The Memorial Day weekend is the unofficial start of summer. It’s also the possible turning point in our country’s beginning to reopen the economy.
For the last several months we’ve been told by local, state and government officials to stay at home and non-essential business must close down operations. You’ve probably noticed an emerging trend on social media of people seeking to return to some sort of normalcy.
Less-impacted states have reopened and those states hit hard by the Covid-19 pandemic are talking about easing up on some restrictions. This week Dr. Anthony Fauci said that keeping the economy closed for too long could cause ‘irreparable damage’.
Taking the lead, some well respected tech CEOs started making the tough decisions. Weighing the options, a number of top executives have elected to continue allowing their employees to work from home. As a result, we’re now watching the work-from-home trend taking off.
Jack Dorsey, the dual-CEO of both Twitter and Square, informed his employees at both companies that they can continue working from home “forever.” Mark Zuckerberg, CEO of Facebook, followed with his own announcement that his employees may work from home too. Although, there was a dark underlying warning. People who move out of San Francisco to a lower-cost location may have to take a paycut commensurate with the salary rate appropriate to their new home.
A recent Gallup poll revealed, “Now that some of these employees may be able to return to their workplace, it appears only a quarter are emotionally ready. Another quarter are reluctant to return specifically because of concerns about contracting COVID-19, while half have a personal preference for working remotely.”
Kate Lister, President of Global Workplace Analytics, said according to her firm’s study that, “Seventy-seven percent of the workforce say they want to continue to work from home, at least weekly, when the pandemic is over,” and Lister estimates that, “25-30% of the workforce will be working-from-home multiple days a week by the end of 2021.”
The consensus seems that the widespread availability and ease of use of technologies to collaborate and stay in constant contact, such as Zoom, Slack, Google Hangouts and other services, enabled people to smoothly adapt to the new working from home setup.
Employees appreciated the chance to avoid long commutes, look after their homebound children (as schools closed) and tend to family members who may have been impacted by the virus. Executives noticed the potential cost savings, as expensive long-term leases for office space may no longer be needed.
Corporate executives are cognizant that their employees enjoy the chance to work from home, they’re able to do their part in helping the environment as less people drive or take busses to and from the office, and their real estate costs will drop precipitously as less people will be working in the office.
The large online retailer Shopify, bitcoin company Coinbase, Upwork, Lambda Schools and others have also permitted their people to work from home.
Shopify Inc. is fast-growing large Canadian-based global company that offers an e-commerce platform for online stores and retail point-of-sale systems. Shopify has over one million businesses in about 175 countries with total gross merchandise volume exceeding $41.1 billion.
CEO and founder Tobi Lutke tweeted, “As of today, Shopify is a digital by default company. We will keep our offices closed until 2021 so that we can rework them for this new reality. And after that, most will permanently work remotely. Office centricity is over.” Lutke added, “Until recently, work happened in the office. We’ve always had some people remote, but they used the internet as a bridge to the office. This will reverse now. The future of the office is to act as an on-ramp to the same digital workplace that you can access from your #WFH setup.”
Critics of the work-from-home trend contend that companies will lose their identity and culture. Employees, particularly younger ones, will miss the lack of social interactions. Part of the camaraderie at work is seeing your coworkers, going out to lunch together or having a drink after work. This will be absent from the new remote environment.
Acknowledging the challenge, Lutke said in a tweet, “We haven’t figured this whole thing out. There is a lot of change ahead, but that is what we’re good at. ‘Thrive on change’ is written on our (now digital) walls for a reason.”
Hayden Brown, the CEO of Upwork, a global freelancing platform, said in a tweet, “Building on our 20 years of experience as a remote work company, we are now permanently embracing a ‘remote-first’ model,” and “Going forward, working remotely will be the default for everyone, while teams will also be able to come together – once it’s safe – for intentional collaboration and socialization. The #futureofwork is here.”
Coinbase CEO Brian Armstrong announced Wednesday that his digital currency exchange headquartered in San Francisco is “…moving to a remote-first policy in light of COVID-19, meaning most employees will have the option to work from home.” Armstrong said he’s planning for the future to look different in light of the coronavirus pandemic. “Over the last two months, I have come to believe that not only is remote work here to stay, but that it represents a huge opportunity and strategic advantage for us.”
Armstrong said that employees will still be able to work in an office, but they will now have the option to work remotely, or split their time between time working in and out of the office.
This theme has been echoed by Jack Dorsey as well. Understanding that not everyone wants to work remotely or may want to break up their weekly schedule, there will be a home office to go to if they so desire. This seems like a reasonable approach to allow for interactions between workers and building social networks and friendships within the organization.
Austen Allred, CEO of Lambda School, an online classroom that uses interactive technology to teach people the tech skills they need to launch a new career, said that the school has rolled out a permanent “work from anywhere” policy. Allred tweeted that employees are free to work from home, from an office, or from anywhere within the United States.
Google, Microsoft, Morgan Stanley, J.P. Morgan, Capital One, Zillow, Slack, Amazon, PayPal, Salesforce and other major companies have extended their work from options according to the largest human resources organization, SHRM and other sources.
Apple is one of the lone tech giants bucking this trend. The company, according to Business Insider, has requested some employees to return to work. Apple is known for its unique culture and tendency towards secrecy, which may account for the hesitancy to fully embrace remote work.
There are some other companies taking the middle ground. Aaron Levie, the CEO of Box, a cloud content management and file sharing service for businesses, wrote in a blog post, “Today, we’re excited to share that we’re taking further steps to enable a unified digital workplace, with increased work flexibility for Boxers. As a part of that, we’re announcing that all Boxers can work from anywhere until the end of the year, providing increased flexibility and peace of mind for our nearly 2,000 employees globally.”
Similar to Apple, Levie recognizes that, “At the same time, we know the power of having office hubs where in-person communities, mentorship, networking, and creativity can happen…That is why our future is a hybrid one.”
This trend is gaining momentum and is likely to become the new norm post Covid-19.