TECHNOLOGY

Tech giants are embracing remote work. Others may follow

May 22, 2020, 5:26 AM
This Oct. 25, 2019 file photo shows Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg speaking at the Paley Center in Ne...
This Oct. 25, 2019 file photo shows Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg speaking at the Paley Center in New York. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan)
(AP Photo/Mark Lennihan)

OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) — For a preview of the future of office work, watch how the biggest tech companies are preparing for a post-pandemic world.

Silicon Valley and Seattle giants — Facebook, Microsoft, Apple, Twitter — were the first to send their employees home as the virus spread to the U.S. Now they’re among the last to return them to the office. Some of their employees might never go back.

The companies 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.

Change won’t happen quickly, though. “We want to make sure we move forward in a measured way,” said Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg during an employee town hall Thursday that was broadcast live on his Facebook page.

Facebook, which has nearly 45,000 employees, is looking five to 10 years down the line as it plans for more remote work, even when COVID-19 is no longer a threat that requires most of its employees to work from home. Since the coronavirus has upended work and office life, even companies with fewer resources and slower-moving cultures are likely to follow.

“Many companies are learning that their workers are just as or even more productive working from home,” said Andy Challenger, senior vice president of staffing firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas.

Zuckerberg said a Facebook employee survey found that about 20% of workers were “extremely or very interested” in moving to full-time remote work after virus-related restrictions are lifted. Another 20% were “somewhat” interested and the largest group wanted flexibility, with some remote and some in-office work. Eventually, Zuckerberg said, as many as half of Facebook’s workers could be working remotely. But he cautioned that this is years, perhaps even a decade, away.

Twitter went even further, announcing last week that it will allow some employees to work from home on a permanent basis, a plan CEO Jack Dorsey hatched before the coronavirus. His other company, Square, which like Twitter is based in San Francisco, is doing the same. Some new U.S.-based job listings for Twitter give the option for hires to work in cities like San Francisco, New York and Washington D.C. but also remotely full time anywhere in the country.

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, Zuckerberg said. 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, Washington.

“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.”

__

AP Technology Writer Matt O’Brien contributed to this story from Providence, Rhode Island.

Today’s Top Stories

Technology

The Air Force is set to unveil the newest stealth bomber aircraft on Dec. 2. Photo credit: Northrop...
Haley Britzky and Ellie Kaufman, CNN

Air Force unveils newest stealth bomber aircraft

The newest stealth bomber was unveiled on Friday in California.
3 days ago
space radio...
Elizabeth Weiler

USU making history with a radio entering the lunar orbit

LOGAN, Utah — Utah State University has successfully sent a radio, created by Utah State University’s Space Dynamics Laboratory into the orbit of earth’s moon.  The deep space radio is named Iris, after the Greek mythological goddess, daughter of Thaumas and Electra and messenger of the gods. The radio made its way into the orbit via a CubeSat […]
5 days ago
In this image provided by NASA, the Earth and its moon are seen from NASA's Orion spacecraft on Mon...
Jackie Wattles, CNN

NASA’s Orion reaches record-breaking distance from Earth

NASA confirmed that Orion had reached the midpoint of its uncrewed mission around the moon — about 270,000 miles (434,523 kilometers) from Earth.
6 days ago
Former US President Donald Trump's Twitter account has been reinstated on the platform....
Clare Duffy and Paul LeBlanc, CNN

Elon Musk restores Donald Trump’s Twitter account

Former US President Donald Trump's Twitter account has been reinstated on the platform.
16 days ago
With employees with the company, the future of Twitter is in uncertain. Photo credit: Justin Sulliv...
Oliver Darcy, CNN Business

Inside Twitter as ‘mass exodus’ of staffers throws platform’s future into uncertainty

With employees leaving the company, the future of Twitter is uncertain.
17 days ago
NASA's Space Launch System (SLS) rocket with the Orion spacecraft aboard is seen on Nov. 12 at NASA...
Jackie Wattles, CNN

Historic moon mission troubleshoots fuel leak issue hours before launch

The Artemis I mission to the moon could finally take place this week.
20 days ago

Sponsored Articles

Spicy Homemade Loaded Taters Tots...
Macey's

5 game day snacks for the whole family (with recipes!)

Try these game day snacks to make watching football at home with your family feel like a special occasion. 
Happy joyful smiling casual satisfied woman learning and communicates in sign language online using...
Sorenson

The best tools for Deaf and hard-of-hearing workplace success

Here are some of the best resources to make your workplace work better for Deaf and hard-of-hearing employees.
Team supporters celebrating at a tailgate party...
Macey's

8 Delicious Tailgate Foods That Require Zero Prep Work

In a hurry? These 8 tailgate foods take zero prep work, so you can fuel up and get back to what matters most: getting hyped for your favorite
christmas decorations candles in glass jars with fir on a old wooden table...
Western Nut Company

12 Mason Jar Gift Ideas for the 12 Days of Christmas [with recipes!]

There are so many clever mason jar gift ideas to give something thoughtful to your neighbors or friends. Read our 12 ideas to make your own!
wide shot of Bear Lake with a person on a stand up paddle board...

Pack your bags! Extended stays at Bear Lake await you

Work from here! Read our tips to prepare for your extended stay, whether at Bear Lake or somewhere else nearby.
young boy with hearing aid...
Sorenson

Accommodations for students who are deaf and hard of hearing

These different types of accommodations for students who are deaf and hard of hearing can help them succeed in school.
Tech giants are embracing remote work. Others may follow