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Focus on Work, Business Travel, and Silicon Valley After the Pandemic
What parts of work will remain as they have been during the pandemic, and what other parts will bounce back to pre-Covid practices? At the risk of getting ahead of ourselves as new variants of Covid spread, I reached out to Elad Gil—who has been thinking about those questions, and has made some startup investments based on where he sees things heading.
Gil is a serial Silicon Valley startup founder, Google and Twitter alum, author of High Growth Handbook, and investor or advisor to companies such as Airbnb, Coinbase, Instacart, Square, and Stripe. Here are excerpts of our conversation, edited for space and clarity:
How do you think work will change after the pandemic?
We’re definitely going to see more out-of-office work. There’s a number of companies that will probably say from now on people can work out of the office two days a week and everybody’s going to be in the office on these three same days, or things like that.
To take a step back, we’re going to have all three extremes represented: We’re going to have companies that snap back, and largely everybody’s back in the office like they were before. There are going to be teams where it’s what I just mentioned, where it’s a little bit more of a mix. Then there’s teams where they really are going to go fully remote and distributed.
Part of it will be based on the stage of the team. And part of it is going to be the stage of the project. On average, the people that I’ve talked to have said that creative, early, creation-style projects tend to suffer a lot from remote work, while projects that are already up and running and have strong momentum, and it’s more a matter of turning the crank, tend to do better with remote work. A lot of the CEOs or executives I talk to seem to differentiate between those two types of work, and therefore the cadence and structures of work that is for them.
Is there anything that you feel like people are getting wrong, especially in terms of underestimating what things will be like after?
I do think things will be more flexible after—I just don’t think they will be the extreme of ‘everybody’s remote from now on.’ Early on in the pandemic I would talk to different people running companies and they’d say, ‘Wow, our company survey data is amazing. Our employees are super motivated. They’ve never been more productive.’
The thing that somehow wasn’t incorporated as strongly was the fact that every other aspect of that person’s life had roughly dissipated. You couldn’t go to the gym at six, you couldn’t meet your friends, you couldn’t go to your ceramics class or whatever hobby you have. Everything except for work and family went away. So that’s what people focused on. And if people are more productive, it could be because they have shorter commutes and they save time that way. But I think part of it too is just a lot of the rest of their life went away.
Now when people do surveys, they tell me that one of the big shifts is people want more interaction in-person with their peers again. That’s the thing that they hear a lot of. And that’s why we may end up with people experimenting with these more—you’re in the office three days a week and everybody’s in on Monday, Wednesday, Friday, but Tuesday, Thursday, you can do whatever you want. We’re more likely to land there than remote only.
What is the future of Silicon Valley, given the departure of prominent members of the tech community for Texas, Southern California, and Florida?
The reality is geographic clusters exist for basically everything. So the question is: does Covid/the remote work that we’ve been thrust into, change that?
I think it will impact things somewhat. But the reality is ambitious people will continue to want to be amongst other driven, ambitious people working in the same industry. There are real effects to that in terms of information, sharing relationships, and all the rest of that. There’s a kind of serendipity that exists when lots and lots of people are in a cluster. If you’re online, maybe you reproduce that by having some online group, Twitter, or something else. But those ties are not as strong. If you can’t find an offline cluster, you have to find an online one, but eventually the offline ones will continue to dominate.
Now there’s a separate question, which is what share of that offline clustering will Silicon Valley continue to capture in the Bay Area? I do think that post-Covid, the Bay area will be weaker than it was. I don’t think it’s going to be 80% weaker, but I could see it being 10% or 20% weaker. I know a lot of founders who are in LA, who are in New York, who are realizing there are these great other places to be with some density of other founders. Then I see people going to Utah for some tech stuff, and Colorado for a variety of other company types. So organically, that’s where the best founders are going.
There are some people going to Miami and Austin and places like that. And on an average, I feel like those are more investors or people who have already seen success. Of course there are a lot of young founders going to those places too. But I probably know more people in LA who have migrated from the Bay Area than some of those other areas.
Do you think people will be traveling less?
