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How hybrid offices are solving tech’s talent retention problem

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(Image credit: Image Credit: Christina Morillo / Pexels)

Whilst many industries have been hit hard by the Covid-19 pandemic, the tech sector has bucked this trend and has gone from strength to strength. It has demonstrated an incredible level of resilience in 2020 and despite a turbulent year, jobs in the tech sector have continued to grow steadily. In the UK last year nearly 20,000 entrepreneurs started a new tech business, and as a result, we are seeing job vacancies within the tech industry growing. Live vacancies reached 116,000 in the first week in March 2021, which is a sharp increase from the January when just 85,000 roles were advertised. However, whilst there is no question that the tech industry is booming and job opportunities are abundant, one of tech’s biggest obstacles at the moment is retaining talent once hired. 

In a Linkedin report on talent turnover rates, the tech sector was found to have the highest turnover rate of any sector, with a rate of 13.2 percent. Frequent job changes are now the norm within the tech industry, with one study on recruitment trends for software developers finding that 32.5 percent of people have changed their job within less than a year, with only 18.3 percent of respondents being in the same position for more than four years. Staff retention is now becoming the tech industry’s biggest issue, and businesses need to start offering benefits and providing a work environment that will help stem the tide of frequent job changes and retain their top talent.

Flexible work - the must-have employee benefit  

Over the past year, remote work has become the norm as businesses across the UK shut their office doors and sent their employees to work from home. The pandemic has shown that employees no longer need to be tethered to their workplace as many have found that they are as productive, if not more productive, oftentimes working from the comfort of their own home. In a recent study by the Office of National Statistics, it was revealed that in 2020, those who worked from home to any degree worked on average more hours (32.3 on average per week) than those who never worked from home (27.7). However the same study revealed that whilst home workers worked longer hours, in 2020, those who mainly worked from home were paid 9.2 percent more on average than those who never worked from home as they were better able to continue working despite lockdown restrictions. 

Increased flexibility for working hours and locations have become the norm with almost half (44 percent) of UK full-time workers planning to work a full five-day week from home and our own research showing that 41 percent say they are likely to resign if they were forced to return to the office against their will. It is now clear that UK workers' priorities are changing. Businesses need to recognize and accommodate these changing priorities to meet the needs of their employees and create an environment conducive to retaining talent.  

A hybrid or ‘hyflex’ (a policy which allows for a hybrid work as well as flexible work policies surrounding office hours and working location) working solution is now key for businesses to retain their top talent. Big businesses are starting to recognize this. For example, BP has announced that they will be introducing a hybrid model once restrictions are lifted, with their 25,000 office-based staff being told that they will be expected to work from home at least two days a week. Big tech companies are also following suit, with Spotify, announcing that their 6,500 staff across 73 countries will not have to return to an office five days per week once the pandemic has passed. Instead, employees will choose between two work models: the in-office mix, meaning they can go into one of the offices two or three days per week, or the home mix, which will allow people to drop into the office as needed, but not be based there. Twitter has told employees they will be able to work from home indefinitely. The company also doesn’t have a set date for when it will reopen its offices and when it does reopen it will be gradual and at a 20 percent capacity to start. However, not all big tech companies are following this trend. Google recently informed employees that it is bringing forward its timetable of moving people back into the office and as of 1 September, employees wishing to work from home for more than 14 days would have to apply to do so. Employees were also expected to "live within commuting distance" of offices.

These strategies could prove dangerous, as not recognizing the value of hybrid working could be detrimental to employee retention. Even before the pandemic, this was an issue that was starting to be identified. A 2019 survey by Stack Overflow revealed 35 percent of software developers in the UK preferred working from home. It is clear that different employees have different needs and as a result, thrive in different environments. Choosing between the traditional office model and home working misses the point. 

Whilst flexibility for different employees is key, the flexibility given by home-working can also, somewhat paradoxically, lead to an increase in employee burn-out. One study has found that 40 percent of workers are experiencing burnout specifically while working during the Covid-19 pandemic. Interestingly, another study on tech companies found burnout is particularly high among employees at Google and Facebook with 79 percent of Google employees revealing they're more burned out than before lockdowns, and with 81 percent of Facebook employees saying the same. Understanding and quickly recognizing worker burnout, is essential for retaining employees, especially within the tech sector where worker burnout is more prevalent.

Understanding what works for your employees 

Remote working has boomed over the past year, but it is clearly not the solution to preventing burnout within the tech sector, and for some, has been a large contributing factor to burnout. Remote work burnout is now prevalent, as many employees may struggle to “switch off” when working from home. Burnout, the condition when employees fall into a state of emotional or mental exhaustion caused by prolonged stressful professional experiences, is signaled by feeling emotionally drained and not being able to meet the demands of your workplace. Hybrid working on the other hand provides a key solution to creating environments which work for each employee. 

Understanding what works for your company and employees is essential for retaining talent, especially within the tech sector.  Offering perks and benefits which ensure the wellbeing of each employee, no matter what their needs are, will maximise chances of employee retention. For example, companies can offer financial support for employees working from home, by offering to purchase necessary equipment so they can communicate effectively with those in the office. Implementing the right tech, such as conference cameras which allow for a more immersive experience, is essential for facilitating collaboration between employees at home and those in-office. Additionally, companies can offer travel expenses for employees deciding to commute into the office. Memberships to health & wellness apps, and enhanced medical coverage to cover virtual medical and behavioural health appointments are also another popular and effective well-being perk. Whatever perks companies decide to offer, it is vital employers listen to what their teams need and ask them how they can best support them whilst working remotely. Whether it’s investing in a new platform, providing more HR support or offering flexible hours to fit in with family life, additional offerings should be implemented in order to keep staff happy and productive in their respective working environments.

Hybrid working enables businesses to implement and create environments which ultimately fit into employee’s lives so each employee can find the right work life balance which works for them. If the tech sector wants to keep its talent, they need to recognise the importance of hybrid models and the role it plays in ensuring employees are happy within the company.

Frank Weishaupt, CEO, Owl Labs

Frank Weishaupt, CEO of Owl Labs, a collaborative tech company revolutionising how organisations of all sizes communicate. Owl Labs is a pioneer in the hybrid work movement, through its work developing the award-winning Meeting Owl Pro and its annual State of Remote Work report.