Silicon Valley tech companies try to support new legion of remote workers
Tech companies like Facebook and Twitter are trying to ease the transition by offering everything from expensing home internet to paying for new noise-canceling headphones.
Every morning at 9:30, Bravado's San Francisco employees assemble for their daily standup before the rest of the global team dials in 15 minutes later. But for the past week, those daily catch-ups haven't happened in person. The professional sales networking company's CEO Sahil Mansuri decided to close the San Francisco office on March 3, where around a dozen employees worked, due to the coronavirus outbreak. So they've all been meeting via Zoom.
"It's a good way for us to keep some of that bonding in place," he said of the daily calls. So far, transitioning to fully remote work has been a great thing for his company, which already had 23 of its 35 employees working remotely.
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Mansuri reports productivity is up. But the culture isn't quite the same. "Almost every single standup has an element of, 'Oh, I miss you guys,'" Mansuri said.
Bravado is just one of many tech companies trying to navigate how best to maintain company culture and support employees as everyone leaves tech campuses and begins to work out of their homes for an indefinite period of time.
While tech workers may mourn the end of free lunches (and face a realization that they need to learn how to cook), many companies are trying to ease the transition by offering everything from expensing home internet to paying for new noise-canceling headphones. Glassdoor is even letting its employees take home their desk chairs from its Mill Valley headquarters. A company spokesperson said some took the company up on that offer, presumably cramming the chairs into their cars.
"I really appreciate how the company has been so proactive," said Scott Allison, a Bay Area-based product manager at Dialpad, who has been working full time from home since his CEO suggested it a week ago, and then made it mandatory Thursday. "I feel like this is not a time to be out of the house and definitely not going to BART with thousands of other people," he told Protocol over video chat from his home office, his cat perched on the cat tree next to him.
Dialpad, which makes the video conferencing software UberConference (so should know a thing or two about remote work), has encouraged its employees to take home any equipment they need for their home office. Allison had preemptively bought a new monitor off Amazon in anticipation, so didn't need to. While his company previously allowed employees to work from home two days a week, the transition to always remote has meant group chats and video conferencing have "shot up" dramatically, he said. Whether that will translate into increased demand for the company's video-conferencing software across the board remains to be seen.
The emphasis on video conferencing across the board has companies paying out for better internet for their employees. Twitter is helping to pay for workers' home Wi-Fi during its mandated work-from-home period and is giving employees a stipend to buy things like ergonomic keyboards to build their home office setup, a Twitter spokesperson said. The spokesperson declined to elaborate on how much the company is offering, though the rumors on social media are that it's $100.
Facebook will also reimburse employees for internet upgrade costs while they are stuck at home, and the company will pay for home office accessories people need. A spokesperson said there is no specific stipend set aside; employees can request what they need through their normal internal tools and have it shipped to their homes. Facebook is also distributing Facebook Portal devices for easier video chats to employees that request them, according to a spokesperson. (Disclosure: The author's husband works at Facebook.)
For working parents, Facebook also expanded its backup child care benefit and added an extra 10 days of coverage for employees through May.
Salesforce, meanwhile, is allowing employees to one-time expense up to $250 of office equipment. It's also covering noise-canceling headphones of up to $200 for employees.
For Salesforce execs like software engineering VP Chris Haag, it's going to be a transition of more than just the home office setup. While the debate over remote work has always been an undercurrent in tech, Haag has firmly been in the "I love to go to the office" camp, he said. "I feel like I have 10x more energy," he said. "I get energy from other humans."
After only working from home since Monday, Haag said he's realizing just how much this will change company operations, from onboarding to managing. "There's all kinds of recurring meetings and processes that are assumed to be in person, and we're just scratching the surface of the impact of this going forward," he said.
A lot of it will be self-taught. Many employees who were already working remotely are teaching their new work-from-home co-workers how to manage the transition, from internal Slack channels to more-formal training.
At Glassdoor, the company mandated that all managers take a virtual training before everyone was sent to work from home on March 9 so they could learn how to best manage remote employees. It's also offering employees online sessions on how to structure their days and "staying sane while working from home," a Glassdoor spokesperson said.
Already, Allison, the Dialpad employee, has tried to set up his own routine while working from home: Dress like you would for the office, and try to eat lunch at the same time every day. He's also prepared for the office shutdown to continue beyond a week or two given the current coronavirus outbreak. "I think it was 100% the right thing to do," he said. "I'm expecting this to last for months."
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What happens to tech workers after that — when the desk chairs and monitors need to be returned to work — is anyone's guess. For Bravado's Mansuri, he's already considering changing his company to have more remote work time going forward.
"It has been eye-opening for the entire organization and particularly me. They actually enjoy the flexibility of working remotely," he said. "There's a chance that when things come back, we may rethink what happens to our HQ and remote work."
Updated on Wednesday, March 11 with comments from Facebook.