Where PwC, Goldman Sachs, Apple, Airbnb and Others Stand on Remote Work Policy Entering 2022
Updated: Jan 25, 2022
If Remote Work were a band, it'd have gone from playing hipster coffee shops to an Interscope Record deal and a global, festival-laden tour all in the span of just two years. And it would have garnered far more than a cult following and picked up a few Grammys in the process, leaving "One Hit Wonder" tropes in the dust.
Remote work is here to stay. It's on the radio. It has a following, and it's already working on a sophomore album called "Hybrid." But as with most meteoric acts, who's "Into It" from an employer perspective varies.
There's the young crowd – tech start-ups who were listening even before the Covid album; the curious – companies willing to test the waters and their comfort zone – and then those who think nothing will ever touch the platinum tunes of on-site office.
With the Omicron variant allowing companies to push back their official decisional goalposts, organizations have ranged from coy to decisive in announcing their "future of work" policies. Whether it's going fully remote, hybrid, location flexible, or back to business as usual, here's where top employers stand on work-from-home's latest hit.
PwC made waves earlier this fall when it announced that its 55,000 U.S. employees would have the option to continue working remotely on a full-time basis. Not only was it the first in its industry to plant its definitive stake in the ground, but it went against the grain of the stereotypical image of a multinational consulting firm – which is about as corporate as it gets.
But with 92 percent of the American workforce expecting to work-from-home a day per week, and 80 percent anticipating a few days a week (per Apollo Technical), organizations have been confronted with an adapt-or-die proposition and given that the core of effective consulting runs on inquiry, internalizing that feedback set PwC on a course to accommodate its people.
PwC employees who go virtual will have to come into the office potentially three times a month to instill some face-to-face time, and there will also be implications on pay-rate depending on cost-of-living locales – another interesting consideration for companies – but the optionality is what matters.
Their own research projects that up to 35 percent of their employees may choose to work remotely, which means they'll maintain existing office square footage but repurpose how the space is designed so that in-office employees also gain an upgraded experience.
The rejection of a "one-size-fits-all" approach makes PwC hybrid in the sense of being "Location Flexible", where not all employees follow one blueprint.
Deloitte and EY have largely followed suit, but given the nature of client-based work in professional services, have stated certain employees may have to adhere to what their manager or client prefers and have laid out structures such as "two days in the office" or "two days remote" for the majority of their workforce – with some exceptions.
Some companies view hybrid as a blend between in-office and remote, but apply that predefined prescription to their entire team without any customization. Which strategy prevails remains to be seen.
The intrigue with PwC specifically is the ancillary effects its decision may have as the firm will likely be called upon to consult with other businesses on the approach they'll ultimately take, which makes the consultancy's decision all the more fortuitous.
A platform known for disseminating quick-wit hot takes in a character limit was one of the first companies to lay out a "hot take" work policy, taking an indefinite work-from-home stance all the way back in May 2020.
Roughly 18 months later, the policy remains intact and has extended to now former CEO Jack Dorsey's other publicly-traded company Square (well actually now named Block – yes, a lot has changed since the calendar flipped to 2020.)
Twitter had already been a bit of a pioneer in the distributed workforce model, a fabric that was present among a variety of new-age technology companies, so flipping the switch more broadly wasn't too much of a leap.
The social media giant will keep its San Francisco headquarters and other offices to cater to employee preference.
Stream-from-anywhere, work-from-anywhere. Spotify not only embraced the idea of work-from-home, but leveled it up even further to the concept of Spotify's work-from-anywhere program, with a full-company mentality of striving to become more diverse, flexible, and distributed by focusing less on the physical office and more on what work lifestyle is on each individual employee's "playlist."
Spotify offers fully remote options, in-office arrangements, as well as perks around paying for employees to use coworking spaces. In an ode to BedSideHustle's prior article,
Spotify sports a similar thesis, believing such a progressive policy can cultivate local communities and reinvent the contrived concept that dense cities and agglomeration are the only way to spur vibrant economic viability.
Of course, when it comes to the fine print, even the most forward-thinking companies with regards to work-from-anywhere have to think about regional implications of timezones, business registration, and tax implications.
Spotify attempts to handle this by defining region sets to choose from.
Employees need to pick a format and commit to it for a year as well as get a green light from their manager (a true test of whether top-line mandates truly materialize) but unlike PwC and Twitter, locale won't affect pay for now, with the music streaming company championing it will pay cost-of-living boosted San Francisco and New York wages regardless of where an employee relocates.
