Peter Tsai
Head of Technology Insights Spiceworks Ziff Davis

On today’s episode of the RecruitingDaily Podcast, William Tincup speaks to Peter from Spiceworks Ziff Davis about learning preferences and the desire for remote work.

Some Conversation Highlights:

Yeah, so as part of our research, we ask a lot of different groups about themselves and we ask them tons of different questions and then we look on the back end and try to relate some of these seemingly unrelated data points together.

But then when you layer them on top of each other, you see very clear trends that wouldn’t make too much sense off the bat. But then when you think about them you’re like, “Yeah, that really does make a lot of sense.” And in this instance, we asked everybody who took our survey, so over 600 people, if they were working fully remote or if they were hybrid or if they were working completely on site.

And then separate to that we asked them a different question as to what their learning style is. How do you prefer to absorb new information and how do you prefer to communicate that information? And we saw a very strong relationship between these two. And it’s not just where we ask people if they’re fully remote, what’s your preference? And if you’re completely on site, what’s your preference?

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Tune in for the full conversation.

Listening time: 29 minutes

 

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Announcer (00:00):

This is RecruitingDaily’s Recruiting Live podcast where we look at the strategies behind the world’s best talent acquisition teams. We talk recruiting, sourcing, and talent acquisition. Each week we take one over complicated topic and break it down so that your three year old can understand it. Make sense? Are you ready to take your game to the next level? You’re at the right spot. You’re now entering the mind of a hustler. Here’s your host, William Tincup,

 

William Tincup (00:34):

Ladies and gentlemen, this is William Tincup and you are listening to the Recruiting Daily podcast. Today we have Peter on from at Spiceworks Ziff Davis and our topic today is learning preference and the desire for remote work. So we’ll do some introductions. Peter, would you do us a favor and introduce both yourself and Spiceworks Ziff Davis?

 

Peter Tsai (00:57):

Sure. My name is Peter Tsai and I’m the head of technology insights at Spiceworks Ziff Davis, and I’ll introduce our company first. So Spiceworks Ziff Davis is a company that some of you might be familiar with because of our community, which is called Spiceworks. It’s the largest online community of IT professionals of it’s kind in the world. And it’s where IT buyers, so the people who are managing and maintaining and fixing your computers and making technology decisions, it’s where they go for advice and to connect with tech vendors. Some of the most famous tech companies out there in the world, I won’t name plug any of them, but it’s an online marketplace where these two groups meet both to do their jobs better every day.

 

William Tincup (01:47):

I love that. Yeah, go ahead.

 

Peter Tsai (01:50):

Yeah. And what I do for the company is as head of technology insights, it’s primarily a research role where I’m talking to both of these groups and trying to figure out what their plans are in the future, what technologies are hot, what best practices are each of them following, where is the industry really heading? And we publish a lot of these insights for both of these groups to consume. And that helps further our mission of helping both of them do their jobs better every day. So as part of that, I’m doing research on many topics, mostly technology focused, but we also do a lot of research on hot topics of the day, one of them being the future of remote work and in relation to what topic is today, we really asked about how remote work has affected people’s preferences and how that relates to their learning styles. And we discovered some pretty interesting insights there.

 

William Tincup (02:56):

Let’s actually jump into some of the insights. Top line, what are… I love studies and I know you do too, but I love studies because you start off with a thesis or an idea and it’s been my experience at least, you’re always blindsided with something that just came out of left field. Like, didn’t expect that. I had no idea that that was going to happen. And then there’s always some things that are kind of validating, like, “We kind of knew that.” Okay, that’s good. It’s been validated.

 

Peter Tsai (03:24):

Yeah.

 

William Tincup (03:25):

What’s your experience, first of all, what were some of the things that as you teased out the data and you looked at the results, what kind of came across and you’re like, “Huh. Okay, that’s interesting”?

 

Peter Tsai (03:37):

Yeah, so as part of our research, we ask a lot of different groups about themselves and we ask them tons of different questions and then we look on the back end and try to relate some of these seemingly unrelated data points together. But then when you layer them on top of each other, you see very clear trends that wouldn’t make too much sense off the bat. But then when you think about them you’re like, “Yeah, that really does make a lot of sense.” And in this instance, we asked everybody who took our survey, so over 600 people, if they were working fully remote or if they were hybrid or if they were working completely on site. And then separate to that we asked them a different question as to what their learning style is. How do you prefer to absorb new information and how do you prefer to communicate that information? And we saw a very strong relationship between these two. And it’s not just where we ask people if they’re fully remote, what’s your preference? And if you’re completely on site, what’s your preference?

 

William Tincup (04:51):

Right.

