Welcome back to Ask a Tech Worker. For each installment, I’ve been walking around downtown San Francisco talking to tech workers about how the workplace is changing. For today, I wanted to know how often people see their bosses in person, and how they feel about that. Got an idea for a future edition? Email me.
Tech workers rarely see their bosses in person these days, and for many, that’s not going to change anytime soon. Some of them don’t seem to mind.
Chris Beaven, Slack’s head of Retail Customer Success, sees his boss on Zoom several times a week. But Beaven, who recently moved from San Francisco to Sonoma County, has only seen his boss in person — or even been to Slack’s office — three times in the past two years.
“I’m pretty happy with the current arrangement,” Beaven said.
It took a celebratory dinner to lure Beaven to the office yesterday, he said when I ran into him at Salesforce Park. He and his colleagues are going through a reorganization, so they were getting together for a last hurrah. Although he almost never sees his manager or colleagues in person, Beaven said he’s not worried about proximity bias, where those who see company leaders more often get access to more opportunities.
“We’ve been very conscious to try to create a digital-first work culture,” Beaven said. “There’s just lots of things we’ve done specifically with our own product to try and encourage that.”
That includes asynchronous communication, defaulting every meeting to accommodate remote workers and using tools like Zoom and Slack’s own huddles feature, he said.
Melody White, a senior content writer on contract at Salesforce, was also in town on a rare visit to San Francisco: She and her boss had lunch plans for the first time since White started her job two months ago. White doesn’t expect to see her manager in person more than a few times a year given that White lives in Sacramento, about two hours north of her manager’s home in the South Bay.
“I think that workers that are more self-sufficient and self-motivated are going to excel in this new place, which is hard because that’s not everybody,” White said. “But not everybody thrived in the old way of doing things, either.”
Remote work comes with trade-offs: Living in Sacramento allows White to have more space and an easier lifestyle for her family. Salesforce is “working really hard” to give remote workers equal access to opportunity, she said, but it’s hard to do away with proximity bias altogether.
“I don’t think we’re ever going to get to a place where women and minorities are 100% equal, and the same thing with remote workers,” White said. “Proximity bias is always going to exist, so you just have to decide if that’s worth it to you.”
Ryan DaRin, a product manager at the business software-maker Pegasystems, now lives across the country from his boss. DaRin used to work at the company’s Cambridge, Massachusetts headquarters, but he and his girlfriend moved to San Francisco a few months ago when she got a job here as a therapist.
“I wish I was working in the office,” DaRin said. Pega has a small office in Cupertino, but DaRin said it’s “more of a ‘you can go and work if you need a desk’ kind of situation.”
With the company still largely remote, DaRin isn’t worried about proximity bias, but he said he could see it being a concern down the road. There are pros and cons: Building relationships as a remote worker might feel less organic, but it can also level the playing field when it comes to collaborating with far-flung colleagues.
“In the office, you’d just see random people from different departments, like, ‘Oh, I had no idea you worked here,’ and make connections that way,” DaRin said. “I feel more connected [now] with people all over the world, and not just in my office.”
In addition to its Cambridge office, Pega has headquarters in India and Poland. Since the pandemic began, the company has been adjusting to having a more distributed team, but DaRin said its power center is still in Cambridge, where most of the company’s executives are based. One exception is Pega’s Ohio-based president of Global Client Engagement Hayden Stafford, who’s leaving in early March to join a pre-IPO tech company, Pega confirmed.
“We want people wherever they are to have influence and feel connected,” DaRin said. “I think it’s been helpful for the executive team, too, to have to reach out to everyone, no matter where they are. I think COVID’s probably helped that, in a way.”