There are a few scenarios. Scenario one is corporate travel drops to some proportion of where it was and then takes time to recover from that baseline. I don’t think if that happens, it goes to 20%—maybe it goes to 70 or 80% of where it was and then it comes back. Before the fall wave of Covid I was asking friends of mine who were running large sales teams—1,000- or 2,000-person sales teams—what proportion of their sales reps were traveling again. They said about 20%. The reason was their competitors’ reps were starting to show up places. So they felt like they had to go compete. It was just completely self-directed. They weren’t asking these people to go travel in the middle of it all. A chunk of the workforce will want to get back to it. Certain types of meetings may go away or the first meeting for something may decrease. But the flip of it is that if your competitor is showing up, you’re going to show up.
The second thing is there may be scenarios where certain teams who traditionally didn’t travel in a company travel much more now after Covid, because if you’re a remote team, you tend to get together more frequently in person. So your product team gets together. Your special functional team gets together every quarter. The entire company gets together every quarter. And people who normally wouldn’t travel, because they were all at HQ, are suddenly traveling potentially multiple times a quarter for the various off-sites with the various teams they’re part of.
So corporate group travel may actually increase. It’s possible we’re in a world where baseline travel decreases because of Zoom, and group travel increases, and we net out to zero. It’s possible it’s down a bit, it’s possible it’s up. It’s uncertain exactly where it lands, but I don’t believe the scenarios where it’s going to be a third of what it used to be.
You can read a full transcript of our conversation, including discussion about the extra effort it takes for a startup to work effectively totally remotely, the work tools that companies need for remote and hybrid approaches, and the future of conferences.
What Else You Need to Know
“The 9-to-5 workday is dead.” That’s according to Salesforce president and chief people officer Brent Hyder, in a post announcing new flex working policies that will post-Covid have most of its 49,000 employees in an office only three or fewer days per week.
- It’s especially striking that the shift from traditional workplace expectations is coming from Salesforce, which in recent years has seemingly been all about offices, putting its name on some immense towers, including San Francisco’s tallest building.
- The tech company highlighted how flexible hours and not having to be in the office make it easier for employees to pick up kids or care for sick family members.
- During the pandemic, some workers have had difficulty separating work and their personal lives when they’re not at an office, or managing expectations for when they should be available for colleagues. So the death of the 9 to 5 workday may not be universally welcome.
Salesforce plans to reconfigure offices to include more hybrid and collaborative working spaces. “Gone are the days of a sea of desks,” wrote Hyder.
CEOs are feeling good. Their level of optimism about business conditions 12 months from now is the highest it has been in two years, according to a poll by Chief Executive fielded last week.
- Government/nonprofit and wholesale/distribution executives indicated the greatest surge in optimism from a year ago.
- About 60% of CEOs are projecting increases in hiring over the next 12 months, the biggest percentage in over two years.
Employers can prohibit workers from wearing masks with “Black Lives Matter” written on them. A Massachusetts federal judge dismissed a suit brought by Amazon and Whole Foods workers disciplined for wearing BLM masks and attire following George Floyd’s killing last year.
- The judge ruled that the policy didn’t represent racial discrimination because it was enforced regardless of an employee’s race.
- Businesses generally aren’t bound by the First Amendment from restricting employees’ speech in the workplace.
- Other companies have reportedly prevented staff from wearing BLM messages. Starbucks withdrew its ban in June.
- After public outcry, Whole Foods last year allowed employees in Canada to wear poppy symbols in remembrance of veterans. It initially said that wasn’t allowed under its uniform policy.
The unempathetic boss of the week award goes to…KPMG UK chairman Bill Michael. Michael told staff to “stop moaning” and to stop “playing the victim card” during a discussion about how the pandemic was affecting work conditions, according to the Financial Times. Michael later apologized.
A Texas attorney attended a public court hearing as a fluffy white kitten. The lawyer turned up for a Zoom court appearance with a cat filter obscuring his face, and couldn’t immediately figure out how to turn it off. “I’m prepared to go forward,” said Presidio County attorney Rod Ponton. “I’m here live—I’m not a cat.” (The judge’s deadpan response is worth watching.)
The handbook for this new era of business doesn’t exist. We’re all drafting our own as we go along—and now we’d like to start doing so together. You can sign up here to receive this briefing by email.