 

Peter Tsai (04:51):

We covered the full spectrum. So are you hybrid and working mostly remote or are you hybrid and only sometimes working remote? And the relationship was a straight line, so a very strong relationship. And what we found was that those people who are fully remote are almost twice as likely to be visual learners than those that are completely onsite. That was the biggest surprise. Other clear relationships we saw, people who worked onsite are much more likely to be social, more than twice as likely to be social learners. That’s kind of obvious. But then there’s other areas where we found that people who prefer to learn through speaking out loud, they’re much more likely to prefer being in office too. So maybe Zoom’s not cutting it for this verbal interaction. Maybe they want to be face to face. So those learning styles were very clearly correlated with where people were working, both the visual and the social aspects in addition to the linguistic learning styles, we saw a clear relationship there.

 

William Tincup (05:59):

Did you see in the data anything else demographically that kind of came out in terms not just the learning styles, but as it relates to remote work where you’re like, “Okay. So this is people that are social that want to learn this way, also tend to be, or in this study at least, tend to be millennials or millennial women, et cetera.” Was there anything that kind of came out or stuck out for you?

 

Peter Tsai (06:30):

Interesting that you asked that question. We did a separate survey about how technology relates to the way people want to communicate. So we’ve been asking the same questions about workplace communication tools.

 

William Tincup (06:41):

Right.

 

Peter Tsai (06:42):

So email, video, voice, Slack for example. And one of the threads we’ve been following for a long time is whether or not employees prefer to use email or do they prefer Slack for their primary mode of communication. And it might not be a surprise, but the younger people are, the more likely they are and prefer these newer tools such as Slack or Microsoft Teams, these real time messaging apps. And we saw that this trend has been increasing among everybody over the past several years. So maybe four or five years ago, only 30% of the audience really prefers Slack over email. But then when the pandemic hit, that slowly increased to around 40%. And now two years into the pandemic, it’s the majority of people prefer these tools over email. So email seems to be phasing its way out led by a lot of these younger respondents.

 

William Tincup (07:51):

Right.

 

Peter Tsai (07:51):

And also led by some of the more senior people as well.

 

William Tincup (07:55):

Yeah, they’re just tired of it.

 

Peter Tsai (07:58):

Well senior in the sense of that they’re the ones in charge, so they’re the executives.

 

William Tincup (08:02):

Right.

 

Peter Tsai (08:03):

And they’re kind of pushing this change as well so that was [inaudible 00:08:06].

 

William Tincup (08:06):

Oh, that’s interesting. So I noted that you went into learning styles. Did y’all notice anything around learning differences like dysgraphia or dyslexia or any of those types of things? Was there anything that you saw in the study in terms of impediments to learning?

 

Peter Tsai (08:27):

We didn’t specifically ask about those, but the conclusions that we drew because of these learning preferences and work locations was that companies and maybe HR departments should be cognizant of how their primary audiences prefer to consume information.

 

William Tincup (08:45):

Right.

 

Peter Tsai (08:46):

So if you have a primarily remote workforce, then it’s very likely that they are visual. So you want to include a lot of images and graphs and maybe not so much pair them up with others to try to learn things because they’re very unlikely to be social learners. And you probably don’t want to make them read a huge wall of text because they’re very unlikely to be linguistically readers. They probably want to see a quick video that explain things to them. And I guess the other main conclusion from our study was that these preferences are most likely due to the fact that the labor market is quite good now-

 

William Tincup (09:30):

Right.

 

Peter Tsai (09:30):

… and people can change jobs pretty easily and find a position that best suits them. And I don’t think most people consciously think of whether they’re a visual or linguistic or social learner, but they know when a position feels right to them.

 

William Tincup (09:47):

Right, right. It’s really interesting that you say that because it’s almost the definition of art. I don’t know what it is until it’s speaks to me. Right? So it’s very similar, but it’s also something that you’d think that you’d be able to self test or understand better in terms of how you like to learn at that particular moment in time. Again, that might change over time and circumstance, et cetera. But it seems like something as an individual or employee you could learn. But I love, again, the way that you phrased, this is something, especially in HR, you should research and find out how people like to consume learning so that it gets consumed.

 

Peter Tsai (10:33):

Right.

 

William Tincup (10:33):

Again, it’s in your best interest to find out how they like to learn so that you provide it in the way that they like to learn.

 

Peter Tsai (10:42):

Exactly. And then maybe if you’re working in a company that provides hybrid options, you provide both.

 

William Tincup (10:49):

Right.

 

Peter Tsai (10:49):

Maybe there’s a video, but there’s also a transcript of the video for people who would prefer to consume it that way.

 

William Tincup (10:55):

Right.

