Employment

Twitter Is Shifting to Remote Work. Will Other Firms Follow?

Will changes to how many of us work outlast the pandemic?

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Is remote work the future? Many think so, but the companies that build the tools to allow remote work did not have their own robust capabilities for off-site employment until a pandemic forced their hand. Isn't that interesting?

It's true that Silicon Valley firms were among the first to take the big leap. While the leaders of major East Coast metropolises were telling city dwellers to live, laugh, and take the subways to jam-packed events, tech companies like Google, Microsoft, and Salesforce were telling employees to start working from home and cancel conferences and non-essential travel in early March.

The tech industry's short-term experiment in remote work may extend to the indefinite future. Facebook and Google, for instance, recently announced that their originally months-long remote work plans will go on until the end of the year. Jack Dorsey's Twitter, ever the dark horse, doubled down and announced last week that the company will permanently transition to a remote-first workplace.

This is big deal, though it got little attention in the mainstream news. Twitter is a huge company, and should its foray into an almost completely remote-first tech company prove successful, others will surely follow.

This has some people very excited. The dream of remote work never really panned out the way many in Silicon Valley might have hoped. The technologies that they developed would in theory allow employees to work from anywhere in the world. This would sever the need for people to uproot from preferred locations just to commute to an office every day, thereby expanding the possible pool of talent that any company could attract. Maybe COVID-19 will be just the kick in the rear that tech firms need to put their employees where their cloud is—everywhere.

Many implications follow. For starters, this would free tech workers from the expensive shackles of San Francisco real estate. No longer would young computer science grads be forced to pay several thousand dollars a month to have the privilege to live in a shoebox and ride company buses into luxurious campuses just to sit in front of a computer.

They could move to cheaper areas or even stay in their hometowns, keeping the bonds of family-of-origin and friendships intact, and remain a part of the fabric of these communities. The combination of stronger communities and lower cost of living could make it much easier for younger folks to affordably form their own families. Or maybe they would decide to strike it out as digital nomads, converting a van or a boat to live in exotic locales, or just flying about every few months. Whether attracted to roots or rootlessness, remote work gives employees more freedom and perhaps more dignity.

It might give a certain kind of employee just as much productivity, too, with a better quality of life. Salesforce recently surveyed a sample of the roughly 30 percent of the workforce that is currently working from home. Most people reported that they were about as productive as usual, and some even felt they were more productive. (As a longtime remote worker, I remember fondly those early days of hyper-productivity when I was released from the burden of constant meetings for the first time.)

Of course, this survey measures self-reporting. Without the risk of a colleague catching a glimpse of our multiple screens far down a Wikipedia rabbit hole, spending time understanding the contours of the Spanish claims to Alaska under the papal bull of 1493 may appear more directly justifiable in one's role as, say, a technology analyst. As more companies invest in remote productivity surveillance technologies, employers will get a better idea of whether their employees' perceptions match their own expectations.

Bigger cities could theoretically become more affordable. If knowledge workers are no longer forced to live in one of five big cities to make the big bucks, the political quagmire that prevents new housing supply could naturally become moot. With lower demand comes lower prices, assuming a fixed supply. Service and retail workers who saw much of their paychecks go to insane rental prices might get a little more breathing room (although this assumes their own employment is not jeopardized by a flight from the cities). Residential and commercial property owners who bought at the top of the market, on the other hand, would be clear losers.

Companies stand to benefit too. They might get away with paying new employees less since they would no longer need to subsidize the San Francisco area's insane housing restrictions. Businesses could furthermore save money by not having to pay the full army of office managers, janitors, chefs, and other support staff that currently keep these palatial office parks running smoothly. Of course, this is bad news for the hardworking support staff that could find themselves out of work.

Remote also provides a way around immigration barriers. No longer would tech firms need to spend time and money lobbying Congress to protect or expand programs like H1-B that fast-track lower cost foreign programmers to move to the United States. They could simply hire them as remote workers—at least until this practice too became another political issue.

So why has it taken so long for Silicon Valley to use the tools they developed for others? It's not because they're stupid.

