Silicon Valley and Seattle giants — Facebook, Microsoft, Apple, Twitter — were the first to send their employees home as the virus spread to the US. Now they’re among the last to return them to the office. Some of their employees might never go back.
The companies are studying what their highly-paid, highly-valued employees want, using their own technology to make remote work easier and looking to hire new workers outside of big city hubs.
Such a shift might also amount to a repudiation of the notion that creative work demands corporate campuses reminiscent of college, with free food, ping pong tables and open office plans designed to encourage unplanned interactions.
Change won’t happen quickly, though. “We want to make sure we move forward in a measured way,” said Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg during an employee town hall.
Facebook is looking five to 10 years down the line as it plans for more remote work, even when Covid-19 is no longer a threat that requires most of its employees to work from home. Since the coronavirus has upended work and office life, even companies with fewer resources and slower-moving cultures are likely to follow.
Zuckerberg said a Facebook employee survey found that about 20 per cent of workers were “extremely or very interested” in moving to full-time remote work after virus-related restrictions are lifted. Another 20 per cent were “somewhat” interested and the largest group wanted flexibility, with some remote and some in-office work. Eventually, Zuckerberg said, as many as half of Facebook’s workers could be working remotely. But he cautioned that this is years, perhaps even a decade, away.
Twitter went even further, announcing that it will allow some employees to work from home permanently, a plan CEO Jack Dorsey had hatched before the coronavirus. His other company, Square, which like Twitter is based in San Francisco, is doing the same.
But there are many challenges. Collaboration, spontaneity, face-to-face interactions that aren’t on a scheduled call — all look different when people are working alone from their homes.
There are also some jobs that can’t be done remotely.
At Microsoft, employees can work from home until October. But the company’s work-fromhome flexibility has fit with the software giant’s broader effort to capitalise on what CEO Satya Nadella calls a shift to “remote everything”.
“Every organisation will increasingly need the ability at a moment’s notice to remote everything from manufacturing to sales, to customer support,” Nadella said at the company’s Build developer conference