In July 2022, The Future Forum by Slack released a new edition of its quarterly survey on the future of work and big tech hybrid work policies. Among other things, the consortium asked 10,000 employees worldwide about their outlook on the evolution of hybrid and return to the office.
The findings were, for the most part, not surprising. Remote and hybrid workers have higher satisfaction scores than their fully in-office counterparts. The desire to work in person five days a week is at 20%, an all-time low whereas 55% want increased flexibility – an all-time high.
How are companies responding to the demands of the workforce? We examined big tech hybrid work policies and discovered four distinct camps employees are part of.
- In-office conservatives: a small fraction of market leaders see office culture as a non-negotiable part of culture and collaboration and are unwilling to set up big tech hybrid work policies that would let employees work remotely.
- Hybrid traditionalists: other businesses shift to hybrid but do so reluctantly. They usually restrict employees in their choice of locations, monitor compensations with location-based coefficients, and mandate a fixed office-remote schedule.
- Hybrid innovators are companies committed to freedom and flexibility. They give workers the freedom to choose locations and schedules and are downsizing office spaces or embracing flexible office options.
- Remote-first companies. Some teams are ready to discard offices once and for all, making remote work the only option on the table after the pandemic.
Let’s look at how market players fit into these camps and explore different journeys to hybrid work adoption.
In-office conservatives: Goldman Sachs, Netflix, Tesla
At the beginning of the year, Microsoft surveyed over 30,000 workers and team leaders on the future of work. 50% of managers said they expect reports to go back to the office by the end of the year.
In the market driven by flexibility, few players have enough leverage to go against the grain. For Goldman Sachs, Netflix, and Tesla, summoning employees to the office isn’t unthinkable considering the number of applicants lining up to work at each of the three companies.
We looked deeper into the hybrid work policies of office-first workplaces to understand what prompted executives to vehemently oppose remote or hybrid work.
As one of the leaders in investment banking, Goldman Sachs has the freedom of prioritizing organizational needs over employees’ demands. The company is among the few workplaces committing to a full in-office 9-to-5 workweek.
Compared to its rivals JP Morgan and Citigroup, both of which accepted hybrid work as the new normal, Goldman Sachs’ defiant policy stands out and is seen by some as retrograde.
The employees are unhappy to be mandated back to offices, with only 5,000 out of 10,000 coming to the office when it opened in February 2022 for the first time after the pandemic.
The company’s CEO David Solomon stated earlier this year that remote work put the company at the risk of losing “ the foundational things that make the place unique”.
In fact, dedication and commitment have always formed the foundation of Goldman Sachs. The company is highly demanding of its employees – to the point of teams complaining about workplace abuse and 100-hour-long workweeks.
Last year, the CEO of Netflix spoke against remote work labeling it a “pure negative”. Reed Hastings said he would expect employees to be back to the office as soon as vaccines are approved to reclaim collaboration and the ability to see teams in person.
At the time of writing, Netflix still has open remote positions in engineering, design, consumer insights, and other departments. However, most openings require in-person work in the company’s offices all over the world.
In May this year, Elon Musk joined the remote work opposition. In a memo shared with the team, he said that “remote work is no longer acceptable” and encouraged those unhappy about it to “pretend to work somewhere else”.
Yet, as much as the CEO of Tesla fought to put an end to hybrid work, the company itself wasn’t ready to welcome everyone back.
According to The Information, there were not enough desks and parking spots to accommodate new hires, and the Wi-Fi wasn’t reliable enough to support offices at full capacity.
Lessons to learn from office traditionalists
Although most office traditionalists had good years during the pandemic (the case for both Netflix and Goldman Sachs), they are not assuming the gains will persist forever.
In some cases, the negatives of WFH are subtle and will appear over time – high employee turnover, lower collaboration, reduced trust, and less workplace creativity and innovation.
Business owners should be careful to see the drawbacks of remote work as clearly as they do the benefits and not rush with pulling a plug on in-person work until they examined both perspectives.
Hybrid work traditionalists
Relatively few companies took the “come to the office or else” approach. Most are still trying to find a compromise between in-person and remote work time. However, the margins of hybrid work are blurry – some teams are committing to full flexibility while others try to set boundaries.
We are seeing a fair number of hybrid work traditionalists – corporations that reluctantly adopt the new arrangement. Google, Apple, and Amazon are part of the camp.
The company requires to work at the office at least 3 days a week.
Implementing a hybrid work arrangement is challenging for most teams – for Google, with its 165,000-workforce, striking the balance is extremely difficult. Perhaps, that’s why the company’s path to flexibility has been rocky so far. Google doesn’t have a clear stance on hybrid work, putting the burden of decision-making on team management. Yet, there are clear signs that the company is not planning to scale down its offices.
For one, Google recently opened one of its biggest campuses in Mountain View – a huge complex built from the ground up that aims to incorporate decades of the company’s insights about work.
Also, according to Google’s employees, the tech giant has a selective policy for remote work – it’s acceptable for some positions but not others. A while ago, people complained that a Google director was allowed to work remotely indefinitely while lower-level employees had to submit applications.
Now, a lot of Googlers are unhappy with the location-based compensation structure that can give employees a 15% pay cut if they work at home instead of working at the office.
Apple also took a restricted approach to hybrid work, calling employees to offices 3 days a week.
The company’s employees weren’t happy with the inability to choose when they want to go to work in person and called their employer out for not offering real flexibility and autonomy.
The protest reached its peak when workers wrote an open letter to the executive team explaining why giving employees the choice over where to work is a better arrangement in the long run.
Reportedly, there were protest resignations as well, including that of Ian Goodfellow, ex-director of Machine Learning at Apple.