The financial analyst Byrne Hobart has a great run-down of the many reasons why firms have balked at a remote-first future despite the many apparent benefits. In addition to the distractability problem, there are obvious culture benefits to working in a physical office. People just like to feel like they are part of a team. It's easier to build team morale with the kinds of spontaneous office hijinks and conversations that just can't be scheduled through Zoom.

My husband and I are both remote workers: I started in the office for many years and moved off-site later, while my husband was hired by a remote-first company from the start. We both have different experiences with the comradery issue: I knew my team well at the time when I first moved, but it's more difficult (though not impossible) to form relationships with new hires whom I have yet to meet—so I travel to the home office every so often mostly for socializing purposes. My husband's company builds team spirit with quarterly retreats that pack in months' worth of socializing into a week-long extravaganza. This works well in our experiences, and we are happy and productive in our remote-work world, but it might be more difficult to scale such scheduled socializing for a Google or a Facebook.

More cynically, the notoriously opulent campuses of big tech fixtures serve as a kind of golden spider's web to keep employees clocking in for longer than they otherwise would because everything they need is already right there in Mountain View.

For these reasons, the future of remote work may only be quasi-remote—at least for major employers. Yes, knowledge economy workers who can do their job just as well at home may be free to live "anywhere." But they might find that this "anywhere" is still pretty close to top tier American cities because they will be regularly called upon to visit satellite offices for some real life facetime.

The pandemic has already forced many firms to join the remote work revolution whether they liked it or not. This will undoubtedly create inertia and many businesses will find it makes more sense to keep some staff remote rather than expand their office footprints. Yet culture bonds are sticky and (for now) fairly physically-dependent.

The Silicon Valley dream of a fully decentralized workspace won't come in the near future, as admirable as Twitter's foray may be. No wonder virtual reality is the Next Big Thing in tech.

NEXT: Ghost Kitchens Can Help Feed New Yorkers While the City Is a Ghost Town

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  1. until a pandemic forced their hand.

    The pandemic did no such thing. Maybe meat packing and automobile manufacturing plants closed because of COVID. Tech companies were already younger, largely isolated with robust leave and WFH policies for non-essential personnel. The were already pandemic-resistant and COVID-proof. Twitter went full-remote *after an outbreak had already occurred* because it’s notoriously woke and various Governors and government bureaucrats practically forced them to, by law.

    Just think, in a world where more people worked more remotely, COVID would get here and proliferate a lot quicker!

    1. “Tech companies” is not a thing. They do not all do the same thing, and if you had actually read this FA, you’d see that right there in front of your eyes.

      I work remote for a huge tech company which is full of contradictions. Parts were explicitly told to hire remote workers as an expansion plan, including in foreign countries. Then a new CEO came in who hates remote workers, or so he says, and would have fired all the domestic remote workers while keeping all the foreign ones, which makes his self-declared hatred of remote workers appear more of a cost-cutting coverup.

      I have been working remote for decades, and some of my jobs were expressly because I was one of the few who liked working remote and could work remote on my own, and my bosses told me they hated their reactionary colleagues who assumed all remote workers were lazy slackers; he said if they were decent bosses who actually paid attention to their workers and treated them as real people instead of pegs in a board, instead of being top-down yelling tyrants themselves, they could easily tell when remote workers were screwing off, but they had fallen into the trap of assuming that butts in seats were the only measure they knew of telling who was working.

      Silicon Valley is full of different kinds of companies, different kinds of employees at all levels, and different attitudes at all levels. They cannot be lumped together as you might wish.

      1. “Tech companies” is not a thing. They do not all do the same thing, and if you had actually read this FA, you’d see that right there in front of your eyes.

        If you’d read what I wrote, you’d realize that everything you wrote either supports or doesn’t in any way refute what I wrote.

        some of my jobs were expressly because I was one of the few who liked working remote and could work remote on my own, and my bosses told me they hated their reactionary colleagues who assumed all remote workers were lazy slackers; he said if they were decent bosses who actually paid attention to their workers and treated them as real people instead of pegs in a board, instead of being top-down yelling tyrants themselves, they could easily tell when remote workers were screwing off

        And, if you hadn’t read what I wrote with blinders on, you’d see that while I don’t disagree with this assessment, there are industries that simply need bodies and drill instructors to drive them.

