The idea of a fully remote workforce (also known as a distributed workforce) has been futurists’ wet dream for years. Yet even those most optimistic about this trend did not expect the shift to happen as quickly as it has. With a large portion of the country forced to work from home for the foreseeable future, many companies have now determined that office life is no longer essential. If employees are happier and more productive working from home, why pay for all this rent?
Big tech companies such as Facebook, Twitter, Square, and Shopify have quickly embraced this new reality, announcing that many employees can now work from home “forever.” Tobi Lutke, founder and CEO of Shopify doubled down on this idea, stating in a recent tweet that “Office centricity is over.”]These announcements have sent many tech employees and venture capitalists packing, rapidly abandoning sky high Bay Area rents in search of a more affordable and luxurious lifestyle. While tech has been the quickest to adapt to this new norm, it is expected that many other industries will follow suit.
In my opinion this is a rash and impulsive decision coming from some of the most historically thoughtful and strategic business leaders of our time. It seems like a cost-cutting play, disguised as a generous “people-first” minded benefit.
In an attempt to come off as the pioneers and “thought leaders” powering the WFH revolution, in my opinion, these guys have jumped the gun. As leaders who pride themselves on making strategic decisions backed by big data, two months of remote work does not seem like enough time to accurately judge which method is most enjoyable and effective for employees. This is less of an issue for companies who are still giving employees the choice, but seems shaky for those who plan to nearly abandon the office for good.
At this point in my life, I would hate perpetual WFH. For many companies, in-person connection and office culture are a deciding factor for potential talent. Doing away with this aspect completely could hurt the business a lot more in the long run than the marginal boost that they would get on the bottom line.
Office rent won’t be the only costs cut during this move. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has already warned employees that those who move to more affordable cities may have to take a pay-cut proportionate to the salary rate of their new home. Even when living in areas with lower tax rates and cost of living, how will this factor in to people’s decisions?
Will those who decide to work from home be put at a disadvantage when it comes time for promotions? In a remote setting, employee performance might be judged based on different KPIs. For leadership roles, how do you choose someone who spends most of their time at home over someone who is in the office interacting face to face with people every day? It’s apples to oranges.
Being a remote manager and an “in-person” manager (sound’s weird just to type) are two completely different jobs that require differing skill sets. As a remote leader, there is an even larger spotlight an accessibility and communication. “Management by walking around” isn’t an option. It is also harder to make sure that teams are successfully working cross functionally. This connector role is especially important for a remote leader, although you need to make sure to not come across as micro-managing. As WFH becomes more popular, I expect companies to hire specifically those with remote leadership experience.
Two of the largest barriers separating America from the rest of the world are the cost of living and the daunting immigration process. With the bulk of the world connected to the internet in one form or another, talent is everywhere. There is already a glut of software development jobs available and a short supply of qualified applicants. Add in the rise of the remote workforce and you get a very interesting predicament. By 2024, India is projected to have more software developers than the US, with Latin America and the Asian Pacific regions also growing swiftly. Although this example focuses on technology, this concept applies to all industries. With geographic limitations off the table, what is stopping these companies from hiring arguably more talented workers at a fraction of the cost? Can making the switch remote decrease your salary and your job security? If so, is it really worth it?
With much of the future WFH environment still unknown, it is too soon to say whether or not this move is the correct decision. Regardless of how large the migration is, companies will always need places for employees to meet every now and then. Certain tasks cannot be accomplished by remote teams, nor will all employees want abandon in-person work life completely. This creates a handful of new business opportunities surrounding the rise of distributed work. Could this be the lucky break that WeWork needs to rebound?
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