The battle for tech retention and WFA (working from anywhere)

The battle for tech retention and WFA (working from anywhere)

Adapting to the modern way of working and delivering business value means employers must offer their employees flexibility above and beyond what was once the norm. Here, Ian Pitt, CIO at Progress, offers his best practice advice for business leaders looking to create a culture of belonging and develop a connected workforce in the remote working landscape.

The UK’s Great Resignation has reported job moves totalling 979,000 between July and September 2021, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS) – and the trend will likely continue this year. As tech roles become more specialised and the war for talent continues to be competitive, IT leaders will need to offer more flexibility to attract and retain talent.

It’s becoming almost impossible to find engineers who will return to an office-based role. Before the pandemic, only 41% of developers worked at an office either full-time or part-time, but of the 12,000 surveyed in GitHub’s 2021 State of the Octoverse report, just 10.7% said they’d expect to go back to the office.

With tech skills powering digital businesses, hiring managers and leaders must first understand and embrace the WFA model to appreciate what workers really want. Only then will any initiatives move the needle of hiring and securing workers for the long-term.

What WFA really means

Flexibility means different things to different people. In my 30 years in tech – 15 of these personally as a mentor or manager of remote and hybrid teams – running a balanced team has always been a priority for me. The expectation that an IT person would always have to ‘walk the floor’, in our business at least, is long gone. When the rest of the business world ‘started’ adjusting to remote working two years ago, we were already there.

For me, Working From Anywhere means effective teamwork and collaboration aligned to the customer and project requirements, with some in-office work as necessary – perhaps on an external project, depending on the challenge and the task. But now everyone is mostly remote, there’s no physical need to be in front of people all the time. Most of the time in projects the heavy lifting has been done remotely and the idea of assigning physical desks in a customer’s office would generate far more complexity in terms of worker set-up than any benefit they’d realise.

There is a need for team workers to sync in terms of time zones as it can lead to personal/resourcing challenges if the time zones don’t match up. Otherwise, pretty much anything goes to pull in the right talent for the right project. You can’t beat face-to-face for really complex situations, but as long as clients understand that the goals and the getting there always matters more than ways of working, remote working is perfect.

Why workers are moving

Tech workers are moving because they can, since technology enabled tech workers to be the first movers. What we’re seeing now is companies forcing workers back into the office and team members feeling they don’t need to be in the office to be productive. This is just one step forward and two back in effective collaborative working. Workers are not feeling the same level of camaraderie in offices, which means there’s less holding them back to make them jump.

Some employers haven’t kept in touch with salaries and now the barriers to getting a job within a specific location have been removed, their traditional, ‘close to the office’ pool of talent doesn’t exist anymore since other companies are hiring those people regardless of physical location. Now you can work from the depths of Yorkshire for any organisation in the UK and get paid what would have been considered in the olden days a London weighted salary. Hiring from anywhere also allows us to create diverse teams since we’re no longer tied to the demographics of a given area and we’re agile in responding to customers’ needs due to time zones and less time lost to travel.

We’ve been remote working for some time and candidates now expect more in terms of remote work and growth opportunities in their roles, and this includes a sense of belonging.

Creating a culture of belonging

We’re seeing a range of factors which engender loyalty for our engineers and tech workers. It’s important to ensure their remote workspaces are safe, comfortable and productive. Hiring managers and digital leaders must be in tune with what today’s tech candidates are looking for in order to hire and retain their organisation’s best assets. Here’s some considerations to help create a culture of belonging in the remote working landscape.

1. Become people-engaged from the top

This is about a culture change which comes right from the top and should start by looking at your diversity and inclusion metrics. You can’t attract talent unless you are what you promise to be, so that means behaving like a business which wants to share workers’ values. A hiring process that treats people universally is key to breaking down bias, barriers and building supportive and productive teams which people want to be part of.

2. Don’t underestimate the love of remote work

Remote work is here to stay – remain flexible and offer flexibility as much as possible within the time zones and office location parameters you have. Consider working around specific office times for the right candidate. Of course, having them on the team calls is important, but if they want to do the job at 5am and it works for you and them – why not? Remote team building is not an accident, it takes a dedicated strategy, tools and leadership skills to make it work.

3. Embrace the widening talent pool

Remote working has opened up opportunities for us to collaborate with many more workers in a way we simply couldn’t before. Identifying talent and making a role fit around lifestyles is the modern way of working, which means offering flexibility within clear mutually agreed boundaries. It’s not a one-size-fits-all approach, but you’ll soon realise how working hard to embrace this talent will deliver huge value to the business.

4. Understand workers’ value

Some businesses haven’t kept up with salaries and this can be a major barrier to hiring staff at the right level, especially if you want them to return to an office; spoiler – they won’t. Consider a package of salary, stock and bonus according to their experience and value.

5. Find new channels to bring people together

There are some innovative tech tools, such as Donut and Tandem, for ad hoc, drop-in meetings which give developers that informal, flexible way of working they like and boost collaboration while allowing them to keep up on many topics.

6. Keep work interesting

Making sure workers have got exciting and interesting things to work on will keep inquisitive creative developers engaged. This might mean moving people around into new programmes from time to time to keep things fresh and give them a clearer understanding of where the wider organisation is going.

7. Offer training and personal development opportunities

Ongoing training and education will support and develop workers in their roles and provide growth opportunities. For new hires, if there are industry certifications that help them in their growth and role, for instance CISSP (Certified Information Systems Security Professional), offering these will show candidates you’re investing in them.

Developing a connected workforce

Making people feel part of a team when they’re physically disconnected has never been so important. Different things work for different teams and leaders, but learning the most you can about each individual, what motivates them and makes them tick is what will keep them in that team and keen to develop their skills. There’s no one magic solution to reel in the right skills but by treating workers universally from the moment you’re engaging with them, via inclusive-orientated job adverts, and giving them a clear understanding of where they fit within your organisational goals, you’ll be valuing your employees and creating loyalty.

It’s all well and good having a diversity and inclusion programme, but if you don’t live by these values, you will be quickly told about it. By building company values that workers can identify with and fostering a sense of belonging, you will build mutual trust that keeps workers happy.

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