        Moreover, Dorsey’s play is rather transparent virtue signalling. When governor’s say ‘bow’, he’s bowing.

        Twitter didn’t lose 10% of its workforce to COVID and then decide to figure out how to work remotely. Twitter didn’t hear that COVID might be coming and then went full-remote. Twitter was fully capable of doing it beforehand and it wasn’t until well after working remotely would’ve done anything to address COVID, and now, when it more exactingly demonstrates fealty does Twitter go remote. Acting like this is anything more than a stunt is folly. Especially when, in 6 mos. or less, Dorsey can quietly hire more managers like the latter ones you describe, effectively convert Twitter back to working from the office and still save face/move on to the next virtue signal.

        1. If you think my post said anything about meat packers and drill instructors, you have shown again that you don’t read. If you think my post said anything about why Twitter has suddenly seen the light, you have shown again that you don’t read.

          Maybe you should read your own words too. You wrote about “tech companies” as all being the same monolithic bloc. They are nothing of the sort.

          1. You wrote about “tech companies” as all being the same monolithic bloc. They are nothing of the sort.

            Show me where I said they were monolithic. I said no such thing. You inferred it.

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  2. Remote was already the future.

    Covid-19 just accelerated some changes.

    1. Depends. Are you advocating a new class division, between those who work with actual physical things, like farms, manufacturing, power plants and lines, and oil refineries and those who keep their hands clean like 19th century British peers? A gentleman never does manual labor?
      The meat packing plants have a higher rate of infection because those of you who stay at home have declared that feeding you is essential. My friends at the refinery haven’t changed their work schedules at all, because that food had to get to you sitting at your computer somehow.

      1. It is harder to look down on people without pants in front of a monitor… I don’t think our global elites have thought this all the way through.

        1. It is harder to look down on people without pants

          Heh.

          1. Sarah Paul Walker, Six months ago I lost my job and after that I was fortunate enough to stumble upon a great website which literally saved me• TGf I started working for them online and in a short time after I’ve started averaging 15k a month••• The best thing was that cause I am not that computer savvy all I needed was some basic typing skills and internet access to start•••

            This is where to start… For More Detail

      2. “Depends. Are you advocating a new class division, between those who work with actual physical things, like farms, manufacturing, power plants and lines, and oil refineries and those who keep their hands clean like 19th century British peers? A gentleman never does manual labor?”

        I mean that’s kinda already a division, just those who sit at computers drive 30 minutes and sit at desks instead of doing it in the shame and comfort of their pajamas.

        Hell even in Manufacturing you have the divide there with large swaths of office folk who never work with their hands.

      3. With all due respect don’t think the people working in the meat packing plants are getting it from work. They are pretty much already dressed like they are in an operating room and constantly disinfecting themselves. More likely than not they picked it up offsite and we only know about the infections because they were being tested at a higher rate than most others at the time. The question no one is asking is what is their hospitalization and fatality rate?

      4. I’m not advocating or declaring anything. I am saying these changes were already in the wind.

  3. I’m a passionate introvert, happiest when I’m lost in the woods or gazing up at the stars, and I hate working from home. I find it impossible to focus with the kids running around. I’m interrupted incessantly to make sure they’re doing their homework. I have to screen out my wife’s teleconferences with her cowardly, liberty-hating coworkers. My setup is anything but ergonomic. And that’s to say nothing of the fact that when I’m at home, the last thing I want to do is work. I want to read or play a game or watch a show or take a nap. It’s a constant struggle not to simply slump on the sofa and fall asleep.

    Working from home will be great for the few people who can afford an office with an expensive desk, a comfortable chair, and a two- or three-monitor setup. It’s going to suck for everyone else. Those tales of self-made entrepreneurs toiling away at their kitchen tables oblivious to the chaos going on all around them? Yeah, they’re self-serving bullshit.

    1. Working from home will be great for the few people who can afford an office with an expensive desk, a comfortable chair, and a two- or three-monitor setup.

      This is going to be where the rubber meets the road. All those employees who suffered carpal tunnel syndrome, all the ergonomics experts that HR sends in to fix the carpal tunnel problems… none of those people are going to tolerate being on the hook for their carpal tunnel syndrome, letting ergonomics experts into their home, and relying on off-site employees and ergonomics experts to tell them the carpal tunnel problem is solved only to have the complaint show up again next month.

