It’s safe to say that 2023 is the year that the hybrid work schedule became the official new norm in the workplace across most industries, and the tech sector is no exception. Google and Meta were among the tech firms that, after making pandemic-era promises of permanent full-time remote work, did an about-face and demanded a return to the office for a minimum of three days a week. But to say many tech employees have been reluctant to abandon their custom home offices to make the trek to the corporate campus is an understatement. The discrepancy in work location preferences between employers and employees has become a serious matter with serious consequences. Meta threatened disciplinary action for those who refused to adhere to the company’s new in-office mandate instituted after Labor Day this year. IBM gave remote workers within 50 miles of a company office less than a week’s notice to show up at the office at least three days a week.
Directives notwithstanding, there are still tech companies that offer fully remote work options, so along with the mandates, most firms are doing cartwheels to transform the workplace into a more desirable destination than the home office. Particular work areas, special chairs, and outdoor recreation are some of the features that employers are using as bait, but those amenities are also available to most people at home—and they’re available without the commute. The workplace, however, can provide something that employees can’t get at the home office, and that is community. And as it turns out, socializing with their colleagues is high on the list of workplace benefits for tech workers.
According to a new report by JLL, 62 percent of tech industry respondents cite increased social connections as a leading driver in encouraging workers to come back to the office and keep coming back for at least three days weekly. Is tech workers’ desire for social interaction at the workplace really so different from that of employees in other industries? Well, yes, it kind of is. Among all industries, less than half of respondents, 47 percent to be precise, point to increased social connections as a top draw for returning to the office, per the JLL report.
The greater craving for community among tech workers could be attributed to the nature of their work, which is usually project-based. According to statistics from the U.K.-based workplace analyst Leesman, across pure technology businesses (as well as the teams within larger businesses that are technology teams), between 6 and 12 percent of respondents typically indicate that they don’t have a routine in terms of how they work in the workplace. A tech employee may toil in the office with a team of colleagues on a particular project very intensely for two weeks and then spend the next six weeks straight working on independent endeavors at home. “In the tech industry, there are many engineers for whom their job is heads-down coding eight and a half hours a day, and the last thing they need is the acoustic disturbance of the workplace,” said Tim Oldman, founder & CEO of Leesman. “If that engineer has a space at home with all of the monitors they want, an ergonomic chair, their personal paraphernalia around them, and they can set their alarm clock for 8:00 a.m. and be at their desk by 8:30 a.m., why would they choose to set their alarm for 6:00 a.m. to be in the office for 8:30?”
With many tech employees having only sporadic needs to be in the office, it’s easy to imagine that, despite the comfort and convenience of the home office, they can feel a greater need for human interaction than workers in other industries. It appears tech employers are aware of this need to a certain extent, as JLL found that only 15 percent of the tech industry respondents don’t offer special events at the workplace, compared to 29 percent of all industries. As more employers dig into the details of which factors will make for a happy hybrid schedule, it appears that providing the opportunity for more social interaction will be key. After all, tech employees still have options.
In North America, 38 percent of JLL’s tech clients still offer employees the option to choose their work location without any in-office mandates. While a growing number of tech employers may feel compelled to require in-office attendance a few days a week, they still have to vie amongst themselves to attract and retain talent, so there’s something to be said for smoothing over remote workers’ ruffled feathers by dangling a big carrot in the form of social interaction. “I think the appeal of home in technology businesses is really strong. It’s a powerful force, and offices are going to have to respond,” Oldman said. “You’re in competition with the home, so you’ve got to step up and compete with the facility that somebody can equip themselves with at home.” And one thing that a home can’t offer is community with colleagues.