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Engineering leadership | Blog Post

The Growing Disconnect Between Software Engineers and Management

Linzi Nield

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If the last two years of working at home have taught us anything, it’s that remote work is a viable alternative to an office-centric workplace. Remote work boosts productivity, it offers employees new levels of autonomy, and it’s wildly popular

Despite this, a substantial share of business leaders are beginning to walk back their remote work policies, and many businesses are already asking workers to come back into the office. Office occupancy across the United States rose from 33% in August to 40% in December 2021. That percentage will likely continue to rise in the coming weeks and months. 

Businesses that envision a return to office-centric workplaces should consider this: anything short of a remote-first mindset will alienate top engineering talent and cause attrition. Software engineers now demand the flexibility and autonomy of remote work. Not meeting these expectations will force employees and candidates to look elsewhere, and businesses won’t be able to tap into the rich reserves of global engineering talent.

Against the backdrop of an ever-deepening engineer shortage, businesses can’t afford to give employees less than what they want. Business leaders must find a way to align with these new preferences. It’s the only way to come out ahead.

Software engineers overwhelmingly want remote-first benefits

As of January 2022, the vast majority of software engineers are still remote, and, by and large, they like it that way. In our annual State of Remote Engineering survey, we found that 75 percent of engineers work remotely at least 3 days a week, and about the same percentage want to stay remote most of the time.

And engineers’ wish lists of remote-centric perks don’t end with flexible schedules. Remote-centric benefits are popular as well. According to our survey, 23 percent of engineers say they value a home office stipend, 22 percent want more flexible work hours, and 11 percent would like new technology and productivity tools. Mental health benefits also ranked highly for engineers, with 26 percent of developers listing it among their top three benefits. 

The expectation gap hurts hiring and retention

Despite employees’ remote-first mindset, some companies continue to focus on office-centric benefits or hybrid offices that employees don’t want. This disconnect is rapidly creating two types of companies: those that attract top engineers and those that repel them. 

A recent poll from Citrix found that 40 percent of tech workers who cite a lack of flexibility or a lack of remote benefits as reasons are considering leaving a job. And the flip side is true too. According to the same poll, over half of engineers would accept a new job with a lower salary if it meant the ability to work from anywhere on a flexible schedule.

Companies that insist on their own workplace terms will simply lose out on top talent. Engineers today have more autonomy, enjoy higher productivity, and benefit from better work-life balance than ever before. The ongoing engineer shortage means they don’t need to settle for less, and won’t.

The expectation gap is costing companies

There’s a cost associated with an office-centric or hybrid mentality. Seventy-three percent of engineers say their company is experiencing a developer shortage – up from 64% last year – and two thirds say this gap is holding back technical development. Understaffed teams not only mean that writing code takes longer; it also tends to overwork employees and take a toll on morale, leading causes of employee turnover.

We heard time and again in our survey that businesses who insist on returning to “business as usual,” will cause frustration to their engineering talent. About a third of remote engineers say they expect to be required to come into the office within the next year, and even permanently “hybrid” offices are over-investing in office-centric perks that employees simply do not value. Office-centric perks like flashy offices, catered lunches, or reimbursement for relocation expenses are often prioritized over their remote-first counterparts.

There are direct costs associated with this office-centric approach as well. According to a recent Gartner report, 66% of organizations have delayed office reopenings due to Covid variants, and each delay can cost hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of dollars. Of course, that’s in addition to maintaining leases on office spaces that may be sitting empty. These are dollars that could be spent on strategies that actually attract and retain employees, not actively push them away. 

It’s time for employers to realize that the “new normal” is remote, and remote-centric benefits will have the largest impact on hiring and retention goals.

Employers are at a crossroads

Companies in 2022 are at a crossroads. Businesses either need to adapt to the needs of engineers or accept that they’ll lose current and future top talent to other businesses that do. Businesses need to think holistically about benefits, adapt their interview process for remote work, and ensure each engineer’s preferred working style is provided for.

By staying in tune with engineers, businesses can avoid common pitfalls and keep their most valuable assets – their employees – happy, productive, and around for the long haul.

Download The State of Remote Engineering: 2022 Edition for more insights.

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