If you’re a reader of our Tampa Bay Tech Leaders interview series, you’ve probably seen that one of the questions we ask everyone is, “What can we do to increase talent retention?” I ask this question for a specific reason. One of the things we’ve seen, as a staffing agency in Tampa, is people leaving local companies for fully-remote work. I don’t blame them one bit. Can you imagine being able to make Silicon Valley or New York money with a Tampa cost of living? That’s pretty much the jackpot. My partner is one such people, and I’ll have his input at the bottom of the article. I strongly recommend employers don’t skip over that section, as it’s good feedback about what Tampa could do to improve talent retention.
Tampa lags behind when it comes to salary. We’re a bit below national average, and while some companies try very hard to pay market rates, smaller companies just can’t compete. We’ve actually spoken to CEOs who moved their companies to Tampa because salaries were so much lower. But, we’re not here to talk about money. We’re here to talk about remote work, and how we can at least try to compete with other tech hubs.
What’s with the remote work bias?
Tampa companies, for reasons unbeknownst to me, seem to have a preconceived bias against telecommuting. There’s still an older-school mentality where, as Marvin Scaff put it in our interview, it’s about seeing “butts in chairs.”
However, there are a lot of jobs in tech that don’t require office attendance. My partner is a senior DevOps engineer, and he has no problem doing all of his work from home – or anywhere, for that matter. As long as he has an internet connection, he’s good to go. Same goes for just about any developer. As long as they are empowered with good communication tools like Zoom and Slack, they don’t need to have a butt in your seat.
More importantly, it’s what our talent demands.
Company loyalty is a thing of the past. Good tech employees have a buffet of options in front of them – and if you can’t give them a salary that will make them want to stay, give them the benefits. That includes remote work.
People want to work remote for a reason.
“I come from environments where people constantly approached my desk out of the blue, and chatted in an open office with no respect to those around them,” said Daryn St. Pierre, who worked with prominent names in the video game industry. “Being able to control my environment was really helpful for productivity. I could get on video chat or calls whenever I wanted without having to relocate somewhere. I was also able to control my hours, and play music as loud as I wanted without being tethered to headphones. There were a lot of little surface-level pluses that I found helpful. Plus, there’s the whole wear-whatever-the-hell-you-want aspect.”
Kyle Tilman had similar feedback on his experience. “I LOVE working remotely. The biggest productivity booster is being able to sustain long periods ‘in the zone.’ No one can walk over to my desk to ask me a question and interrupt my flow.”
Seeing the pattern? Remote work allows employees to remain in a state of flow and bypass distractions. Down with interruptions!
Time is a big one. Tampa is the perfect example – and I am unfortunately the perfect example. I live in Clearwater, and Full Stack Talent is in beautiful Ybor. That makes for a 35 minute commute in the morning, and usually over an hour in the evening. If you think about it, I lose about 390 hours per year driving, which means 16.25 days of my life are consumed every year.
The worst part is, I work 8:30am to 4:30pm, in an effort to alleviate some of the rush hour traffic. I can’t even imagine how much more time I’d lose if I left at 5, like most people.
Thankfully, I have a pretty cool boss. At my yearly review, I was able to negotiate one day remote per week. Truthfully, this remote day has been a lifesaver. Considering that I drive 22 miles each way, I’m putting a lot of wear on my car and filling up my tank every week. With this remote day, I’m saving a bunch of money and future problems with my vehicle. I also get to reclaim an hour and a half on that day. That’s not insignificant.
Better Work-Life Balance
Many remote workers have found that work-life balance comes much more easily. Since workers are so much more productive during the day, it’s easier to put work down when their shift is over (there is a flipside for certain personalities, and I’m addressing that in the downsides section). Not only that, but the flexibility of being able to shift hours as needed is a huge boon. Professionals are busy people and need accommodation for doctor’s appointments, family emergencies, etc.
“The biggest upside is the flexibility,” said Jim DeVille of Malwarebytes. “I’ve worked from my grandparents’ house in Louisiana, worked from home, worked from the road, etc. I’ve had days where I leave for a long lunch and then work until 8:00pm as a trade-off. It’s also been great for me, as a parent, to be able to have more time with my kids.”
