Siemens embraces distant working in seek for tech expertise

Siemens, Europe’s largest industrial group, is turning to Asia and the US for top tech employees, underlining how remote working schemes pioneered during the pandemic are reshaping recruitment.

“We have to go and find talent where they are,” newly installed chief executive Roland Busch told the Financial Times, adding that the €110bn company was now able to develop software for physical products from anywhere.

“I know that for Asia, many, many of these guys don’t want to come to Europe,” he added. “They say: ‘I’m sitting in a huge growth market, why would I go to Europe’.”

Siemens, which last month told investors it would transform into a “focused technology company”, has recently poached talent from the likes of Cisco and Amazon’s AWS. It is currently hiring more than 4,000 tech staff in its three core units, across 20 countries.

Finding the right people, Busch said, had become more expensive, but thanks to the use of tech such as virtual glasses, it was becoming “much easier to distribute your workforce”, widening the pool of potential applicants.

“During the pandemic we could do acceptance tests [for products like switching cabinets] remotely, we could run service remotely, guiding our customers,” he said.

A signalling customer in Germany, for example, was assisted by an engineer in Singapore, Busch said. “The world is getting smaller,” he added.

Others in Europe have adopted a similar strategy. Belgian chemicals company Solvay, which formally adopted mobile working last year, has expanded its recruitment too.

“Not only can we access a diverse pool of talent across the globe but also talent which might not have otherwise been available, as their circumstances might require them to work from home, for example,” Solvay’s chief people officer Hervé Tiberghien told the FT.

But one of Siemens’ key competitors, France’s Schneider Electric, has deliberately shunned such a move. Bruno Zerbib, chief platform and technology officer at the industrial-cum-tech company, said total flexibility over where employees were located would not be on offer any time soon.

“When you are mostly a pure software player like Twitter you are embracing this full flexibility paradigm more so than if you are building complex systems that connect hardware and software together,” he said. “We need people in person doing physical things, touching the device.”

Schneider is being more flexible about where people work and will adopt a “hybrid model”, Zerbib said, but “I don’t believe we are heading for ‘work from where you want’”.

The executive, who worked in Silicon Valley for more than 20 years, believes the bigger issue will be how companies in the world’s leading tech hub maintain their own innovation in the face of demand for greater flexibility.

“The trend is that people want to live in areas that are more affordable. Will they be OK with people moving to Arizona or Colorado?” he asked.

“Right now we don’t believe we will have people based in California working for Schneider.”

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