As companies work to figure out the best ways to re-open their offices, Dice’s 2021 Technologist Sentiment Report shows that, over the past year, technologists have been remarkably consistent in their desire for either permanent remote work or a “hybrid” setup that combines working at home with heading into the office a few days each week.
In the second quarter of 2021, some 85 percent of technologists found the prospect of hybrid work anywhere from somewhat to extremely desirable, slightly ahead of the 80 percent who preferred full-time (100 percent) remote work to some degree. Given how these percentages have stayed relatively stable on a year-over-year basis, it’s clear that technologists will expect companies to offer a mix of hybrid and remote work going forward — which means companies will need to take a careful, flexible approach when strategizing how to re-open offices.
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Your Age Impacts How You View Remote Work
When we evaluate remote-working data by age, things get even more interesting. Ninety-four percent of younger technologists (i.e., those between 18 and 34 years old) found a hybrid workplace either somewhat, very or extremely desirable, compared to 84 percent of those aged 35 and older. In multiple studies, including a recent survey by PwC, workers who fall into that 18-to-34-year-old group have expressed a desire to work in a physical office where they can obtain the support they need to do their jobs, mentoring and career advice from older executives, and the chance to bond in-person with co-workers.
More than a quarter of technologists (26 percent) believe they’ll be allowed to work remotely full-time (i.e., five days per week) once COVID-19 restrictions permanently lift. For many, that will prove a huge benefit. Technologists between the ages of 18-34 also felt that remote work closely aligned with their personal values and was more relaxing, while those aged 45 and older prized remote work’s relative lack of distractions. Even organizations that desire an “office-centric” culture will likely have to make concessions to at least some workers who want to remain remote in some capacity, especially if they possess highly sought-after skills and experience.
For team leaders and executives, the future of the office could involve a highly customized mix of remote and in-office workers, which will require a good deal of forethought and planning to manage efficiently. A single solution is unlikely to fit all, or even most, employees’ desires; for example, nearly a fifth of technologists aged 55 and older want to work remotely just one day per week, but only 10 percent of technologists aged 18-54 said the same. Over the past year, the percentage of technologists who want to work remotely one or two days per week has increased significantly, while the number of those wanting to work in-office four or five days per week has noticeably declined.
Complexity and Cost Savings
Companies that choose to implement a permanent remote-work policy may need to craft an effective communication plan that explicitly breaks down how it will work. Dice’s data shows that 24 percent of technologists are still unsure of how many days per week they’ll work remotely, leading to potential confusion at a critical moment. In addition, many technologists still don’t believe they’ll be allowed to work remotely once the COVID-19 pandemic subsides, which could lead to morale problems unless the issue is clearly addressed (among those disbelievers, some 22 percent said they’d like to work remotely one day per week, and 23 percent would like to go all-remote).
The complexity of hybrid work means that employers will need to take a nuanced approach to the creation of the post-pandemic work environment. At Google, for example, the new emphasis is on movable walls and equipment to accommodate a fluctuating number of workers throughout the week, along with meeting pods with video screens placed at eye level so that remote workers can feel like they’re part of the in-person group. For companies of all sizes and budgets, physical offices need to be readjusted to accommodate a constant (and potentially sizable) flux of workers throughout the week, and managers will need to stay granularly focused on planning and scheduling to ensure that everything runs smoothly.
The past year has seen a growing recognition of both the shorter and longer-term benefits of remote work. Significantly more technologists in the second quarter of 2021 felt that working remotely contributed to cost savings and boosted happiness and health, versus the fourth quarter of 2020. That belief is backed up by data: studies suggest that the two-thirds of workers saving anywhere from 30 minutes to two hours in commuting time are also saving hundreds of dollars per month in associated commuting costs. In a 2021 study from LiveCareer, 38 percent of respondents noted that they were saving $100-$200 per month, 29 percent reported saving $200-$300 per month and 3 percent reported saving $500 or more!
In comparing year-over-year data, it’s clear that technologists figured out how to better manage the distractions and technical issues of remote work as time went on. If there’s a downside, however, it’s equally apparent that relationships have deteriorated between technologists and their colleagues and managers. Fifty-one percent of technologists said that remote work made it harder to develop and maintain working relationships with colleagues (up from 40 percent in the second quarter of 2020), and 34 percent claimed they were having difficulty maintaining an effective relationship with their manager (up from 22 percent in the second quarter of 2020).
Effective teams have discovered that frequent communication, informal meetings, and a few good messaging platforms can help mitigate at least some of these issues, but all these steps require managers to put them in place (and stick with them). Without a high level of support and a focus on improving in these areas, companies face the very real prospect of technologists leaving for rivals that have cracked the code on building a healthier virtual culture. Those organizations that figure out how to extend career development through a mix of remote channels, such as video conferencing and online classes, may also benefit by attracting more skilled employees and encouraging higher retention.
Companies’ traditional reluctance to embrace remote work seems to be disappearing — but many technologists, especially those in the 18-34 demographic, may still hunger for certain benefits that only in-office work can provide. If a hybrid approach is truly the future for organizations that have tech-focused employees, the next hurdle will be to adjust to the new challenges these solutions bring, and to both build a healthy culture and communicate the value and benefits to skilled technologists looking for a new professional home.
In the meantime, 58 percent of technologists are still exclusively remote, although that percentage may decline steeply as the vaccination rate rises across the country. This elevated level of remote workers suggests that companies are taking a slow-and-careful approach to bringing their workforces back into the office, which makes sense: no organization wants to go through the arduous and expensive process of shutting down workplaces again.
Dice’s first-ever Technologist Sentiment Report takes the pulse of technology professionals on key issues including job and career satisfaction, remote and flexible work, workload and work-life balance, interest in changing employers, and their outlook on the tech profession in a post-pandemic world.