People

More business travel, not less: Tech nomads are reckoning with a post-vaccine future

As tech companies start to make plans for the post-vaccine workplace, young workers have to make decisions about their own futures.

A pigeon crosses Powell Street in San Francisco

Young tech workers are planning for lots of air travel as the pandemic starts to ease.

Photo: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

In the fall of 2020, after months of pandemic boredom, David Patterson and his wife packed up their new baby and all of their possessions and drove from Denver to Ann Arbor, Michigan, where they bought a house. By now, the head of corporate marketing for Productboard has settled into life in the college town. He and his wife — who recently founded her own startup — are vaccinated, but they've got no plans to return to Denver.

Instead, Patterson plans to get on a plane back to headquarters way more than he used to. For him, a post-vaccine future of work is a future filled with airline miles.

USPS data has increasingly shown that the much-talked-about "tech exodus" from San Francisco was merely a rumor. Aside from increased property ownership in the counties outside of San Francisco and New York, the broader migration patterns in the U.S. didn't change much because of the pandemic. But the people who did embrace a nomadic lifestyle in the industry were mostly young, and they don't own homes or have children in K-12 schools.

No matter how much workers enjoyed the last year of freedom, they are going to have to accept some limits or changes, or even a full return to the past. That's because no company has really committed to a long-term return-to-work plan, leaving their workers' future in limbo.

Michael Danahy is the vice president of product operations at Disney-owned advertising startup TrueX. His post-vaccine future is a future of property ownership. Danahy and his wife spent most of the last year driving across the country, living for a few weeks in New Orleans, in Salt Lake City, Denver, San Diego. It was only after nearly a year in the car that the couple — Danahy's wife also works in tech, at YouTube — grew travel weary. Rather than return to an apartment on the West Coast, they bought a condo in Denver.

They don't know if they'll be able to stay there, or if their companies are going to make them return to San Francisco, but they plan to keep the condo nonetheless.

The range of plans and requirements from companies so far run the gamut: Of the big tech giants, Google has laid down the strictest, requiring three in-person days per week, and that most people return to the location in which they were hired. Facebook has perhaps laid down the loosest, appearing so far to embrace the idea of permanent remote work for those who want it. Startups are finding freedom to chart their own way, either embracing the idea of a global hiring strategy or throwing the whole remote idea into the trash entirely.

For the tech workers on the verge of marriage, having children or who are facing other familial obligations, the last year taught them they don't have to sacrifice being close to their families. Free childcare, helping with the aging grandparents, owning a house down the street from the cousins: These ideas suddenly seem much more accessible. Patterson and his wife won't be giving that up just because of a vaccine, and their respective companies aren't going to make them.

Getting on a plane from time to time to get face time with his employees and his bosses? A sacrifice that Patterson is willing to make. "Flying is an intentional trade-off," he said. "Even if there is a decrease in business travel, kind of conversely, there's an increase for people traveling back to wherever their hub is, whether that's San Francisco or increasingly that could be somewhere else."

Ben Goldhaber also works for a startup that's fully embraced the remote work philosophy, and he, too, sees far more plane travel in his future. "I'm pretty bullish on the idea of everybody meeting up on a regular basis, as a company spending a month in the same spot, for example. I think that would help with making sure the social ties and the culture are strong," he said.

Danahy would be willing to do the same, but he and his wife don't work for companies that are quite as eager to be remote-oriented. They are still waiting on the whims of their respective companies to basically choose for them where they are going to live — and they seem to be pretty OK with that. If they can't live in the condo in Denver, they'll make it an investment property. They're even considering buying a second property, in St. Petersburg, Florida. Sure, they'd like to live in it, but they could put that up as a rental, too.

"We're trying to buy places we can flexibly move in and out of depending on how our careers and working situation work out," he explained.

Relationships are often the determining factor. It's not just Danahy and his wife waiting on both of their respective companies to make up their minds; Goldhaber and his partner spent most of the pandemic living in San Diego (they gave up their San Francisco apartment), and whether they stay will likely depend on the policies adopted by his partner's workplace. "Now that we've moved once, do we want to start thinking about whether San Diego is definitely the spot. Or maybe be closer to family on the East Coast," he said. "I do have to say, it's going to be hard to leave no matter what."

The really young workers, like those who graduated college in May 2020, have never known anything else. Unlike their somewhat older peers, the sheen on remote work has faded faster. Ilan Bigio, a software engineer at YouTube who graduated from Brown University last May, spent a few months in Los Angeles, some time in New York, traveling across the country, sometimes crashing on friends' couches. While Google's limited flexibility with remote work is proving to be more challenging for people who really want to permanently relocate, the youngest engineers like Bigio are very ready for a social workplace again. "I definitely want to be or I definitely would have wanted to be in the office. And I still think that's true," he said. "It's been very isolating not being in the office. So I'm pretty excited for that change."