How to string together a true digital nomad lifestyle while maintaining full-time employee status still presents challenges and obstacles in how work legislation is codified differently from place to place, but Spotify comes the closest to being a pioneer in trying to make it work.
Goldman Sachs hasn't warmed up to remote work like the tech sector has, nor have they been willing to explore even hybrid models like their white-collar service peers.
Goldman is strictly in the financial services, which has long been an industry where image – attire, grandiose towers on Wall Street, and a Bentley for the partner and BMW lease for the junior analyst – has been integral to having a presence in the financial sector. So the idea of scrapping suit jackets and marble lobbies for the flexibility of a home office in a cheaper municipality with minimized commutes is a non-starter.
Goldman CEO David Solomon has been one of the more outspoken against removing the tether from the office, with an argument less arbitrary than image and more around the benefits of in-person training and the conventional apprenticeship model they employ between senior leaders and their fleet of junior traders and M&A Analysts. They also believe their clients still value face time.
JP Morgan and its CEO Jamie Dimon remain in lockstep with its fellow financial behemoth, lobbying for mass return to the office as soon as health protocols allow. Citigroup has joined both firms in this sentiment, all of which effects hundreds of thousands of workers in New York City, where the Omicron variant has hampered return-to-office plans.
The reluctance of power brokers on Wall Street to go distributed and digital will be an interesting test of whether the allure of gold standard firms on a resume retains talent, or if talent "trades" that pedigree for the perks of a more location flexible lifestyle.
Those who innovate in this respect, whether a bulge bracket firm or boutique bank, could meaningfully attract talent, lower barriers, and build diversity in their talent pool – especially geographically.
If Goldman Sachs is listening to music from the art deco era, Airbnb is browsing Soundcloud and YouTube for the most underground remote work tracks, ready to be cool before these trends make it to a festival stage.
While Airbnb hasn't articulated a long-term working model for its thousands of corporate employees, it's not showing any urgency to dictate a return to the office. Headquartered in the Bay Area, it's a classic high-growth tech company (now publicly traded) which has traditionally taken advantage of the opportunity and synergy presented by planting a stake in premium technology hubs.
Committing to be fully remote until at least September 2022, Airbnb's long-haul corporate policy is likely to follow the framework of its product visionary, CEO Brian Chesky, who has been vocal since the pandemic that the scales have shifted and that employees now have the bargaining power to demand work location flexibility.
His thesis is that a hybrid world will emerge where travel and remote work trends spawn a whole new category for Airbnb to tap into, facilitating both "workcation" travel plans as well as longer-term digital nomad style living, where Airbnb listings become a mix between home office and lodging solution.
Their most recent Q3 2021 Earnings Report, illuminated that 20 percent of their gross bookings had been for stays of 28-plus days, demonstrating that people are living – and working – on the platform, not just traveling.
Brian Chesky himself has recently embarked on a work-from-anywhere tour, where he'll play the part of this new user archetype and run the company from a different Airbnb every one to two weeks for the next few months, merely armed with his laptop, a host's internet, and a penchant for flexibility.
With a name like Amazon, you'd think the company would have a very vast and adventurous view of where exactly people could work, but early indications were the Jeff Bezos infused company – known for arduous hours and an urban, vertical headquarters in Seattle with a famous HQ2 search adding Northern Virginia to the list of its physical footprint – wanted employees back in their cubes by September 2021.
The Delta and subsequent Omicron variant pushed back the timetable to January 2022, with a company wide three days a week in-office regime in place. Now a blanket policy has morphed into a team-by-team prescription, where an employee could fall into any bucket of primarily remote, hybrid, or primarily in-office.
What makes Amazon's policy noteworthy is how much gatekeeping department directors will have in the decision making, which will funnel down to senior managers and their respective teams.
While some managers may be more accommodating than others, a discretionary work-from-home policy presents risk of alienating employees depending on which senior leader they report to. One would hope managers would drive their decisions based on team feedback, but disparate roadmaps could spur a divide between departments and especially among teams within the same department.
Employees would also need to live within a day's drive of their designated office, which limits some of the ability to truly move to rural or exurban areas where cost of living may be lower than Amazon's traditional office hubs.