 

Peter Tsai (10:55):

And also your materials that you’re marketing with. So in HR, you’re marketing to people you want to hire or attract to your business. So if you’re trying to attract a 100% remote workforce, you probably want to use some video and some more visual elements to appeal to them. [inaudible 00:11:18].

 

William Tincup (11:18):

So let me ask you about the different… Something I’ve been reading a lot about lately in terms of soft skills and a lot of executives that want to return to office some somehow, hybrid or otherwise, is the argument of you can’t teach soft skills over Zoom. Soft skills are learned, creativity and collaboration and ideation and these things. They happen in a room. They happen in a place.

 

Peter Tsai (11:49):

Right.

 

William Tincup (11:50):

That’s all arguable of course. But I find it fascinating that it’s like, “Okay, well now we can maybe split some hairs on certain types of things that you want to learn and where that preference is.” You have any takes on that?

 

Peter Tsai (12:11):

Maybe. Yeah. So towards the end of the report that we’re referencing really said that, I mean, there’s different modes of communication and different learning styles for everyone. And true, there’s no replacement for in person.

 

William Tincup (12:26):

Right.

 

Peter Tsai (12:27):

But personally, I work in a company that allows everybody to be remote all over the world. And I say all over the world because we have people in Asia and in Europe and in America, and we are all working together pretty seamlessly. And it’s true that we’ve never met face to face, but in many ways I think it’s really effective because we are hiring for people who prefer to work in this environment and people who actually thrive in this environment. So if you’re selecting for the people that are already adept and would perform better in their roles in this sort of purely remote environment, I think companies can benefit from that. I think you need to learn social skills face to face.

 

William Tincup (13:30):

Right.

 

Peter Tsai (13:30):

But if you can hire people that already have those skills, then it might be a moot point.

 

William Tincup (13:36):

Right. Right, right, right. If that’s important to you, you hire for it. Like everything else, right? If you’re hiring a front end developer and you want them to be able to write 800 lines of code a day, well you’re probably not getting a person right out of college.

 

Peter Tsai (13:54):

Right. Exactly.

 

William Tincup (13:54):

Fair enough. Check. I want to get your take on something I read about yesterday around the Dutch House proving, making basically work from home a legal right, which I found fascinating. I mean, first of all, it’s the Netherlands and the Dutch can do some really interesting things anyhow. But it’s just the way that we think about work, I know you this, but COVID sped up a lot of things that were already there. So yes, people were working remotely before COVID, but it sped up, “On Thursday, everyone’s going to be working remotely.” Okay, so that actually was new. And there’s a bunch of other things that sped up in HR and recruiting, which is fascinating, but what do you think about like, the way we think about work, and not necessarily dictating a model, but giving people the freedom to then say, “No, if you want to work in that industry or that job, you actually have the right to work from home.”

 

Peter Tsai (15:08):

Yeah, it’s a very interesting question and it’s one I’ve thought about a little bit. And I know from working with colleagues in Europe and from some of the data that we’re seeing coming back, that Europeans really prioritize work life balance more so than a Americans.

 

William Tincup (15:26):

100%.

 

Peter Tsai (15:28):

So them proclaiming it’s a right might not be a huge surprise. And the other thing I want to talk about, you said that the pandemic really accelerated a lot of things. And in our research we say that the pandemic really catalyzed technological change and brought forward a lot of technology purchases.

 

William Tincup (15:50):

Right.

 

Peter Tsai (15:50):

Because they might have been nice to have [inaudible 00:15:54] to use technology called Zoom and Slack, but overnight they became a hundred percent essential.

 

William Tincup (15:58):

Business critical.

 

Peter Tsai (16:00):

Yeah, business critical. So you had this sudden rush to remote work and you had this sudden rush to buy laptops and webcams and headsets. Yeah. And purchasing software that enables productivity. We talked about Slack a lot. And switching to cloud-based services that can work well with employees who are working out of their homes and subsidizing high speed internet and just all of the infrastructure that needed to be there. It already existed, but now companies are truly prioritizing the technology to allow their workers to operate out of anywhere. So now the infrastructure is there. Over the last couple of years we’ve had this large, worldwide experiment that’s proven that certain people can be extremely productive working from home. So I think now that’s the baseline and then different companies or different countries even are thinking about what’s going to happen next. So yeah, it’s not entirely surprising that the Dutch government is proclaiming it to be a human right, but I think if the infrastructure is there and the proof points are there, it’s going to be interesting to see where this goes next.

 

William Tincup (17:16):

So two questions last on the study. One is, whenever I do a study, you get done with it, results are done. Obviously sending it out, getting it out in the hands of people, you get feedback, et cetera.

 

Peter Tsai (17:32):

Mm-hmm.

