Virtual Teams

Why have the tech companies changed their minds so completely on remote working?

This week I stumbled over two our old blogs on the reluctance of leading technology companies to embrace remote working. Building real estate does not make you global – from 2015. And why can’t leading tech companies make virtual working work? -from 2017

Until very recently these companies have focused on building fantastic offices and filling them with every imaginable facility, so that people would never want to leave. They were strong suporters of face to face working and coloacated teams.

It was always a source of surprise to me that the companies that developed and promoted communication and collaboration technologies were so reluctant to let their own people work remotely. If any group of employees has the skills to work remotely, it should be those in the tech industry.

How things have changed. In a few short weeks the tech companies have transformed themselves into leading advocates of remote working. The CEO of Twitter announces that he does not mind if people never come back to work in the office. Facebook are giving preference to recruiting home based engineers. Google expects its people to work from home for the rest of this year and offers to pay for home office furniture. All anticipate remote working becoming a routine part of their new normal.

Clearly the immediate stimulus for this was COVID-19 and the imperative for people to work from home. But something else must have changed for them to adopt remote working so enthusiastically for the longer term.

Maybe they realised that working from home was attractive to their people and helpful in attracting new talent.

Many of them work in high housing cost locations such as San Francisco. Most are still investing heavily in expensive new campuses and real estate. The costs of offices at global scale add up fast.

Maybe they caught up with the research that shows that people working from home in normal times are significantly more productive than people working in a busy office.

I am sure it is hard to sustain a reluctance to enable home working when your people have just demonstrated so graphically that it works fine!

Having trained people to work remotely for over 25 years, I’ve usually found that the main barrier to accepting remote management is the reluctance of leaders to give up the sense of control they have when people are working in the same office.

According to a 2017 global study by the UN’s International Labour Organisation (ILO) covering ten European countries, Brazil, Argentina, US and Japan, the biggest barrier cited by employers to effective virtual working was lack of skills and trust.

That sense of control / trust issues were clearly factors in companies like Yahoo and IBM trying to rein in remote working in the 2010s. I guess (hope) those days are done.

If you work for a technology company, why do you think your company has embraced remote working so quickly. Was the move underway before the pandemic? Has the management mindset changed?

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