The Future of Remote Work

Facebook, Twitter, and several other big tech companies announced permanent plans to pivot towards full time remote work for their employees. For companies that insisted on in person collaboration as the key to innovation, this is big news. Expect remote work to surge, but expect bumps in the road. It won’t work out for everyone. Here’s my predictions for how this will play out over the next few years:

The San Francisco Exodus ๐Ÿก

First the obvious: Techies will relocate to lower cost of living areas with higher quality of life. SF is going the wrong direction in both of those metrics. Techies are only here because companies demand in person collaboration. As this is loosened, SF will lose its grip on techies. It wouldn’t make sense to stay in SF for the majority. So they will move.

Where will they move? To 2nd tier cities. All the amenities, with none of the skyhigh costs. Think Austin, Denver, Phoenix, San Diego, Atlanta, Boise, Charlotte. Large house, good internet connection, decent food scene, plenty of outdoor attractions, and international airport.

Average Age of Tech Workers Will Increase ๐Ÿ‘ด

As techies age, they are more likely to have a family and kids. They also probably want more than 400 sq ft of space to put them in. Previously, they would have to give up their cushy tech job for that privilege. Now, they can keep the tech job and move to Phoenix. Problem Solved.

Retention Rates Will Go Down ๐Ÿ“‰

Initially, tech companies will see an increase in retention rates as people are able to stay with companies longer when they choose to move. But in the long run, the easiest job switch is for remote workers – even get to keep the same desk! The tipping point will be when enough remote jobs are available. Expect that to be a few years away.

Remote Workers Will Be Paid More ๐Ÿค‘

Companies are already talking about how remote work will affect pay. Most are saying that they will pay market rates based on an employees location. This means a pay cut for most workers moving out of SF. The problem with this thinking is that the market doesn’t care about your location. If I move to Toledo, and my companies shreds my paycheck, I’m free to find another remote job that will pay more. Any many will as more companies shift to remote. Once again, supply and demand take effect. The companies do not set the price, only agree to what tech workers will accept. Even with a haircut, most paychecks will provide a higher quality of life than an SF salary.

The Hybrid Experiment ๐Ÿงช

Many of the tech companies are not going fully remote-only. They will still have an office. They will still put some people in those offices. The greatest challenge for hybrid office/WFH approach will be how to level the playing field with teams playing different sports. How will remote workers stay up to date with in person chatter and decisions? How will promotions look between the two groups? Will in person always have an edge? If in person isn’t any different, then why do we even have it? Some people think the hybrid model is not possible (see below).

I think that’s an overreaction, but certainly a good warning to use care.

Remote Work Won’t Work for Everyone ๐Ÿ˜ฏ

I predict at least one large tech company (and probably more) will give up on remote work over the next five years. Maybe it will be the tools. Maybe it will be the culture. Whatever the reason, if a company isn’t doing well, remote work will take the blame and offices will be packed again.

Speaking of not working, employees will also find it’s not working for them. Especially many that were excited about remote work in the beginning. They will find out that it’s not all glamorous. Kids in the background. Not leaving your house for a week – or a month. No more hanging out with co workers over a latte every day. Their productivity will decrease. They will come to miss the office. But they’ve already moved to a 2nd tier city and setup a new life. Now they will need to decide between work and family. A familiar decision.

The Alternative ๐Ÿ˜Ž

The most likely outcome from this is workers who will go into the office only 2x a week. Spend focused time at home a few days a week to increase productivity without the stress of commuting and distractions of the office. Then go in a day or two a week. See co-workers in person. Have a meeting. Mixing it up keeps the energy high.

But companies will not like this approach. It’s hard to plan for capacity when people are randomly in the office. Right now, I have a desk reserved for me 24/7, even if I only come in one day a week. That doesn’t work at scale. They would need to have a rotating desk system and other changes.