People-First: Small Tech Companies Can Win the Hiring War
By Megan Young | 4/11/2023
Historical Challenges and Overview
If you are a small tech company and you’ve survived the critical 5-year mark, congratulations for hanging in there when you probably thought you might sink more times than you can recall. One thing you’ve probably realized is that hiring strong tech talent isn’t so easy, particularly when you’re up against large corporations that boast big salaries, robust benefits packages, and the perceived stability that comes with established brands.
We’re going to talk about how small businesses can have an edge in the hiring market against the larger competition by cultivating a people-first workplace culture. We will also discuss specific things you can do to ensure you are prioritizing critical areas of the business that need attention. Finally, we will cover the shift in remote work requirements post-pandemic, and the common struggles/benefits many teams experience. Despite being a small business, you can be nimble and efficient, and I hope to inspire you to stand out!
Adopt a People-First Mindset
We all think we know what people want, but how can we be so certain if we don’t ask? As an agency recruiter in my former job life and the primary recruiting arm of Gearbox Solutions for the last 9 years, I can attest that this is something that is both learned through experience and talking with tech talent from all walks of life. Everyone is driven by something different, and teams can be very complex, so understanding people on an individual basis will help inform you about the things your staff needs from you, what you’re doing well, and plan for the future.
In essence, a people-first workplace culture prioritizes the needs of employees and creates a work environment that values work-life balance and flexibility, while fostering innovation. You should also think about how this can extend to your client relationships, to ensure you always have an open line of communication. I’ll share with you some of the things I've learned over the years and perhaps this will help your business move the needle, even if it means getting 1% better.
Key Elements of a People-First Culture
One of the key elements of a people-first culture is trust. Employees need to feel trusted and valued to perform at their best, which sets the precedent for mutual respect and accountability. Life happens and people don’t want to feel like they have to choose between their employer and going to watch their kids play an important ballgame or deal with a private family matter. People who feel trusted are more likely to put in the work that is expected, while also feeling like they have balance in their lives.
Have leaders that advocate for everyone. Leaders play an essential role in creating a people-first culture. Leaders who advocate for everyone create a culture of inclusivity, where everyone feels supported. Never dismiss anyone’s opinion - teammates are more inclined to share their perspectives and ideas if they feel safe doing so. When companies listen to their people they avoid making assumptions about the things that increase job satisfaction and can actually make informed decisions about changes that will be well received and appreciated.
Take action on things that need your attention, otherwise, nothing actually changes. A people-first workplace values actions over words. Leaders need to take action to address issues that need attention to create a positive work environment. When your actions don’t align with the things you say, you lose credibility with those who count on you to guide the business forward. Most of us have heard, employees don’t usually leave because they dislike the whole company, they leave because of bad leadership.
Don’t underestimate constructive feedback, both positive and negative, followed by equitable compensation. Believe it or not, people want to know where they stand with their employers - sometimes it’s not all positive, but without a discussion, it’s not very reasonable to think that things will improve. Set aside time to do one on one reviews; let your developers know how their Laravel or Vue.js code is looking, and give praise when they’ve knocked it out of the park! Communicate, communicate, communicate... If you always leave people guessing and don’t take the time to course correct, this can cause anxiety and lead to burnout, and good people may start dwindling. Be transparent in all your relationships; this includes staff, new candidates, and client partnerships you are considering.
Know the 5-year plans for each of your team members. What kinds of conferences, certifications, or other tools can you offer to help support them in their growth with your company? When you understand your team’s future plans, you are including them in your plans. Make inclusivity one of your highest priorities!
Companies Want Employees Back in the Office
Consider how you can start making small changes within your own teams to be a people-first workplace. If you are a tech business still standing after the Covid-19 pandemic you may have also recognized some of the challenges that came with the surge in people working remotely. While remote work was not a new concept to some in early 2020, it became the new normal for many who had never experienced it before since many offices were forced to close.
Now in 2023, many large businesses are having to pry their staff from their homes and convince them of the importance of being back in the office. In fact, some employers are making it a requirement to be back in the office every day; this is a huge deal for the tech world. Many people have adapted to a more flexible work-life balance over the last 3 years, and are now having to consider shifting back to hours of commuting and losing time with their families. This has caused a major shift in priorities for families, as giving up all the benefits of remote work now seems very unappealing. This is a significant advantage for you if you are a small tech company.
Common Struggles of Remote Work
While remote work has many advantages, it also has some common struggles. One of the biggest challenges of remote work is the feeling of isolation, especially if you have a pretty social crew. Remote workers can feel disconnected from their colleagues and may struggle to build relationships. It can also be challenging to stay motivated and focused when working from home. The lack of a clear boundary between work and home life can also lead to burnout and fatigue.
There are things you can do to remedy these problems such as setting up time for team lunches if you live in a central area, virtual happy hours, daily team check-in calls, company virtual town hall meetings, team retreats, etc. You can also utilize tools such as Zoom, Google Meet, and Slack, among others, to help remove the siloed feeling and ensure your teammates feel connected.
Benefits of Remote Work
While remote work might take getting used to, once people go through the initial adjustment period they start to see the many benefits it offers. One of the key benefits of working remotely is that people have the flexibility to work from wherever they feel most comfortable, whether at a coffee shop, their home office, or while traveling. The increased scheduling flexibility means that if an unforeseen event arises, it’s much easier to manage than if you had to first deal with a long commute. Another significant advantage is the savings at the pump, especially in areas with extreme traffic patterns like we experience here in Atlanta. Additionally, remote work can lead to increased productivity and creativity by providing a more relaxed work environment and reducing the number of distractions found in an office environment, so people can make better use of their time.
In conclusion, small tech businesses can have an edge in the hiring market against the larger competition when they focus on the things their team members value. A people-first culture is built on trust, advocacy, inclusivity, action, communication, and equitable compensation, and it involves understanding each team member's individual goals and growth plans. The shift towards remote work during the pandemic has highlighted the importance of flexibility and work-life balance and small businesses can continue to offer employees this highly favored option. When you put your focus on your people, more of the people you seek will also seek you out.