Remote Work: Spotify, Salesforce, Facebook, Microsoft & Twitter

Not so long ago, I wrote about Google’s return to work announcement. While many more will follow over the course of the next few months, let’s turn the spotlight on five organizations who have made their intentions public and read between the lines (at least to the extent accessible).

Spotify: Let’s begin with the organization that sparked this piece. Last month, Spotify on its blog released an announcement stating that it will now allow employees to work from anywhere. In the very brief public note, they advocated flexible working, i.e. working from home, in a café, hotel lounge or a co-working space. In fact, they’ve offered to support employees with a co-working space membership if they want to work from an office. My two big observations are (1) sources say that they will not be adjusting existing compensation based on locations unlike Facebook and Twitter (see below) and (2) they will also introduce more flexibility when it comes to what country and city each employee works from (with some limitations to address time zone difficulties and regional entity laws in the initial rollout of this program). The limitations referred to are what I am most interested in. These two conditions can deny mobility between any two countries in the world. If I am currently based in the US, the chances of me being allowed to work from Sri Lanka are bleak. Even within the US, entity tax changes between states & provinces. I wonder if we will ever have access to the number of employees Spotify allows to relocate to different countries and time-zones. That’s the report I’d be most interested in. Another little thing: Employees have to commit to an option for one year at a time and have their manager’s approval. That’s understandable.

Salesforce: Also in February of this year, Salesforce announced the death of the 9-5 work schedule, but we already knew this. No one ever works just 9-5 in a tech company! Salesforce now intends to give employees flexibility in how, when and where they work by having the option to choose between flex (be in the office 1-3 days per week), fully remote and office based (in office 4-5 days a week). They expect maximum employees to fall within the flex category, often stating 80% as the expected based on a survey they ran. The announcement remains silent regarding employee mobility. Unlike Google, who out rightly said they’d like their employees to live within x kilometers of their workplace, I have no idea if Salesforce would allow an US employee work from Timbuctoo and if they’d slash salaries. More to come, I guess.

Microsoft: The tech giant was one of the early organizations to announce the option of making remote work permanent provided employees receive manager approval. While they acknowledge some roles will need in-person presence in the office, a large majority can choose to work remotely. And that’s it. The note is purposely vague and stays mum on almost all frequently asked questions. Given that this announcement is from last year, it is likely that they will clarify their stance as the year goes by. Maybe give them until July.

Twitter: Jack Dorsey was the first to come out and say that employees can work from home ‘forever’. In May 2020, the Twitter blog said that “if our employees are in a role and situation that enables them to work from home and they want to continue to do so forever, we will make that happen”. The only thing we know outside of that statement is that they will slash pay depending on where the employee chooses to work from.  

Facebook: I have saved the best for the last. Facebook has so far been not only one of the first tech giants to share their opinion on remote work, but also the one that has provided maximum clarity (next to Google I guess). There are many parts to unpack in the strategy that has been revealed so far. The biggest one is that Zuckerberg said it would take five to ten years, closer to ten than five, to have 50% of Facebook’s ‘experienced’ employees working remotely permanently. Read that again. It is the smartest, most measured statement made regarding remote work yet. While all new US job openings opened to remote hiring, transition may not happen as rapidly. This is in stark contrast to the 2015 move, where they paid up to $15,000 in bonus for employees to live within 10 miles of their offices. He said that compensation will change according to the work location, so if one were to move away from the Bay Area and other more expensive cities, a reduction in pay is to be expected. For those wondering if they should get a pie of the money saved on infrastructure (if any), Zuckerberg says, travel costs associated with onsite meetings would likely cancel out many of the savings the company might otherwise expect from a reduced real estate footprint.

What stands out as the common denominator amongst every organization is that despite throwing their arms open to remote work, what ‘remote’ really means continues to be a question. I have heard innumerable people refer to these organizations and quote how they are allowing employees to work from anywhere in the world. Can employees truly work from anywhere? That remains to be seen. We know that as key cities face an exodus, increased availability of talent may lead to a drop in salaries, housing prices and have ripple effects we haven’t considered yet. Consequently, governments will begin to pressure organizations in the form of entity tax, etc. Government involvement aside, many organizations have stayed away from addressing how innovation and creativity will be impacted and how they intend to preserve the focus on customers.

I must admit, it is unfair to expect complete clarity from organizations at this point. There’s a lot that remains to be answered, and the media will most definitely not be the first to hear about it. I don’t know about you, but I can’t wait to watch how the future unravels. Until then, let’s hope the world doesn’t fall apart.

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