Is remote work slowing down the path to technical seniority?

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After the critical years of the pandemic, there has been a lot of backlash to companies changing their policies and demanding employees to return to the office.

One of the only few ‘positive’ things the pandemic brought us was the acceleration in adopting remote work. This situation allows people to change their residence to further neighborhoods and, more frequently, even move to another city or country.

For those far from their company headquarters, the only thought of being required to attend the office even one day per week is almost unthinkable.

The performance is the main argument against returning to the office, demonstrating that now ‘we’ are more productive than ever. However, this is true for older employees in each organization; let me elaborate on this idea.

In weKnow Inc., we started in 2009 as any other small company with a small office, growing organically every year. Still, in 2013, we transitioned to 100% remote, long before the pandemic; almost nothing had changed in our operation when the pandemic hit. So, we are not looking at switching back to an office arrangement; we are still committed to being fully remote, but being remote-first is not 100% flawless.

Last December, I visited a friend who is also a ‘competitor’ working in the same area of software development; our business models are similar but on different technologies. During this conversation, he told me something that resonated in my head; he said: “We are finally using the approach of your company, of hiring mostly Senior Devs”. Hiring only ‘senior’ devs has never been a policy or strategy in our company; we just hired people who meet our client requirements.

Continuing the conversation, we agree that what he means by Senior is people with solid field experience before moving 100% remote.

To clarify, we have had people in entry positions in the past, but, as in any company, they are not the majority.

Back to my friend’s idea, his shift relates to the fact that he had to let go of almost all junior staff hired from 2019 onwards.

He said that these less experienced developers spend years working and improving their soft skills but never improving their technical skills, or at least not at the expected pace or speed.

As expected, the problem is that those resources demand salary adjustments based on the time in the company. Still, they remain junior and can only contribute to low-hanging fruit problems, burdening the company’s budget.

Why don’t these juniors climb the ladder of seniority? Is the office the critical factor? At the office, people waste a lot of time in futile meetings, greetings, etc. But, at the same time, it is a place where people with more experience help newcomers during coffee, lunch or informal gatherings, allowing them to share how they solved a problem or situation in the past or how they recommend the juniors to tackle a challenge.

One could argue that this could happen remotely, but it is not happening. I have some theories: working remotely, we have a lot of scrum/agile meetings and a short time to do our work. So, you could argue that in a remote setup, you may be able to somewhat “enforce the mentoring”; otherwise, mentoring will not happen (BTW, this type of micromanagement is a bad idea, IMHO).

So, here are my takeaways:

#1 At weKnow, we need to work to try to find ways to enable junior talent to develop a strong career path being 100% remote; more on this in the future.

#2 It Turns out aging is not terrible; being “old” now is good if you have proven experience and have learned how to work remotely. In our case, the average age at weKnow Inc. is 37 y/o, a little high for tech companies or not; maybe this is the new normal, but who knows?

#3 This year, my son started university; talking with him about this, I recommended writing in his cover letter, “Willing to go to the office”, as a critical point to get him hired in the future. I may change my mind when he finishes his degree, but I recommend he goes to the office for at least the first three to five years of his career before trying to be fully remote.

If you experience something similar, please let me know in the comments, or even better, if you disagree.