 

William Tincup (17:33):

But there’s always, for me at least, there’s always… I wish I would’ve asked this question. Now knowing what I know, of course I wish if I could go back and give my younger self, I wish I could give him this advice and ask this question. First of all, that could just be a me thing.

 

Peter Tsai (17:51):

Uh-huh.

 

William Tincup (17:52):

Did you have any of those types of things with this study?

 

Peter Tsai (17:56):

There’s always those-

 

William Tincup (17:58):

Okay, so it’s not me.

 

Peter Tsai (18:00):

…[inaudible 00:18:00]. Yeah. But we tend to run the same surveys or at least select interesting questions from the same surveys over and over.

 

William Tincup (18:12):

Right.

 

Peter Tsai (18:12):

So that we can track results year over year.

 

William Tincup (18:14):

Right.

 

Peter Tsai (18:15):

So for example, one of the questions we ask every year is, are you going to spend more on technology next year than you did this year? So what are your future looking plans? So we can look into the future a little bit. On this one, I think we probably want to keep asking them about how working from home is going and did it live up to their expectations? Like, “Do you still want to work fully remote?” Or, “After three years has your mind changed?” Or, “After five years have your preferences shifted at all?” So maybe that’s something we can keep asking. Because right now we’re only two years into this-

 

William Tincup (19:00):

Right.

 

Peter Tsai (19:01):

… remote work revolution. So it’s relatively young. Maybe there’s like people will get sick of it in five years. You never know [inaudible 00:19:09]. You have to keep [inaudible 00:19:10].

 

William Tincup (19:10):

It’s going to be really interesting. I mean, it’s just going to be fascinating. I joke with people all the time about if you’re a director of demand gen and marketing, and again, if you want to work in the office, fantastic. If you’ve thrived working from Vermont, fantastic. But now that genie out of the bottle that you can work from Vermont, now it gets back to an interesting question for both the employee and the employer is where do people thrive? And it’s algebra. How do we solve for where people thrive? And every individual, again, at a point in time, your circumstance could change, having children, this, that, the other, life changes. You might want to work differently. And I just think it’s going to be really fascinating. I think your studies can be fascinating longitudinally just to be able to look at how perceptions, but also the reality of remote work has changed.

(20:17)
Last question, and is for next year. Obviously you’re going to do the survey again, you, you’ll do the study again. And I just want to get your take just thesis-wise now knowing what you know. What do you think it’s going to look like next year?

 

Peter Tsai (20:36):

So as I mentioned, we’re continuously doing studies and we have data that we haven’t published yet, but I can give you a sneak preview.

 

William Tincup (20:44):

Ooh.

 

Peter Tsai (20:46):

Yeah. So I mentioned preferences are continuing to shift in favor of new technologies. So I mentioned in previous studies that email’s kind of on its way out. We’re more into these more interactive modes of messaging now. And as I mentioned as the millennials who grew up, and Gen X increasingly, they grew up in this environment where they’re digital natives, they’re going to embrace more of these technologies. So email’s going to continue to move on its way out, and that’s going to change how people learn and communicate more. So I think as these new technologies come along, preferences are shifting and as more people are going to continue to work remote, these preferences will continue to evolve as people get more accustomed to them. And who knows what comes out next after Zoom and Slack. [inaudible 00:21:46].

 

William Tincup (21:45):

I totally agree. Again, you said it wonderfully. We’re two years into this experiment, which I believe is the way you phrased it. It’s like, we don’t know what we don’t know about next week much less-

 

Peter Tsai (22:08):

Right. Right.

 

William Tincup (22:08):

… two years from now. I mean, it’s fascinating to think about and I know the people that they’re future work kind of experts, I think they love this stuff because it just shows that… They’ve been talking about some of this for 10 years, 15 years. But it’s been great. I love the work that y’all do and I love the community that you have. So thank you so much for carving out time for us.

 

Peter Tsai (22:34):

Oh no, thank you for inviting me and this is a very enjoyable conversation and hope we can talk again sometime.

 

William Tincup (22:40):

Absolutely. And thanks for everyone listening to the Recruiting Daily podcast. Until next time.

 

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Authors
William Tincup

William is the President & Editor-at-Large of RecruitingDaily. At the intersection of HR and technology, he’s a writer, speaker, advisor, consultant, investor, storyteller & teacher. He's been writing about HR and Recruiting related issues for longer than he cares to disclose. William serves on the Board of Advisors / Board of Directors for 20+ HR technology startups. William is a graduate of the University of Alabama at Birmingham with a BA in Art History. He also earned an MA in American Indian Studies from the University of Arizona and an MBA from Case Western Reserve University.


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