Employers are basking in the news that they can save around $11,000 per year for each employee who works remotely only half the time. But with leadership teams ready to put these newfound savings in the bank, it comes with its own cost: employee retention

Before the pandemic hit, the tech industry had the highest turnover rate, with companies having an average employee churn rate of 13.2 percent — reaching as high as 21.7 percent for embedded software engineers. And those numbers came from people who were already familiar with working from home. Now, after the global remote shift, those teams are even more at risk of feeling disconnected because they no longer have a tribe, routine or office space to anchor themselves in a fast-paced and demanding industry. 

A survey from Workplace found that 54 percent of remote workers feel “voiceless”. Meanwhile, distance employees are more likely to burn out and experience anxiety and stress that pushes them to leave their roles.

Employers have to reinvest their remote savings into new hires who automatically have a strong bridge between themselves and company culture. Without securing this connection, tech talent could be quick to walk out the door. 

These are the steps we’ve been taking at Index to overcome retention issues and put our dollars toward building happier, loyal employees from day one.

How to Retain Your Tech Talent

  1. Establish an ongoing process of care.
  2. Offer perks based on what employees (don’t) say they want.
  3. Foster a culture of learning.


Establish an Ongoing Process of Care

First impressions matter, and studies have shown that effective onboarding can improve employee retention by 82 percent. However, onboarding isn’t a one-off investment; it has to be the introduction to an ongoing process of care for remote employees. 

At the earliest point of contact with candidates, you should assess how well they work remotely — meaning they won’t lose motivation and quit after a few months. Ask questions:

  • Are they introverted or extroverted?

  • Where do they feel most productive? 

  • What is their home setup like? 

The majority of engineers are familiar with remote processes, but that doesn’t automatically make them a long-term fit. Show a genuine interest in the projects and hobbies listed on applicants’ resumes. Remember that some nationalities are more humble in how they talk about their interests, so you’ll have to push them for more information. The idea is to understand if they commit themselves to activities and what about those activities keeps them involved.

At Index, we ask our new engineers to complete a set of questions before they have biweekly meetings with their managers. We home in on what parts of their job are most challenging and rewarding, what circumstances hinder or help their performance and where they want more training, education or experience. By having this dialogue on a consistent basis from the very beginning of their time with us, they know they can be honest about what they need, when they need it.

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Offer Perks Based on What Employees (Don’t) Say They Want

When done right, perks can be a powerful way to keep tech talent engaged. In fact, companies that rate highly on compensation and benefits have seen 56 percent lower attrition. The trick, though, is making sure that perks are intentionally linked to what employees say they want, rather than simply throwing money or gifts at people. The best managers will also be emotionally intelligent enough to recognize what employees aren’t actively asking for and deliver it to them anyway.

Before reaching that level of sensitivity, collect information from employees about their routines and responsibilities and curate your perks around that. You can get this kind of detail from check-ins and surveys. For example, if you know that an engineer has recently moved into a house, you might offer them a discount on house insurance.

We had a developer at Index who needed to take care of his wife after an accident and another developer who was preparing for an international competition in mathematics and algorithms. For both people, we devised a flexible working plan where they could take time off as needed during a set period, which not only gave them space to deal with their life events but also meant they didn’t hesitate to return to the company when they finished. 

In the remote setting, a team retreat is arguably one of the most welcome perks, where everyone travels to one place to meet. The retreat can be for a conference, team building or simply a vacation, so long as it brings people together where they can interact and share an experience. We’ve hosted kayaking, hiking and skiing trips for our developers. We’ve also played  the game “Operation Nature,” where someone in the team specifies a scene (e.g. climbing a hill or swimming in a lake), and employees have to take and share a photo of them doing so in their location.

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Foster a Culture of Learning

A crucial component of job satisfaction is personal and professional development. A staggering 82.39 percent of employees say that a lack of progression would influence their decision to leave a job, so organizations must provide the time and resources to help teams grow. At a bare minimum, companies should be conducting monthly appraisals, rating employee satisfaction and taking stock of employee goals.

Business leaders need to provide access to online courses from sites like Coursera, Udemy and EdX and clearly communicate that employees have the freedom to study any theme. (It doesn’t have to be related to their role at the company.) Teams should also be allowed to take classes during work hours — in addition to being invited to internal workshops, hackathon competitions and receiving a budget for materials. For us, we have a $500 allowance for employees to cover books, coaching sessions and travel expenses for educational events.

Consciously create a culture of learning despite people not being in the same room. Encourage engineers to shadow colleagues in different positions, to attend meetings outside of their projects and to sit in on more senior discussions. This exposure should work in conjunction with opportunities for employees to move laterally through the company or to be promoted in their current department.

As opposed to targeting conventional spaces like LinkedIn and Glassdoor for recruits, hire from tech boot camps and local coding schools. People who are fresh out of these kinds of educational spaces can add a lot of energy to teams, and an alternative, innovative approach to workflows. Not to mention: Hiring outside of the box shows that your company is progressive and could increase your number of employee referrals. That could prove worthwhile, considering that 45 percent of employees hired from referrals stay in their role for more than four years


The Takeaway

Retention will always be a sticking point for a business’s success, but the remote shift doesn’t have to grind teams to a complete halt. 

Especially when armed with sizable savings, companies have the means to really invest in employees and form teams that want to remain with the company for the foreseeable future. 

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