Tech companies led the way to remote work. What will they do post-pandemic? Will other industries follow suit?
‘We have moved beyond the theme of remote work being a temporary thing,’ an expert on workplace issues says.
Technology companies that led the charge to remote work as the coronavirus pandemic unfurled now must decide how, when and even whether they should bring long-isolated employees back to offices.
That’s been complicated by the rapid spread of the Delta variant, which scrambled the plans many tech companies had to bring back most workers by around Labor Day. Microsoft has pushed those dates back to October. Apple, Google, Facebook, Amazon and a growing list of others will wait until next year.
Given how they set the tone for remote work, tech companies’ return-to-office policies will likely have ripples across other industries, says Laura Boudreau, a Columbia University assistant economics professor who studies workplace issues who says, “We have moved beyond the theme of remote work being a temporary thing.”
The longer the pandemic has lasted, she says, the harder it’s become to tell employees to come back to the office.
Most tech jobs are tailor-made for remote work. Yet most major tech companies say their employees should be ready to work in the office two or three days a week after the pandemic is over, saying employees clustered in a physical space swap ideas and spawn innovation.
But the concept of “water-cooler innovation” might be overblown, says Christy Lake, chief people officer for business software maker Twilio.
“There is no data that supports that really happens in real life, and yet we all subscribe to it,” Lake says.
Twilio isn’t bringing most of its 6,300 employees back to its offices at least until early next year and will let most figure how often they should come in.
Nearly two-thirds of more than 200 companies responding to a July survey in the tech-centric Bay Area said they expect their workers to come in two or three days a week. Even Zoom, the videoconferencing service, says most of its employees prefer to come into the office part of the time.
Ankur Dahiya, who launched his software startup RunX last year, says remote work has helped him hire employees who otherwise might not have been candidates. The eight-worker startup rents a San Francisco office one day a week so Dahiya can meet with employees who live nearby. Other employees are in Canada, Nevada and Oregon, flying in every three months, says Dahiya, who has worked for Facebook and Twitter.
“I’ve worked in offices for the last 10 years, and I know there’s just so much time lost,” Dahiya says of the disruptions of the workplace.