Faced with huge internal pressure, Tim Cook, the CEO of Apple, had to delay the company’s three-day RTO plans. Later, he admitted that the company’s big tech hybrid work policies may change in the future. He also acknowledged that the transition is a pilot study and the company is “trying to find the place that makes the best out of these worlds”.
Amazon’s return-to-office journey was full of twists and turns. Initially, the company wanted its staff back to offices five days a week. Yet, as Omicron meddled in RTO plans and employees fought back for flexibility, the company relaxed its grip on remote work.
At the moment, Amazon is offering knowledge workers a 3-to-2-day split between in-office and remote work. The policy does not apply to factory and warehouse workers, who will work full-time in-person shifts.
Furthermore, when asked about the company’s vision for RTO, Andy Jassy, the CEO of Amazon said that some employees, depending on their positions will be allowed to work remotely indefinitely.
Lessons to learn from hybrid work traditionalists
The challenge big tech leaders like Google and Apple face is turning hybrid work into big tech hybrid work policies. These companies came into the pandemic with robust office infrastructures and talent management practices that were fairly effective.
After the pandemic, they need to find a way to combine the practices that used to drive results with new ways of doing things, as well as expand their infrastructure to fit expanded teams into office spaces.
It looks like they are accepting failure as the necessary component of progress and are willing to adjust policies based on employee feedback – a lesson managers at organizations of all scales should adopt.
Hybrid work innovators
While some struggled to come to terms with the hybrid work transition, other companies embraced the new model and used it to improve retention, get positive media coverage, and score employer brand points.
We call those who cracked the code to hybrid work transition “hybrid work innovators”: Spotify and Airbnb are the poster representatives of the camp.
Last year, Spotify announced its “Work from anywhere” program. The company’s official statement read “Here at Spotify, we don’t just recognize that one-desk-doesn’t-fit-all. We celebrate it with a Work From Anywhere program that allows you to do just that”.
Other than making relocating and working at a branch office at Spotify easier for employees, the company promises to sponsor co-working memberships for those who don’t have a Spotify branch nearby.
Following the announcement, Spotify specified in a blog post that the program will have limitations to avoid difficulties related to time zones or local laws.
As a token of gratitude to millions of people working from Airbnbs all over the world, the company itself decided to commit to flexible work.
In April this year, Brian Chesky announced the “Live and Work Anywhere” policy that celebrated flexibility and encouraged employee mobility. The new model helps the company meet employees’ need for flexibility and increase diversity, by hiring outside of the office commute radius.
The benefits of the program were immediate – the announcement attracted over 800,000 job-seekers to the Airbnb Careers page.
As far as compensation goes, Airbnb still kept pay tiers per country – salaries will be adjusted as employees move between tiers.
Lessons to learn from hybrid work innovators
With unparalleled speed and flexibility, hybrid work innovators make the most of what they have. They do not constrain themselves with legacy policies and base decisions on data, as well as employee feedback.
By acting quickly and decisively and putting teams at the center of decision-making, companies like Spotify and Airbnb created strong employer brands and are thriving in a hybrid environment.
Remote-first companies: Yelp, Twitter
Lastly, some market players were so impressed with the cost savings and productivity gains of remote work they decided to bet on it and downscale office spaces. Also, not every executive was convinced by hybrid work as the best of both worlds, claiming that it, on the contrary, brings the worst of both arrangements to the workplace.
For Yelp, 2021 was a record-breaking year: the company reported revenue of $1.03 billion and a net profit of $39.7 million. The company didn’t feel slowed down by the shift to remote work – on the contrary, Yelp executives saw sizeable cost-cutting opportunities in reducing office space use.
The hybrid work arrangement, adopted by most tech and retail companies, didn’t feel like the right move for the CEO of Yelp. In an interview with The Washington Post, Jeremy Stoppleman called the model “the worst of both worlds “the hell of half measures”.
Instead, Yelp is committing to remote work and going full swing on shutting down its office spaces. The team plans on using saved money on reimagining hiring and redefining employee benefits in a remote setting.
Although Twitter reopened its offices in March 2022, the company was among the first big corporations to commit to remote work during the pandemic.
It was way ahead of the curve with its “Employees can work remotely forever” announcement released in May 2020. This way the company gained a major headstart in planning its post-pandemic future.
In 2022, however, the fate of the company hangs by a thread in the face of an uncertain buyout by Elon Musk.
Considering Musk’s ardent opposition to remote work, many are wondering how, should he go through with the deal, Twitter’s remote work culture will change.
So far, the richest man on the planet has made a small concession from his former stance saying that “exceptional employees” may be allowed to continue working remotely.
Lessons to learn from remote-first companies
When introduced to a new way of working (in most cases, unwillingly) it takes courage to admit that the new way is better than what came before it and pull a plug on the practices you believe are outdated.
Remote-first companies are making some of the wildest decisions by closing their offices for good and committing to hybrid work forever – in its good, bad, and ugly.
Granted, the unwillingness to take the best of both worlds in a hybrid model will make Twitter, Yelp, and the like less appealing for candidates who want to work at the office.
At the same time, by taking a clear stance, the leaders of these teams have a clear path ahead of them and a headstart on streamlining operations.
Setting up big tech hybrid work policies: still in progress
Hybrid work is playing out differently for major tech companies. Some big tech hybrid work policies are rocking the boat of stability and introducing uncertainty – Google or Amazon, others are seeing improvements in retention and diversity – Spotify or Airbnb, and some hold on to the pre-pandemic work style.
While most data points to the fact that employees are not giving up on remote work, only time will tell how well hybrid arrangement ages.
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