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Will tech workers ever need to go back to the office?

7 Jul 2021

As companies begin to explore a possible return to the office, Hays’ James Milligan examines whether or not this will apply those working in tech.

With tens of millions of people working from their bedrooms, kitchen tables and home offices, the pandemic pushed the remote working trend to its limits.

The tech industry (as always) led the charge in this brave new world, proving that remote work is not just a feasible option – but one that brings a host of benefits to employers and employees alike.

So, as we continue to embrace the changing world of work, will the tech industry take the lead again and go fully remote?

Our homes used to be sacred spaces where we raised families, laughed, cried, relaxed – the places where we solely focused on our personal lives. Now, our professional and personal lives have collided. Our homes have had to adapt to the changes and challenges of remote work, merging into the spaces where we both run our personal lives and grow our professional careers. From launching products to devising business strategies, our homes are now also the places where we nurture and build our careers.

A lot of people are quite happy with that. In fact, many are now demanding, even assuming, flexible working options will be commonplace post-pandemic; no ifs, no buts. Flexible work is no longer a perk reserved for the lucky few, it’s a staple of today’s modern workforce, and should be accessible to everyone – pandemic or no pandemic.

So, it’s clear that remote working in tech is here to stay, in some form. But does that really mean tech professionals will never need to step foot in an office again?

Big Tech’s big claims about remote work

Over the last few months, most of the headlines have focused firmly on the benefits of remote working for employers. Remote work enthusiasts claim you can boost staff productivity, performance, engagement and retention, while also increasing your profitability.

With such widespread benefits, you’d be forgiven for thinking that every organisation is going to move in the same direction and close their offices. Multinational organisations in particular have made some bold claims about how and where they plan to allow their staff to work going forward – with some of the loudest voices coming from Big Tech.

That’s no surprise. The industry was a remote working pioneer long before the pandemic hit and, thanks to lockdowns around the world, it embraced this trend wholeheartedly. Now, many tech companies are continuing to make ambitious pledges about the future of flexible working at their organisations.

Twitter was one of the first to announce staff could work from home ‘forever’. Facebook soon followed suit, and other tech giants like Dropbox, Infosys, Salesforce, Shopify, Slack and Spotify also prioritised remote working initiatives.

But that doesn’t necessarily mean that 100pc remote work is the right move for your business. Some organisations are not set up to work remotely. Others want their staff back in the office. And not everyone wants to work from home in the first place. This is where a hybrid approach could help.

Is hybrid working more realistic for the tech industry?

Hybrid work is where staff can blend working from different locations, including their homes, offices and on-the-go locations like co-working spaces and coffee shops.

Microsoft has embraced a hybrid working set-up – its employees can combine their home and office work schedules. For many organisations, hybrid may be the preferred option. In fact, according to a Gartner survey, 82pc of leaders plan to allow staff to work remotely some of the time, not all of the time.

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But is this welcome news for tech professionals?

To answer this question, we assessed how and where organisations would like their tech staff to work going forward – and what tech professionals actually want.

Two-thirds (63pc) of tech professionals expect to continue working remotely in some form or another; the same proportion said they expected to have more opportunities to work flexibly in future, compared to less than half of professionals across all sectors.

Six out of 10 workers are willing to take a pay cut if they’re able to continue working from home, post-pandemic, and 43pc of tech workers say they think the ideal hybrid model is three days of working from home and two days in the office.

So, it’s clear that flexibility is key for today’s tech workers, but are permanent remote or hybrid work arrangements a realistic option for every tech role? After all, not everyone has the luxury of being able to work from the comfort of their own sofa.

From hardware engineers to IT technicians and QA testers, not all computer-based jobs can be done remotely, according to McKinsey. In this case, it’s important to remember that remote or hybrid work options aren’t always feasible for every tech worker, and a more personalised approach should be taken.

What benefits do techies think flexible work brings?

The work-life balance benefits of remote and hybrid working are well documented. According to HR Locker, 38pc of organisations report an improvement in organisational culture since working from home due to the pandemic.

According to our own survey on LinkedIn, 39pc of tech professionals prefer collaborating with colleagues remotely rather than in the office, and more than half (51pc) think they are more creative when working remotely, versus only 24pc who are more creative in the office.

Almost a third of tech professionals we surveyed (32pc) said that for them, the single best thing about hybrid working is it provides them with more time to spend with their families, while 24pc stated that the money they save on their commute beats all other benefits.

So, can you close your offices forever?

It’s easy to get caught up in the hype of remote working – and the benefits for your tech workforce are clear to see. But it’s important to remember that not everyone wants to work from home, and some claim the benefits are overrated.

Steve Jobs, for one, was a famous opponent of remote work, believing those accidental meet-ups and unplanned chats helped Apple employees connect and come up with great ideas.

Even those tech companies that are pro-remote still understand the value of human contact. For example, Automattic, an all-remote and global tech company, holds an annual retreat for staff to meet up and work on group projects. And at GitLab, remote staff are encouraged to schedule ‘virtual coffee breaks’.

If the recent pandemic has taught us anything, it’s the value of seeing people and making human connections. And while remote work is now a core facet of today’s tech workforces, it’s important to provide people with the opportunity to connect and meet up.

Hybrid is clearly the way forward to strike the right balance, helping people escape their bedrooms, kitchen tables and home offices – as and when they want to. If anything, while remote working is here to stay, flexibility is the future for today’s – and tomorrow’s – tech workers.

By James Milligan

James Milligan is the global head of technology at Hays. A version of this article originally appeared on the Hays Technology blog.

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