In tech, stress comes with the territory. Something is always on fire, deadlines are tight, and afterhours work is expected. I surveyed some remote workers in Tampa, and many stated that one of the benefits of remote work is: less stress.
A respondent, who prefers to stay anonymous, wrote in: “I have noticed that when I do get to work from home, I either get more done than I would have at the office, or I get the same amount done but with much lower stress levels. There’s no one looking over my shoulder. If I want to pace to think through an issue, or if I have music on, or if I want twitch open in the background while I work, I don’t have to worry about it at home. Working in a babysitting environment is draining.”
“I’ve been remote almost 3 years now,” said Andrew Schreiber, “and I have much better work-life balance. My stress levels have dropped. Managers I’ve worked with have been super happy with productivity (but they were before, too).”
Because I’m not biased, here are the downsides…
They are few, but they exist – and I’d be doing everyone a disservice if I didn’t show both sides of the equation.
Connecting with your coworkers
The resounding downside with remote work is the feeling of isolation. You don’t get the same feeling of community when you work away from the office.
“I would say the biggest downside is missing out on community and office-only meetings and conversations,” said Tilman. “In my last company, I was one of 2 remote people and 20 other engineers were on-site. I missed out on opportunities to work on big projects and have discussions about important issues because they happened in the office.”
However, there are solutions to this, as Andrew Schreiber explained. “I feel less connected to my coworkers by not seeing them all the time. We work around this by knowing that part of our meetings will be the sort of chitchat that normally happens in an office.”
If fully-remote companies can make it happen, your company can too. In fact, many fully-remote companies fly all their employees in for a yearly retreat. They’ll also have daily video meetings where employees can connect a bit before work talk begins.
It can be hard to put work down.
Funnily enough, there’s a reverse to the ‘more work-life balance’ remote workers out there. Some telecommuters find that since work is right there, it gets hard to put the laptop down at 5pm. If you think about a bit of code you want to change, you can just grab the laptop and work on it immediately. That can lead to burnout.
My partner has advice when it comes to that: stick to working on passion projects afterhours. By that, he means projects you’re starting by your own initiative – projects you wouldn’t work on during the 40 hour workweek. Using this method, he gets to present his boss with an already-finished and polished project, and he doesn’t burn out because he loves working on those.
Local employers should really read this.
As mentioned above, my partner lives here in Tampa, but he works fully remote for a company in New York. I asked him a few questions that I think employers need to hear the answers to.
What would it take for employers to be able to reel talent like you back into working locally?
Marcus: They’d have to pay more than the Tampa average. That’s a start.
A lot of local companies don’t offer the flexibility of working remote. There’s a stigma that remote employees are lazy and can’t be trusted. But, if you’re a top tech company, you need to trust your employees. There are always ways to remediate employees taking advantage of a work from home policy. I even think it’s ok to take it away, if need be. But you should at least try it first.
If there was a company that offered near-market salaries and partial remote, would that be enough to draw you back in? Would it make a big difference for you to be able to at least work a couple days remote per week?
Marcus: It would really depend. When you’re remote, you get to
/unsubscribe to a lot of office politics. It would have to be a really cool culture and have some benefits. Why should I come into the office? Are there better collaboration tools? Good coffee?
Do small benefits like that really make a difference to you? Free coffee, ping pong tables, and such.
Marcus: It does, but it all falls under the company’s culture. The culture of givingness from the leadership to the engineers, that type of thing. You can’t be too serious. There has to be some fun involved.
As far as downsides of working remote, people reported feeling isolated, and having trouble communicating effectively. What are your thoughts on that?
Marcus: Communicating remotely is, in actuality, pretty easy. You have one big communication vector that you need to address: instant messaging through something like Zoom, Slack, or Hipchat. In the office, you would get walk-ups – especially if you’re in the realm of DevOps or Operations. It’s so easy for someone to come ask you for something. In one sense, by working remotely, you get to abstract yourself just enough that you can prioritize things a bit better. As long as you have the right communication tools in place, like Zoom and Slack, it’s actually great.
To remote, or not to remote?
Tech companies in Tampa should absolutely allow employees to work remotely. The benefits far outweigh the downsides. In fact, not everyone is affected by the downsides as much as others. As long as the company does it right and offers good communication and collaboration tools, you’re good to go.
Do it. Your workforce will thank you.