The remote work trend has upended the tech talent management game. With companies already navigating an unstable economic outlook as workers leave their jobs in record numbers, both willingly (the Great Attrition) and unwillingly (the recent spate of tech layoffs), the need to understand how remote work fits into their corporate culture and their hiring, workplace, and retention programs for tech talent is becoming an urgent matter.
To build a better awareness of what motivates tech talent in today’s world, we analyzed the preferences and motivations of tech workers in the United States on working remotely. The findings are clear: remote work is, in general, their clear overall preference, but there are substantial differences by age and gender.
Tech talent prefers working remotely to moving for a job
Tech workers, both men and women, overwhelmingly prefer to work fully remotely than to move for a new job (Exhibit 1). That holds true for both staff and independent workers (freelancers and contractors), but for independent workers, the difference in their preference for remote work versus relocation was much smaller, with 74 percent preferring to work remotely and 62 percent saying they would move for a job. In fact, independent employees rate flexible work arrangements lower than six other benefits, including more pay, better access to childcare, and predictable working hours.
Flexible work arrangements are more important to older workers
While pay is the number one preference for tech workers overall, having flexible work arrangements, such as working from home or being able to bring children to work, is a top three preference for tech workers in the two oldest cohorts (35–54 years and 55–64 years). The importance of flexible working arrangements increases with experience and age (Exhibit 2).
The youngest cohort (18–24 years) rates predictable hours and scheduling as a top three priority, while the next group (25–34 years) rates access to or better health insurance in its top three. On average, we’ve found that most 18–24-year-olds work from home only one day a week, while most 25–34-year-olds work from home two days a week. On the other hand, most 35–54-year-olds and 55–64-year-olds work from home five days per week.
This development poses an interesting challenge for companies where those with the most experience prefer working remotely while those who are younger prefer more time in the office. Companies adopting a hybrid environment will need to rethink their mentoring and coaching programs.
Women have a greater preference than men for flexible work arrangements
A significant divergence in preferences surfaces when we compare responses by gender. Female tech talent ranked flexible working arrangements as the second-most-important reason for seeking a new job, behind only increased pay or hours (Exhibit 3). For men, however, flexible work arrangements falls to number five, behind more pay and hours, better career opportunities, better health insurance, and a more convenient commute.
The other area of gender-based divergence is paid leave, which women cite as their fourth-highest priority and men as their tenth.
Considerations for hybrid work models
This data highlights shifts in the views of tech talent on remote versus on-premises work environments. However, without purposeful processes that enable sponsoring, mentoring, and knowledge sharing, hybrid work could result in lower employee satisfaction and productivity overall. Tech workers who prefer working from home, for example, may have difficulty finding a mentor.
Each company will need to assess the implications of these insights for its unique situation, but previous McKinsey research has highlighted some options worth considering:
- Rethink your processes and methods to assess circumstances in which colocation is or is not advantageous. Previously, for example, organizations could brainstorm new ideas during an in-person meeting and then refine them offline. A new process might include brainstorming through a digital channel, such as Slack, incorporating ideas from across the organization, and then refining and prioritizing through videoconferencing.
- Review the interactions, practices, and rituals that promote a company’s culture, and determine how remote options could improve on them. Mentoring, for example, could include formal, in-person sessions supplemented with more ad hoc digital support, such as quick check-ins and rapid resolution of emerging issues through videoconferencing.
- Identify roles that could be filled by fully remote workers, which might provide access to completely new talent pools but will require rethinking how to onboard and integrate varied working styles and build a sense of belonging. Occasional or regular in-person sessions, even with subsets of a team, can supplement check-ins and quick assessments to track employee happiness.
- Reevaluate office size and location, and consider adopting a less centralized office model with smaller, more distributed locations for teams—suburban campuses, for example. Having employees work in many locations could reduce real estate costs and increase resilience. The new locations will need to support hybrid meetings (videoconferencing) and collaboration (tooling).
As companies think through tech talent acquisition, working style, and retention, developing a coherent value proposition that incorporates flexible work preferences is crucial. But as the data shows, policies and protocols will need to be tailored to specific segments of the workforce.