Why distributed cultures will lead the future of startups

If the Great Migration from Silicon Valley taught us anything, it’s that the technology industry could have started this movement long ago. In fact, the industry should have discovered other pastures away from Silicon Valley years ago.

At the dawn of the Internet age, Silicon Valley made sense as a digital mecca. Researchers from leading universities, ingenious startup founders and, of course, actual silicon chip production made the Orchard of the East the perfect venue for the digital gold rush. As technology progressed, so did the idea that there could only be one place to create technology, contrasted with the zeitgeist of the era.

till 2000, nearly half North Americans had Internet access, and more than 440 million corporate and personal email accounts existed around the world. The digital revolution was connecting people in different places, allowing vast information to be shared beyond office walls. And yet, companies and investors alike consider Silicon Valley as the technology hub.

I’ve worked in technology for over 30 years and I’ve never lived in Silicon Valley. The industry should have unearthed itself as soon as possible. Companies that moved out or at least found a distributed workforce would have taken advantage of that foresight, as are Austin, Denver, Minneapolis, Chicago, Northern Virginia, Orlando and other growing technology cities today.

While any industry can benefit from a mindset shift toward distributed cultures, I think the technology sector is particularly well suited to advance life outside the Bay Area.

Borderless hiring offers limitless possibilities.

The most important advantage of a distributed model is access to talent. Yes, Silicon Valley is home to excellent universities and still attracts tech talent from every corner of the world, but other places have caught up in many ways. Virtually all technology companies turn to universities as a major recruitment pool, but some technology sectors, such as cyber security, are particularly well suited to remote work.

For example, schools such as Purdue and the University of Wisconsin pioneered cyber security as part of their engineering curriculum. Other universities in the Midwest followed suit, and schools in the South such as the University of Central Florida and Georgia Tech implemented large and influential security programs. However, many traditional technology universities were late in taking on cybersecurity as a discipline, and those now offered a more theoretical approach.

Technology companies that urge candidates to move from Madison to San Francisco or Redmond will lose out on high-end talent when people choose to live closer to home or where they go to college.

There is another boon to hiring talent, no matter where they live. Companies can create new compensation models to take into account varying costs of living and pay employees in line with their local environment. This approach to recruitment and compensation removes the self-imposed limitations to recruiting that competitors will experience as long as they remain at a headquarters.

Promote human relations to avoid isolation.

The biggest challenge for remote operations is human-centeredness. How do you make a “team” when the team hasn’t really met personally and has never been together? Calibrating the organizational psychology of a company is challenging enough when everyone is in the same office. It’s almost a completely different discipline when everyone is in different places.

My recommendation for technology companies is twofold. First, set up physical offices in cities or locations where many employees live. Try to rent from those areas when possible. Second, bring people together on occasion, whether it’s a whole company or small teams in their local offices. Encourage employees to move to other offices. It’s very easy to read an employee over video chat, once you get to experience their humor and expressions in person.

Silicon Valley is no longer the technology universe.

Silicon Valley may always be the biggest planet in the technology universe, but it will no longer be the universe itself. Technology companies that understood this and harnessed the power of the distributed workforce years ago are likely to be in a stronger position than their competition when it comes to taking advantage of today’s California exodus. The good news is that emerging leaders can still enjoy this eclectic approach to business-building. As long as they keep human interaction at the center of their vision, the world will remain their oyster.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.