      The low-wage employees who are already clocking in late, taking longer lunches, and are leaving early, but can’t be fired for diversity reasons, are going to be even less manageable when working from home.

      1. Carpal tunnel isn’t the only issue. Low back pain is another. I have a disproportionately large ass for a white guy, not to mention a history of back injuries, so I get back spasms from a lot of chairs. The kind of chairs that keep me comfortable don’t come cheap. I’m better off with a standing desk, but it’s not exactly easy to find a place for something like that in a typical house.

  4. Once your job can be performed 100% remotely, it will be sent somewhere even more remote

    1. Or it will simply be automated. Sites consisting primarily of automatically generated content already exist. They’re going to continue to increase in number. Much like the cheap, no-name cable channels no one watches, they exist purely as vehicles for pushing ads.

    2. Not when time zones matter. One or two or three time zones away is one thing; at least they can be made to overlap part of the day. But when they are on opposite sides of the world, as with most of Asia from the US, it makes a mockery of training new workers. Even Europe is problematic from the US. It’s not a question of rookies needing full time teaching, but of new hires needing to learn legacy systems and procedures, and coordinating people working on the same project.

      When everyone works in the same office, you can tolerate early and late risers because there is usually a core overlap, say 10-2. When some workers are four time zones away, this can evaporate, and it does no good to try to only hire late risers in one time zone and early risers remotely, because people will lie, try to conform to the main office, and simply never perform at their best because it is so unnatural.

  5. (context: I spent 45 years as a programmer)
    The biggest issue is management.
    Most managers I worked for (as employee, independent contractor, contractor working for a vendor) used the theory of MBO (management by observation). They would wander around seeing who was pounding a keyboard. Those typing were ‘working hard’; those doing anything else were ‘slackers’.
    Of course, half the time those on the keyboards were submitting resumes or looking at cat videos.
    My favorite story is the time I was given a written reprimand for “reading the paper at my desk”. My written response included the facts that the paper was the company supplied Wall Street Journal, and the article was concerning pending legislation that would directly affect a multi-million project under way. Legislation the boss/project manager was completely unaware of.

    1. Yes! Too many bosses judge productivity by who is sitting and typing. I remember one clown, when I had a hardware-intensive job, who wandered by and saw me and a colleague discussing all the probes between a computer and logic analyzer, pointing at it, writing things down, talking about it, arguing about which pins were most important (because there weren’t enough connections possible for what we really wanted) … and this damn fool yelled at us because we were not sitting back and typing on a damned keyboard. Absolutely clueless.

      As I related above about a different boss, and as you said, good bosses can tell by your output and productivity whether you are worth what you are paid. All it usually takes is a minute or two talk every day, maybe five minutes if interesting. He was disgusted with the seat warmers who didn’t know anything about their employees, didn’t even know anything about the projects they were working on except what was in written status reports, had no idea of their current status, had no idea if trouble was brewing or what obstacles were coming up.

    2. The biggest issue is management.

      And, unless COVID kills all of these managers selectively, they’ll still be there after this is over.

      Some industries, like mining or meat packing, require managers to be more literal slave drivers. Tech, as an industry, is more able to forego employing such people, but will never rid itself of them entirely and will still need them in various corners like data centers and customer support.

  6. From Andrea O’Sullivan’s Twitter feed:

    This restaurant in Maryland intends to use bumper tables to keep customers six feet apart once it begins to take seated diners. https://twitter.com/CBSNews/status/1262377453273702403

    The clip on that tweet makes me cringe. I will never patronize a restaurant that subjects its customers to bumper tables.

    Incidentally, Mrs. O’Sullivan appears to have gorgeous eyes, even if she is trying too hard with her masked profile pic.

    1. Her weight appears to fluctuate wildly between the various pictures of her available online, though. Sometimes she has a slender, graceful face; other times she has a rather round, featureless face. It’s kind of fascinating really.

    2. “Bumper tables”, eh?

      What could possibly go wrong? Let the lawsuits begin!

