on global talent, and what to expect as the world emerges from the pandemic.

“Asking the right questions is becoming a lot more important,” Bill said. “Whether it's about global talent flows, your optimal kind of spatial layout for your company, or what technology is going to do to your workforce, just start by trying to ask the right questions and get the organization moving.”

Bill is the co-director of Harvard’s Managing the Future of Work project and the faculty chair of the Launching New Ventures program for executive education. His 2018 book, The Gift of Global Talent: How Migration Shapes Business, Economy & Society, explores the global race for talent and how countries and businesses compete for highly skilled migrants. 

Talent Migration

The big picture for most talent migration is the search for jobs and opportunities, much like dating in the marriage market. Workers are looking for something that is attractive—an employer that is going to help them build their knowledge and skills, while offering a sense of stability and a pathway to the future.

“What can you provide for them, or what assurance can you give to help them understand that this is a place where they're going to be able to grow, mature, and be more?” asked Bill, adding, “Arguably the biggest thing that we've got to make sure we have in the United States—as well as elsewhere—is some underlying faith or certainty that this is a good place to make that investment to be able to lay down roots.”

So how can employers be more attractive to global, innovative thinkers? 

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Attractive Spaces

Companies have tended to take different positions on the workplace spectrum, from requiring everyone to return to the office to maintaining a fully remote workforce—with hybrid and work from anywhere falling in between.

Bill believes the challenge will be in finding the right blend of in-person presence with other parts of the technology infrastructure. And, a lot of that is going to be about having attractive spaces that appeal to employees.

“Is there anything about the design of your physical space that is less attractive or more utilitarian? It's not something that's going to have people get over that edge of saying, ‘Yeah, let me go in today, because I would just love to be able to hang out in that part of the space. I find my creative juices are flowing. It’s got great coffee and it's got great furniture that I can work from.’ The more you have that environment set up, the more you're going to pull people in. And then, I would bet you will be able to get the innovation benefits that sit on top of it,” Bill said. 

Despite reports that the young are leaving big cities for more rural destinations, young people in general still want to be in a certain kind of key, hip, and happening area.

“I suspect the longer the pandemic goes on, and the more ingrained COVID-induced protocols get in some of our routines and processes, businesses will allow some innovation and people to become more dispersed around the country and also, perhaps, around the world," said Bill. But, in locations where people are in close proximity to leading-edge technology, innovation may be easier to develop. 

“We want a workforce that’s at its best, its most productive, its most creative. And, we have to think about what are the tradeoffs that we make,” Bill said.

More on the Gift of Global Talent

For more of Bill’s conversation about the future of global talent and how to compete for the best and brightest, watch his recorded Haworth Connect presentation.


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