Tech Leaders Approaches to Remote Working

Remote working during the pandemic

Ease and clarity of collaboration

Day to day remote working operates smoothly for most regular tasks. Challenges have presented themselves involving annual tasks. This is because there is less familiarity with what needs doing. Collaboration is also required. Remote collaboration requires more organisation. In the office, informal interactions are adequate for those seeking support.

The limitations of Teams/Zoom have presented unexpected benefits in group meetings. In physical meetings, people will often talk over each other and simultaneous conversations occur. Virtual environments remove these issue because only one person can talk at a time.

This benefits clarity and focus.

Unassertive people will likely be hesitant to speak out during a virtual meeting too. Their personalities need actively "bringing out" on virtual platforms.

Sick days down - Mental health issues up

Mental health issues are rising after a year of remote working. Even as the number of days lost due to illness has reduced. Companies are openly communicating and addressing mental health risks. Some have established “mental health ambassadors” to provide ongoing support.

People spending too much time alone and indoors doesn’t help. The lack of opportunities to strike up informal conversations with colleagues is clear. Employees also miss their commutes, which help to break up the working day.

Many home environments are different. Older workers tend to have adequate space at home where they can work productively. But younger workers may live in shared, rented houses. They typically work in their bedrooms. These are inadequate spaces for a proper homeworking set up. Working in communal areas of the house can also impact concentration.

Home-schooling and other demands within the home are affecting people in all businesses. Companies acknowledge these challenges and are flexible about the hours people can work. Employees without families, in some instances, are taking on extra workloads to support their colleagues.

Benefits and limitations of training

Training keeps people feeling valued and loyal. While courses and annual conferences are powerful motivators, virtual events and forums lack the special atmosphere created when people meet in a physical environment. Often, introspective IT staff will only network with other IT professionals at conferences. So, lockdown has had a negative impact here.

Avoiding the distractions of emails, as well as other attempts at multi-tasking whilst on virtual calls, is a concern. Some companies have provided awareness training sessions to address this. Turning off email notifications on mobile phones and Teams/Zoom apps help individuals gain some control of their time.

Flexibility of home working is enjoyed

Remote working has become normal. Despite emerging questions around health, people are enjoying the flexibility. Employers view this as an opportunity to offer more flexibility to staff and improve talent attraction and retention. This extends to offering more flexible working patterns rather than simply the chance to work from home during standard office hours. Companies want to measure output rather than the number of hours worked.

Some people are anxious about returning to the office. Many employees do not expect to have work five days a week in the office in the future. Remote working is already a key factor in recruitment and retention, with candidates making remote working a key priority when deciding to change jobs.

Companies report some interest from employees in a return to office-based working. Yet, it is felt that this is due to the lack of social interaction outside of work since the start of lockdown. As lockdown is eased, opportunities to socialise will increase and staff may not feel as enthusiastic about returning to the office.

What's apparent is that most companies, big and small, private sector and public, are experiencing many of the same issues. Deciding on the future of remote versus office-based working is likely to involve companies experimenting with different options this year. Employers are concerned that staff will be tempted to join competitors offering greater flexibility.

Life post lockdown

The expectations of remote working

People desire to continue working remotely at least some of the time. A mixture of office-based and home working is expected to become the new normal.

Candidates are actively seeking opportunities for flexible working when job hunting. Companies that fail to communicate expectations of the future with staff may cause employees to assume the worst. Those people are more likely to start looking for flexible working arrangements elsewhere.

Junior Developers may struggle to adapt to an office environment if their experience of employment, to date, has been working remotely. Those people who started their careers during this unprecedented time have no conception of what ordinary working life is like.

Companies are talking about adopting a hybrid approach. This means offering employees the chance to choose between a mixture of office-based and remote working, depending on their personal preference. One concern is whether those who choose to work mainly from home will put themselves at a disadvantage to office-based colleagues. Proximity, it is assumed, facilitates collaboration and affords people the chance to influence others.

Smooth onboarding

Many companies have had to recruit staff during the pandemic. They acknowledged the difficulty in creating an adequate onboarding experience. It is not easy to replicate a physical ‘meet and greet’ introduction or allow new people to absorb the company culture, when working remotely.

Key lessons learnt during the past year include:

Retention and wage pressures

Employers from outside the North of England are targeting local candidates to benefit from the North’s skilled labour at lower wages. Likewise, Northern workers are attracted by comparatively higher Southern salaries, without the requirement to relocate.

As a result, IT salaries (especially in the North East of England) are increasing – driven by London firms seeking Northern talent. £10k- £15k increases are being offered to (and accepted by) Developers. We see this impact on salaries as leading to a longer-term levelling out across the UK.

Remote working makes it harder for employers to identify employees who may be a "flight risk." Some companies are asking staff outright how satisfied they are and what their plans are for the future.

Generally, retention has been higher during the pandemic/post-Brexit, because of job uncertainty. As the UK unlocks, however, this may change. It has been noted by some employers that the more self-learning opportunities they give their staff, the more likely they are to stay.

Gender diversity in I.T.

IT is mostly populated by males who apply for roles. Employers find that less than 5% of applications from Developers are from female/non-binary people. Companies have an appetite to change this to increase diversity, but need to look not just at the recruitment process but how they promote technology careers to girls at an earlier age. Plus in offering opportunities to change career by moving into technology later in life .   

Slowly there are more women coming into the industry, and even more slowly there are more reaching senior management roles. This re-enforces the need for men to be better champions and better allies for women (and other diversity groups) in technology and not to leave it just to the women.

Businesses wishing to attract non-male applicants should consider the wording used on job adverts. This is to ensure they are not written by males for males. Some employers produce different versions of adverts for the same roles and rotate them.

Companies need to be aware of both conscious and unconscious bias and the barriers these can include. These go beyond gender to race, ethnicity, assumptions about people with disabilities or who are neurodiverse. We know that many companies are seeking ways to attract people from more diverse backgrounds including staff with Asperger’s, Autism, etc.  However, getting the advert right but the culture and language at interview or when new diverse staff join wrong, is not good enough. The language and culture needs to support the women, BAME and disabled staff at work, not just in finding work.