"At this point, our preferences are pretty low on the list of realities," Danahy said, referring to whether Google's requirements might end up being a burden for his wife. "We just learned that the world will intervene in a lot of ways, regardless of what our preferences are. That's what the pandemic taught us, I suppose."

Megan Rose Dickey contributed additional reporting.

Protocol | Fintech

A lawsuit tests who controls the stock market

Citadel Securities seeks to block IEX's product that limits high-frequency trading advantages.

Kenneth Griffin is the founder and chief executive officer of Citadel LLC, which argued during Monday's hearing that IEX's D-Limit order type shouldn't have been approved by the SEC.

Photo: Patrick T. Fallon/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Market maker Citadel Securities, stock exchange IEX and the Securities and Exchange Commission each gave oral arguments Monday in a legal case that could have large implications for financial markets.

Last October, Citadel Securities sued the SEC, seeking to reverse the SEC's previous decision last August to approve IEX's D-Limit order type, arguing that this order type would hurt the overall market. The case was argued before the U.S. Court of Appeals Monday.

Keep Reading Show less
Tomio Geron

Tomio Geron ( @tomiogeron) is a San Francisco-based reporter covering fintech. He was previously a reporter and editor at The Wall Street Journal, covering venture capital and startups. Before that, he worked as a staff writer at Forbes, covering social media and venture capital, and also edited the Midas List of top tech investors. He has also worked at newspapers covering crime, courts, health and other topics. He can be reached at tgeron@protocol.com or tgeron@protonmail.com.

If you've ever tried to pick up a new fitness routine like running, chances are you may have fallen into the "motivation vs. habit" trap once or twice. You go for a run when the sun is shining, only to quickly fall off the wagon when the weather turns sour.

Similarly, for many businesses, 2020 acted as the storm cloud that disrupted their plans for innovation. With leaders busy grappling with the pandemic, innovation frequently got pushed to the backburner. In fact, according to McKinsey, the majority of organizations shifted their focus mainly to maintaining business continuity throughout the pandemic.

Keep Reading Show less
Gaurav Kataria
Group Product Manager, Trello at Atlassian

Everything you need to know about the Allbirds IPO

Allbirds wants to become an iconic global brand for shoes and everything else.

Photo: Spencer Platt/Getty Images

The humble venture capitalist puts on her Allbirds one shoe at a time, just like everybody else (or at least everyone else in Palo Alto).

Since its founding in 2015, Allbirds has become an essential component of the tech bro uniform, alongside such staples as the embroidered Patagonia quarter-zip, Lululemon ABC pants, the Zuck-inspired black T-shirt and a Y Combinator-branded Hydro Flask.

Keep Reading Show less
Hirsh Chitkara
Hirsh Chitkara (@ChitkaraHirsh) is a researcher at Protocol, based out of New York City. Before joining Protocol, he worked for Business Insider Intelligence, where he wrote about Big Tech, telecoms, workplace privacy, smart cities, and geopolitics. He also worked on the Strategy & Analytics team at the Cleveland Indians.
Protocol | Policy

It’s Frances Haugen’s world. We’re all just living in it.

With the release of the Facebook Papers, Haugen holds Facebook's future in her hands.

Haugen's decision to open the trove of documents up to outlets beyond the Journal has sparked a feeding frenzy.

Photo: Frances Haugen

Facebook knows a thing or two about optimizing content for outrage. As it turns out, so does Frances Haugen.

Or at least, the heavyweight team of media and political operatives helping manage the rollout of her massive trove of internal documents seems to have learned the lesson well. Because the document dump known as the Facebook Papers, published the same day as Facebook's earnings call with investors and the same week as the conference where it plans to lay out its future as a metaverse company, wasn't just designed for mass awareness.

Keep Reading Show less
Issie Lapowsky

Issie Lapowsky ( @issielapowsky) is Protocol's chief correspondent, covering the intersection of technology, politics, and national affairs. She also oversees Protocol's fellowship program. Previously, she was a senior writer at Wired, where she covered the 2016 election and the Facebook beat in its aftermath. Prior to that, Issie worked as a staff writer for Inc. magazine, writing about small business and entrepreneurship. She has also worked as an on-air contributor for CBS News and taught a graduate-level course at New York University's Center for Publishing on how tech giants have affected publishing.

Here are all the Facebook Papers stories

They paint a picture of Facebook that's very different from what Mark Zuckerberg likes to say.

Image: Getty Images, Protocol

Monday morning's news drop was a doozy. There was story after story about the goings-on inside Facebook, thanks to thousands of leaked documents from Frances Haugen, the whistleblower who wants the information within those files to spread far and wide. Haugen is also set to speak in front of the British Parliament on Monday, continuing the story that is becoming known as The Facebook Papers.

Keep Reading Show less
David Pierce

David Pierce ( @pierce) is Protocol's editorial director. Prior to joining Protocol, he was a columnist at The Wall Street Journal, a senior writer with Wired, and deputy editor at The Verge. He owns all the phones.

Latest Stories