Our society has gone through a dramatic change that will forever transform the nature of remote work. This shift has changed the options available to senior technologists. It has doubled the importance of cultivating technology communities in your organization as a way to grow and retain technical leaders.
In 1973, Harvard Business Review published a famous article on “Why employees stay”, where they outlined two major factors for retention - environmental pressure and job satisfaction. While they are both essential to retention, I’ll just focus on environmental pressure and how it relates to building a supportive technology community.
When I lived in Chicago, we lived in a busy area near the University of Chicago and we only had street parking. Chicago has horrible winters with several feet of snow being pretty common. When everyone is always parked in the street, the snow plows can’t really get close to the line of cars, and you end up building up a snow bank that separates the parked cars from the lanes of traffic. Getting out of a spot behind the bank of snow was a bit of an art. You would rock back and forth in the spot and build up just enough momentum to roll up the bank, then drop back down into the street. If you didn’t do it just right, you would slip back into your parking space, bump into an adjacent car, or get stuck half-way out.
Those snow banks are like the environmental pressure that the article talks about. HBR defined Environmental Pressures inside the company as “work rules, facilities, coffee breaks, benefits, wages, and the like” and outside as “outside job opportunities, community relations, financial obligations, family ties, and such other factors.”
Over the past year, the way we think about these external pressures has shifted substantially. The idea of remote work has moved from an aspiration to a reality, not just for our projects, but for the industry as a whole. While the weekly stress of travel has paused as a substantial problem for our consultants, there is still uncertainty about what comes next when the vaccine is more uniformly distributed and our clients start opening their doors again. Will remote friendly work become the norm? Will our bigger city offices be adequately served by public transit as people are less comfortable with crowded trains? Will remote friendly work look more like today, where everyone is working from their own home, sprinkled across the country with only the occasional in person meeting?
The snow banks that used to keep technology leaders in their spaces are melting. So in a world where it is easier than ever to move, how do you retain the best people? You have to build up new and better environmental pressure that is adjusted for the reality that we are growing into. Come back for part 2, where I will explore how creating a tech community in your organization helps people know that they are not alone and feel like they are part of something greater.
Disclaimer: The statements and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the positions of Thoughtworks.