      1. Yeah, I’m going to laugh the first time someone files a lawsuit when they injure their eye after puncturing a bumper with a steak knife.

        1. Not to mention the age and differently-abled non-accommodations.

      2. Who would stoop so low as to cast off all dignity to get into that stupid thing to eat an overpriced meal?

    3. so stupendous, living in this tube.

  7. With the even greater uselessness of HR/Management/Finance/Etc during the last 2 months… I sure hope not. We’ve had a rash of people caught drinking on Camera. 2 hour responses for quick emails during normal operating hours. And just an obviousness that people aren’t actually working from home. Meanwhile the engineers keep coming in to be inundated with even more useless functional/business related work for them to do instead of the useless people at home trying to justify their jobs. At least when they were on site they could busy themselves with meetings to pretend they were working. Make it stop.

    1. What objective value does HR contribute to the typical business? And what has HR ever accomplished for HR personnel to be accorded the title of “business partner” that so many of them trot out?

      1. I am normally with everyone on this, but our HR has actually been terrific during this whole thing. Our company has stores and offices all over the world. The HR army has been getting up to date details from each location, and feeding them into committees that are deciding when to open the offices. Meanwhile, they have been answering all the questions like “Can we expense a new 4K monitor and lunches?” (No) or “I have a health condition, how do I get a better desk/keyboard/chair” (HR will arrange for one to be sent to your home).

        I usually hate these people, but they have been on top of this stupid lockdown with daily updates, increases to our benefits, and daily Q&As with our CEO and business unit VPs. This was the first time in my life where I was in meetings and didn’t ask myself “WTF is HR doing here?”

        1. My HR is the opposite. Daily call ins that provide no value, more paperwork to keep track of for modified schedules, pushing time/work locations down to the managers instead of a uniform rule, etc. But at least they keep increasing the regulations ok those of us still in the office with mask policies and such while sending out home office decorating contests for themselves.

          They literally thought it was a good idea to mass email the company with them in their comfortable clothes at home without masks while life IN the offense gets more and more burdensome. Fuck HR.

      2. Protection against lawsuits. About it

      3. What ever happened to the Personnel department? I miss that cold detached feeling, don’t care for the touchy feely people in HR.

        1. Yeah, that transition just sort of happened while I was working. Felt as if I had Rip van Winkled: suddenly there was an HR department and the people got upset with being called Personnel. Made me feel like an old fuddy duddy who couldn’t keep up with the times.

      4. Supposedly they help prevent law suits.

        They do some of the paperwork?

        They give you a villain.

  8. Everybody “working remotely” sounds like one hell of a single point of failure, if you catch my drift.

    1. Yes and no. On the one hand, sure, if a nefarious actor manages to take over the company’s cloud accounts, it’s all over. On the other hand, working remotely can mitigate risks from events like natural disasters, power failure, and server outages. Whereas now if the power goes out, the entire office is out of commission, under a work-from-home regime, remote employees should continue to be productive. Similarly, with the decentralized nature of file delivery these days, if one regional CDN server goes down, redundant servers elsewhere should continue to deliver files, even if at the cost of a few extra milliseconds of lag time. So there are pros and cons.

  9. All part of the international globalist left “Agenda 21” plan the so-called elites have been discussing for about the last 25-30 years at their semi-secret forums like Davos and such.

    After all these years, they’ve finally decided this year that it’s time to start trying to put all their wicked plans into effect.

    Enjoy the limited amount of freedom you still have while you can, folks. It’s not going to last very much longer if they have their way.

  10. If they are remotely going to claim to be interested in the environment, there is literally zero reason to not do remote work.

  11. Don’t be a Twitter shitter.

  12. I hope so. If I can even get it down to being in the office once or twice a week even I’ll probably just move back home. I did crunch the math, and the cost of living near Boulder is greater than living in Tucson and flying every single week to CO.

    I don’t mind CO as a whole, but living near Boulder is something I don’t value in the least.

    1. Nobody likes living in or near the republic of boulder. There are shots for it, but you’re still going to deal with the smell of liberal ass.

  13. Actually, working at a distance has become very profitable these days, especially with the pandemic Corona that afflicts the world. It has become more young people going to work via the Internet, whether through Twitter or Facebook
    tectaw

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