Startups and the tech sector are focusing on remote work and stock options in a bid to retain talent in 2022, as ongoing COVID outbreaks slow the return of skilled migrants and competition in the space shows no sign of relenting.

A consistent narrative throughout 2021 was the crunch to the tech sector’s access to talent. It’s a global problem only set to continue this year.

In the US, Apple recently forked out $180,000 bonuses for engineers increasingly being lured to work at rivals such as Meta, the parent company of Facebook.

Late last year, reports suggested the talent war within Silicon Valley had reached a fever pitch, with newly-rebranded Meta considered a particular threat as it pivots towards the metaverse and products and platforms that support it.

Meta has hired about 100 engineers from Apple in the last few months, one report showed.

On local shores, developers said they have been offered raises worth $50,000 a year, with some employers saying job candidates were demanding salaries 50% higher than before the pandemic.

Even amid this boom for Australians with technical skills, within the rapidly growing startup and fintech spaces competition remained tight, as legacy organisations such as Telstra said they were struggling to fill as many as 1,000 new tech jobs as it looks to accelerate its digital transformation.

Culture AMP, the workplace survey startup valued at $2.05 billion, reported in November it had around 100 roles to fill, while Marketplacer said it was looking for 25 more staff.

But leaders said they were confident policies and benefits solidified during periods of lockdown last year would set them apart in the war for talent this year.

Ben Thompson, co-founder and chief executive of Employment Hero, said he had joined leaders like Canva and Atlassian in expanding its remote work policies in 2021.

The startup is hoping to continue to ride the momentum of a bumper 2021 which saw it raise $45 million for global expansion in March.

“Employment Hero adopted a remote-first model very early on in the pandemic,” Thompson said.

In the past year, the company had recruited across Australia and the world, including places like Muswellbrook and Wollongong locally, and Auckland, Singapore and Manila internationally.

“Looking outside your home town for talent, whether that’s remote and regional parts of Australia, or labour rich countries with high levels of tertiary education is a strong consideration for businesses,” Thompson said.

There has always been a shortage of tech skills talent in Australia; it has just heightened in recent times, Thompson said by way of explaining many of the benefits likely to attract talent to the company had been built in from day one.

Anthony Sochan, co-founder and partner of start-up consultancy Think & Grow, which manages recruitment for Australian tech companies and startups including Canva, Airtasker and VC firm Blackbird, said ESOPs (Employee Share Option Plan) continued to be a part of a stable of benefits offered to new recruits across startups and tech.

“In our recent Startup Salary Guide, we found 49% of all roles in startups had access to an ESOP,” Sochan said.

“We expect this trend to continue to the point where ESOP is considered a standard part of one’s salary package,” he said.

Another trend the consultancy saw emerge from lockdowns that prompted many to reevaluate their relationship with work was “an increasing focus on developing an attractive organisational culture,” Sochan said, “with the biggest focus being on connecting meaning and purpose to the day-to-day role people play in a business”.

“On this last point, we still feel there is quite a bit of work to do but I expect this to be a big focus in 2022,” Sochan said.

He said while the talent pipeline and skills development continued to be barriers to growth, investment by federal and state governments could see this change this year.

“Talent and skills development would be the biggest, and in this area, we feel the government has a critical role to play,” Sochan said.

This article originally appeared on Business Insider Australia.