I’ve spent my entire career in the technology recruiting industry. Nearly 15 years of watching hiring trends, countless discussions with IT professionals as to what they want and like to see with employers and their culture. So many “important” perks have come and gone. From ping pong in offices, to kegerators and even giant slides instead of stairs. Employers have tried everything to stand out as a destination of choice. Full coffee bars, cereal stations, free lunch everyday – whatever a company would need to do to give them an edge in the recruiting wars, they would do it. Ironically – these fads never seemed to really help. Seldom would I talk to a candidate and they would accept a role because of the cereal bar. What is true – all these perks do help craft the totality of a company’s culture and thus in sum, create a distinction between an old school company and those that are more progressive. Fundamentally however, for the last decade – there was always one perk that made all the difference.
This article is to shed a giant spotlight on the biggest perk brewing for years in recruiting (and now retention). Something so painfully obvious for many and at the very same time, a particularly avoided conversation by the C-Suite. Let’s put it out there – Work from Home. Please note that the discussion of this topic and the data supporting our analysis is drawn from hundreds of interviews and conversations with technology workers. Its quite simply what we are seeing and hearing in the market; an account of previous trends and a dive into the current state of hiring affairs in the US.
10 years ago, I had a Fortune 500 client who had a large IT department. They always had openings for tech workers. Great culture, casual dress – the works. Across the street from their HQ – another Fortune 500 with an even larger IT group. Equal perks – jeans and t-shirts were the norm. There was one notable difference in these two companies from a recruiting perspective. One offered a very generous work from home policy. The other – 100% onsite with really no technology capabilities that would even allow their employees to login remotely. They were entirely against it. Their “culture” was such that their people had to be together, every day, onsite. Guess which of these two companies regularly wondered why their positions went unfilled, offers turned down and the like? That was a decade ago.
Fast forward to September 2020. The chaos and confusion of remotely working during COVID had begun to normalize ant’s what everyone was doing and will be doing for at least the next 6 months. Work was getting done, the markets stabilized, and the general economic outlook was becoming more positive. Hiring began to pick up and pick up fast. Remote interviewing, remote onboarding, remote training and remote work. Everyone had to do it – a level playing field of sorts. All of the sudden – this trend that had been a ‘nice to have perk’ at best, was reality for all. The conversations changed as did the recruiting and retention outlook. Employees universally (most studies claim 95-100%) stated they wanted remote permanently. This once percolating benefit trend has become the biggest demand in technology recruitment history. Imagine trying to convince a Software Developer today, that an employer has unlimited snacks and drinks but they will need to work on site. Forget the snacks and forget the cubicles. The #1 demand by technology workers is to work from home, permanently. In many cases, this is a non-starter for candidates considering a new role. If its not 100% remote, they will not entertain the opportunity. “But they have free lunch on Fridays”…click.
And the employees are winning. This has been labeled the “great resignation”. Talent resigning from in-person jobs in favor of remote. I refer to it as “the great migration” however. Because this isn’t about the near term and a few abrupt, poorly thought-out resignations. This is the landscape of the future of work, developing today. Employees now work for companies that are not in the region where the employee lives. Its impossible for them to ever return to the office because they’ve migrated from a local employer to a far-away based organization. What’s more? The number of remote job opportunities being presented to technology workers is massive. This has further empowered the workforce and created incredible demand. Employees are no longer faced with a limited number of potential employers who happen to be based in the town in which they live. They can work for anyone, anywhere. And that migration is happening month after month after month. This is creating a virtual workforce that is here to stay. And these individuals continue to tell us, once they’ve secured remote, they are not ever going back.
New, healthier habits and routines have been formed. Workers have swapped out commutes for Pelotons, rush hours for family happy hours. Personal lives today exist with so much done in a virtual environment; everything from banking, car buying, dating, and facetiming with friends. Why was the world of work so slow to catch up? It was always about productivity – That’s what they claimed. That employees needed to be in an office for the greater company good. It might be an unpopular thing to say, but productivity has risen over the last 18 months. Could it be that the office environment accounted for more distractions and less productivity? The worry that employees working from home would be watching Netflix instead of coding, maybe we had that all wrong? Maybe the meeting, before the actual meeting and the debrief meeting that always ensued, maybe that was not the bastion of productively and achievement? Perhaps the home office, custom to the individual with their personal comforts and preference of coffee blend; was this the office utopia that corporate architects could never really achieve with slides and ping pong?