The pandemic brought unprecedented change to the digital ecosystem, impacting users, companies and software engineers alike. COVID-19 accelerated ongoing digital transformation and forced many organizations to innovate rapidly. Newfound reliance on digital experiences increased demand for software programmers, exacerbating demand in a market already short on talent. In this era, work-from-home (WFH) became commonplace and most engineers moved toward full-time remote work positions.
Having had a taste of freedom from corporate settings, most developers now want remote work options in a post-pandemic future. A significant amount also desires to work 100% remotely. As a result, many companies have instituted permanent work-from-home policies. Yet, they are still grappling with the repercussions of a fully remote workforce. For example, there are differences of opinion about whether to adopt location-based salary adjustments and whether or not those remote workers should be granted unique employee benefits.
The 2021 State of Remote Engineering Report, conducted by Terminal, surveyed 1,100 software engineers in North America and explores how the pandemic has affected the remote developer workforce; showcasing both the positive and negative effects of remote work on engineers. Interestingly, the report exposes international talent’s declining interest in physically moving to the U.S. as domestic conditions worsen and remote work becomes more globally accessible. Below, we’ll explore the key takeaways from the study to posit how this new normal is influencing the productivity, morale and recruitment of software engineers in North America.
The New Normal: Remote Work
The new normal has dramatically shifted the status quo. Impressively, findings show that 86% of engineers are currently working 100% remotely. This is in stark contrast to the pre-pandemic numbers, which showed 19% working remotely 100% of the time. Many of these employees prefer to keep these new working arrangements and standards in place going forward. The study found that 80% of engineers surveyed want options for working from both home and the office, and one out of three want to work remotely 100% of the time.
There are many reasons why engineers prefer the flexibility of remote work to the traditional workplace. For one, there is no need to commute, thus saving time and energy. Engineers also cite an improved work-life balance and appreciate the increased autonomy. It also appears that many organizations handled the shift to remote work effectively—74% of engineers say their companies adapted well to remote work. Due to these positive results, 76% of engineers would be happy working fully remote 60% of the time or more.
Remote work not only benefits software engineers but could also bring productivity enhancements to help achieve business goals. Without workplace distractions, 70% of engineers surveyed reported they are more productive when working from home. Yet, this new normal isn’t without its drawbacks. As the traditional corporate firewall diminishes, CISOs struggle with a dilemma: striking an ideal balance between granting new IT freedom and locking down systems and restricting access to adopt a zero-trust mindset.
Issues With the Pandemic and Remote Work
Of course, there are some other drawbacks associated with full-time remote work. A lack of day-to-day interaction with coworkers is a challenge cited by 58% of participants in this study. For 39% of engineers, it’s harder to collaborate or feel part of a team in this new dynamic. Burnout or lack of motivation and home-based distractions can also be barriers for remote-working engineers. The loneliness of at-home work can take its toll; 38% say their mental health has gotten worse amid the pandemic.
Companies also face challenges recruiting within this new paradigm. The talent shortage remains a big issue for many companies trying to rapidly deliver new software; 64% of engineers say there is a software engineer shortage and 65% say this gap holds back technical development. Though there is a clear skills gap, most companies are not offering adequate benefits coverage to entice full-time workers. Of these benefits, 23% of engineers would like a home office stipend for utilities, internet and other expenses; 22% also want more flexible work hours and 11% desire new technology and productivity tools. And 26% of engineers also ranked support for mental health as one of their top three sought-after benefits.
The report also addresses some inefficiencies associated with hiring engineers for remote positions. For 59% of engineers surveyed, recruitment involves far too many interviews. Many of us working in IT can likely attest to being approached by LinkedIn scouts with irrelevant offers. As such, 40% of engineers say they are often interviewed by people who don’t understand the technology. Other recruitment issues include generic interviews and long delays, both of which could frustrate candidates. It appears companies must fix their hiring practices or risk losing potential talent.
The Era of Employee Choice
If anything, the State of Remote Engineering report drives home the imperative to consider full-time remote work as a viable option for prospective hirees. To fill engineering labor shortages, some U.S.-based companies have historically flown in international talent. Yet, the desire to move to work in the U.S. is declining. In fact, 39% of engineers have no interest in moving to the U.S. for a job. Engineers cite crazy politics (56%), gun violence and safety concerns (55%), racism (47%) and mishandling of the coronavirus (51%) as reasons not to move to the U.S. The idea that employees must remain in physical proximity with a company’s headquarters is changing; thus, companies will have to go where the existing talent already lives.
In addition, today, engineers have more bargaining rights than they did in the past. “The era of employee choice is here,” said Clay Kellogg, CEO, Terminal. If we’re in a seller’s market, engineers are the ones to profit. Increased bargaining rights could mean remote engineers may demand equal pay, no matter their location. The study found that, on the whole, engineers are not in favor of location-based salaries; 49% say they would only accept a location-based salary if their cost of living dropped by 20%.
In addition to offering competitive wages, teams are finding creative ways to maintain culture and avoid burnout. For example, 55% of engineers think virtual get-togethers like happy hours and social activities help stave off burnout. With all these findings in mind, companies should consider instituting a work-from-anywhere policy wherever possible and provide additional benefits and support for remote workers to attract more engineering talent.
The State of Remote Engineering surveyed over one thousand software engineers across the U.S., Canada and Latin America. For more granular details, consider viewing the full report here.