Salesforce and Airbnb are recent examples of big tech companies relaxing their work location policies
We are now seeing one prominent Silicon Valley employer after another announcing their new hiring policies following their experience during the pandemic. Silicon Valley, or more broadly the Technology sector, has led to many changes in how we work. For decades, the casual work attire adorned by tech employees eventually spilled onto other industries.
How many insurance agents and bank employees are no longer required to show up to work wearing a suit and tie today?
According to a recent Fortune.com article:
“Business software giant <blockquote-link>Salesforce<blockquote-link> revealed more than 90% of its staff want to decide for themselves when and where they work.”
Salesforce has decided to post job openings based on time zones instead of specific locations like cities. They still want their teams to collaborate, thus the time zone approach, but no longer care where those workers live.
Another Fortune.com article reported Airbnb experienced an increase in visitors to its career page shortly after announcing its new hiring policy. Its U.S based employees can live anywhere they wished within the United States.
“The response internally was great, but even more impressive with the response externally, because our career page was visited 800,000 times after that announcement,” CEO Brian Chesky said Tuesday on an earnings call, <blockquote-link>according to a transcript<blockquote-link>. “And so I think that this just speaks to the durability of this use case, and I think that it’s going to continue.”
Technology companies of this caliber in Silicon Valley offer their employees access to a host of modern cloud-based software to support every aspect of their work. Their day usually begins by accessing modern cloud-based Single Sign-On (SSO) portals such as Okta. Then, they can easily click on the logo of any cloud-based software they need to access that day.
Companies who wish to follow Salesforce and Airbnb and implement similar work policies should ensure their remote teams are not sharing spreadsheet files back and forth as their primary business process tool. Technology is a key driver in changing our work environments. For instance, it would have been difficult for suburbs to be born across America, allowing employees to live in bigger homes for their families, without the car being widely available to middle-class consumers.
CEOs should first assess their technology strategy to ensure their employees have access to modern cloud solutions if they wish to take a page from Salesforce and Airbnb. It’s not surprising that Salesforce, the company that acquired Slack for nearly $28B, has modern tools to support remote collaboration between teams.
Has your company implemented modern cloud applications to manage most work activities and collaboration tools to support remote work?
Is going remote all pro and no con?
Highly innovative companies such as Google and Pixar (now Disney) purposely created campus environments. They want to encourage their employees to play sports, games, or interact outside their normal work activities. They understand that these spontaneous human interactions, such as playing ping pong together at the office on a whim, are at the heart of innovative ideas. Google has launched successful billion-dollar products from ideas born just this way. Employees not assigned to work together interacted on campus, and an idea was born.
How many of you have struck professional relationships and networked with coworkers unrelated to your role at work by bumping into them overtime within shared workspaces? At the office cafeteria, lounge, elevator, or ping pong table? You may have worked at campuses that offer gyms, basketball courts, and other cool amenities that encourage employee interactions outside of their regular work schedules. How do you replicate those connections when everyone works from home?
The answer is straightforward. You don’t.
Have those interactions led to any career advancements? Maybe you moved into another department or were alerted and recommended to a job opportunity at another company by a colleague you met at work at the office lounge. Someone who had nothing to do with your assigned job positively impacted your career.
Remote work is all about being assigned. You will probably not start joining random Zoom calls around your company that have nothing to do with your role. You won’t even be invited to those calls even if you had this adventurous spirit.
Two people play ping-pong at the office, a third walks by and joins them, and a new friendship forms. It’s impossible to organize this. It has to be spontaneous.
You can try to encourage people into Zoom happy hours. Those are not spontaneous; they are scheduled and organized. It’s not the same.
You can force your employees into a local event once a month, but that’s not spontaneous. People will show up because they have to. Most will speak to people they already know, and they will leave when the event is over. It’s an event. It’s a work meeting.
The first Fortune.com article referenced above, it’s reported that Airbnb’s CEO, Adam Chesky, proposed the following question:
“If the office didn’t exist, I like to ask, would we invent it?” he said. “And if we invented it, what would it be invented for?”
Suppose you were to ask the likes of Google and Pixar. In that case, they might answer that innovation benefits from in-person interaction not directly related to those individuals’ roles.
Remote work offers many benefits to both employees and employers. Still, the most significant shift is converting their work colleagues into avatars and removing physical barriers to get to work, such as having to live within a commuting distance to the office, in exchange for more time to focus on their family, friends, hobbies, and personal lives overall.
That sounds like a fantastic trade-off, and it’s no wonder the remote work culture is taking off.
More time with people in your personal lives in exchange for less spontaneous opportunities to interact with random people at work.
For many, that trade-off works perfectly. Theirs no more walking out of the office with a handful of colleagues for lunch.
Suppose you had lunch with work colleagues regularly. How many new people did you meet when someone from your lunch group invited someone new you had never met before? Suddenly, you find yourself sitting next to someone else from your company you had never met before. How much do you learn about their role, and is a new friendship created? Does that lead to any value to the employer over time as these interactions happen repeatedly?
The answer is likely YES.
Maybe the new time you can now spend with your real friends will result in many new billion-dollar ideas in the future. If a Google engineer has a friend who works for an airliner over for dinner and the two come up with an amazing insight to launch a game-changing service to improve air travel, who owns that idea? Does it belong to Google, the airliner, or do these two friends create their own new company instead?
The interaction may increase with remote work in many cases. You can pack many more Zoom meetings than physical ones into a workday. The challenge is that, for the most part, remote web conferences have a level of formality to them. They’re more formal, not less. You may feel super casual, still wearing your pajamas and flip-flops. Still, all the regular interactions you’d experience when a group arrives at a physical conference room go away. It starts before the meeting. How much small talk begins in the hallway. It’s just not the same. You will not comment on someone’s cool outfit on a Zoom call unless it’s exceptionally noticeable and you want to comment on the entire group. You can’t say ‘cool shoes, where did you get them?’ at a Zoom meeting. Or when you ask the person sitting next to you where they bought their latte from with an unrecognizable cup. “I usually go to Starbucks across the street; where’s that coffee from?” Or when you notice and comment on a sticker or picture on your colleague’s laptop. If a Zoom call ends right before lunch or right before happy hour, how do you ask people if they want to join you after the meeting for lunch or happy hour?
Those fragmented “small talk” is how many random interactions occur, and some billion-dollar ideas are born (at least if you ask Google).