It also bears mentioning that remote flexibility is not offered to Amazon's delivery drivers or warehouse fulfillment workers, an obvious implication of their said job functions, which highlights the fact that remote work as a perk is truly a luxury reserved for the knowledge economy – a trend worth monitoring in the context of in-organization corporate and blue-collar dynamics.
One such perk of Amazon's that could develop even for companies that are primarily in-office is the concept of allowing people to be fully remote up to four weeks a year as long as it's in their home country, which could enable people to take paid time off and bookend remote weeks to extend travel – offering far more flexibility than the former precedent of ten days off a year for vacation, visiting family, or tending to personal matters.
Slack has been a fulcrum for remote teams since coming onto the scene in 2013. But the company itself had followed the blueprint of tech peers and enjoyed a snazzy HQ in the software kingdom of San Francisco.
Now Slack is putting its policy where its product is and pledging to be an enterprise comprised of distributed teams, a homage to its application notorious for group communication that places an emphasis on the written word disseminated via #threads.
Slack, now a Salesforce company, believes its differentiator is just that: the antidote to a stream of Zooms, and a way for people – especially shyer team members – to express themselves through chat rather than video or email forums.
Slack's greatest initiative as of late has been adding to its 2,000 person workforce by targeting people for remote-first roles, with this hiring practice expected to influence how the company ticks from here forward.
What Slack may have tapped into, both in its product and policy is the idea that employees won't necessarily slack on their work with newfound liberation.
Making written communication central and scaling back scheduled meetings, is all in an effort to make workflow more asynchronous, which not only creates location flexibility but goes after disrupting the 9-to-5 as well.
A company that's played a major role in enhancing digital accessibility and cloud-based capabilities of both people and businesses for the last few decades is surprisingly pretty pro office.
Apple built iOS and it's also built a physical internal operating system, or rather ecosystem, for its employees in the form of sprawling, utopian office parks valued in the billions – namely a brand new spaceship-style HQ in Cupertino.
Steve Jobs was a proponent of office campuses, trying to out rival that of Google and Microsoft. Meanwhile, current CEO Tim Cook is not only carrying on the real estate legacy but also believes in-person collaboration is central to Apple's unique culture.
Here's a case where the Chief Executive is ultimately driving policy more than any other company, and the expectation will be for employees to be back in the office for at least a couple days a week starting next month, with that scaling up to a minimum of three times a week in March.
Hardware or particularly intensive teams could revert back to a familiar 9-to-5, five days a week structure, but all employees may have the option to work from anywhere for up to four weeks a year, again, depending on manager approval.
The latter was a concession made after fierce pushback from Apple employees who are faced with one of the more conservative work-from-home arrangements in their industry. No data yet on how often Tim Cook himself will be commuting to campus.
Facebook, now officially known as Meta, has an entire business model hinged on the "metaverse", the idea that people will want to live parallel lives with a digital avatar, pricey blockchain land, glamorous CGI homes, and virtual clothes all supported by AR/VR and powered by crypto/NFTs. Well that's the sci-fi version, but depending on who you talk to (i.e. Mark Zuckerberg), it isn't too far off.
Regardless, Meta has strategized that telecommuting is an early beachhead segment for the metaverse, where hybrid meetings can seamlessly blend remote and in-person participants in an animated, immersive, goggle-facilitated mixed reality environment that the company calls Horizon Workrooms.
But how often will Meta's own employees have the option of using Horizon Workrooms versus their reality of an on-site workplace requirement?
That answer has vacillated, with Meta originally bullish on the office.
But over the summer CEO Mark Zuckerberg personally experienced the advantages of remote work and changed tune, committing that the entirety of the organization's 60,000 full-time employees would be eligible to apply to work-from-home on a permanent basis.
Of course, eligibility isn't exactly explicit permission. Like Amazon, manager approval will play a big role and the tech giant will keep its office footprint to service employees who prefer an office environment as well as to bring remote teams together on occasion.
The company wants those who do choose to be designated as in-office employees to commit to being in the office at least 50 percent of the time, so as to generate consistency in culture.
The CRM pioneer Salesforce is presenting team members with a three-option menu of fully-remote, flexible, and on-site office. They'll also be redesigning their iconic glass office towers, flush with naming rights, to be more collaborative and functional. But their Chief People Officer Brent Hyder sums it up best:
"An immersive workspace is no longer limited to a desk in our Towers; the 9-to-5 workday is dead; and the employee experience is about more than ping-pong tables and snacks.”