Tech giants were the first to send their employees home as the coronavirus pandemic spread to the U.S. Now they’re among the last to bring them back to the office. Some of their employees might never go back.
Facebook, Microsoft, Apple, Twitter 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. It’s a potentially huge turnaround after years in which companies like Amazon and Google chased scarce tech talent by opening or expanding offices in hip urban locations such as San Francisco and New York.
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.
The result could re-imagine not just Silicon Valley but other cities as the companies expand hiring in places like Atlanta, Dallas and Denver, where Facebook plans to open new “hubs” for its new, mostly remote hires.
It’s too early to know whether remote work options will mean an exodus of highly-paid tech workers from San Francisco and Silicon Valley, where they’ve contributed to skyrocketing rents and housing prices. But Facebook’s employee survey suggests that at least some of its employees would leave the San Francisco Bay Area if given the option.
For companies that have built their empires on letting people communicate with far-flung friends and colleagues, moving toward remote work is not too hard of a sell. 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 — in Facebook’s case, the toughest content reviewing that deals with suicides, child abuse and other traumatizing material; sales; building, upgrading and maintaining data centers; lawyers who have to be in court and so on — that can’t be done remotely.
Newer employees, especially recent college grads or those with little experience and lower performers might also fall into this group, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg during an employee town hall Thursday that was broadcast live on his Facebook page. At Facebook, the CEO said employees will have to meet certain criteria to be considered for permanent remote work. This includes a level of seniority, strong performance and, naturally, being part of a team that supports remote work.
For now, workers at Facebook, Google, Twitter and elsewhere can work remotely through 2020.
At Microsoft, employees can work from home until October. But the company’s work-from-home flexibility has fit with the software giant’s broader effort to capitalize on what CEO Satya Nadella calls a shift to “remote everything.”
“Every organization will increasingly need the ability at a moment’s notice to remote everything from manufacturing to sales, to customer support,” Nadella said this week at the company’s Build developer conference.
The company’s chief technology officer, Kevin Scott, had already been working a lot from home, in part because he is based in Silicon Valley and most of the rest of the leadership team is in Redmond, Wash.
“We are all on this accelerated timeline figuring out how to work from home.... It’s learning the culture and the rhythms of interacting with your colleagues by video conference and doing your work remotely,” he said, speaking not just of Microsoft but workplaces in general. “That is getting so much better so quickly that I don’t think I’m going to be commuting nearly as frequently as I was before.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.