Tech companies are leading the way on making the transition to remote work brought about by the coronavirus pandemic permanent.
Mark ZuckerbergMark ZuckerbergHillicon Valley — States probe the tech giants Executives personally signed off on Facebook-Google ad collusion plot, states claim States push forward with Facebook antitrust case, reportedly probe VR unit MORE this week announced that up to half of Facebook’s employees could be working remotely in five to 10 years, while Jack Dorsey went a step farther, giving Twitter and Square employees the option to work from home indefinitely.
While offices are unlikely to disappear from Silicon Valley all together, a significant shift toward remote working seems likely.
Tech companies were some of the first to send workers home in March as the novel coronavirus spread on the West Coast and now they’re moving slower than most to bring employees back to offices.
Google has told all employees that can do their jobs remotely to plan on doing so until 2021, while Microsoft has made working from home optional until October.
Amazon’s white-collar employees will also not be expected to return to office until October, although warehouse and fulfillment facility staff have continued working throughout the pandemic and have been critical of the online retail giant for providing insufficient protections.
Apple has bucked the trend among major tech companies, reportedly asking some employees to return to offices. The Hill has reached out to the company for more details on the staggered return.
Facebook previously had extended the option for the vast majority of its employees to work remotely through the end of the year. But on Thursday, Zuckerberg went a step further in an internal employee town hall, saying that tens of thousands of employees can permanently work from home.
The company is going to aggressively scale up remote hiring and build out hiring hubs in Atlanta, Dallas and Denver, the CEO said.
As Facebook reopens buildings over the next several months, it plans to operate at around 25 percent capacity.
Smaller companies have followed moves by Twitter and other large tech companies.
Shopify, a Canadian e-commerce giant, will allow all 5,000 of its employees to work from home even after the coronavirus pandemic is controlled.
“As of today, Shopify is a digital by default company,” CEO Tobi Lutke tweeted Thursday. “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.”
Digital currency exchange Coinbase announced Wednesday that it will be a “remote-first company” moving forward.
There are several benefits that could come from shifting toward remote work.
Moving away from offices could make more jobs available outside of traditional tech hubs like the Bay Area and Seattle.
The concentration of tech jobs in those areas has been the subject of criticism from lawmakers.
According to a report from The Brookings Institution, just five metro areas — Boston, San Diego, San Francisco, San Jose and Seattle — picked up 90 percent of the 256,063 tech jobs created from 2005 to 2017, leaving other cities starved of potential economic activity.
Rep. Ro KhannaRohit (Ro) KhannaSanders, 50 Democrats unveil bill to send N95 masks to all Americans Overnight Health Care — Insurance will soon cover COVID-19 tests Congressional Democrats press Biden to expand rapid COVID-19 testing MORE (D-Calif.), who has introduced legislation that would invest $900 billion to start new tech hugs, praised the potential of remote work to spread the wealth of the tech industry more broadly.
“All Americans, regardless of where they live, should be able to participate in the digital revolution. It should not have taken COVID for us to realize this, but I’m glad that tech companies like Facebook and Twitter will allow people to work remotely and not have to move for a good paying job in tech,” he said in a statement to The Hill.
“Silicon Valley can and should be spreading these digital opportunities across the country. Not only is it in the financial interest of these companies, but also our country.”
Making more jobs remote can also save companies money by lowering rental costs, especially in expensive areas like the Bay Area.
Companies could also save money on wages by paying employees based on the cost of living where they decide to work.
Zuckerberg said Thursday that Facebook could lower salaries depending on where workers are working given different costs-of-living across the country.
On the employee side, remote work could mean more flexibility, lower costs of living and access to positions.
That doesn’t mean that there aren’t some drawbacks.
Cybersecurity could be a big problem, and hackers are already targeting Americans working from home.
Reliance on unsecured Wi-Fi networks and use of virtual private networks to access classified files both increase vulnerabilities.
The benefits of in-person collaboration cannot be discounted either.
“Let’s not underplay the importance of actually being in the same office with your team. There’s value in the casual conversations and random collaboration that happens when you’re together,” Mike Goldman, a corporate leadership coach, said in an email to The Hill.
“Only time will tell what the right answer is, but I’d just caution us all not to let the pendulum swing too quickly one way before understanding the mid-term and long-term ramifications.”
The adoption of long-term remote working policies by tech companies in the last weeks are significant, but they likely don’t mean the office is obsolete.
Many tech jobs, like maintaining server infrastructure or moderating sensitive content, almost necessarily require physical presence.
Big tech companies are also unlikely to completely eschew their expansive campuses chock full of amenities that serve as big pulls for talent.
The shifts to remote work are unlikely to be limited to tech companies — a survey of senior finance leaders by research firm Gartner found that 74 percent of organizations plan to shift some employees to remote work permanently.
Their leadership in the area though could provide a useful test case for other companies on the fence about following suit.