Protocol | Workplace

Tech companies are feeling the pressure to offer more flexibility

Amazon will leave it up to directors to decide whether teams have to come to the office. Will other tech giants follow?

Person at a laptop looking out a window

On Monday Amazon had told its workforce that it didn't necessarily have to return to the office at all, leaving that decision up to team directors.

Photo: Yasmina H/Unsplash

Earlier this year, Amazon was planning to abandon remote work and require its corporate employees to return to the office five days a week.

That's all changed in just a few months. By Monday, the company had reversed course in a big way, telling its workforce that it didn't necessarily have to return to the office at all, leaving that decision up to team directors.

"We're intentionally not prescribing how many days or which days," CEO Andy Jassy wrote in a message to Amazon employees. "We expect that there will be teams that continue working mostly remotely, others that will work some combination of remotely and in the office, and still others that will decide customers are best served having the team work mostly in the office."

Jassy's announcement marks a sea change for Amazon, coming just four months after the company's initial shift toward hybrid.

In June — weeks before Jassy took over as CEO — Amazon told employees they could work remotely twice a week once offices reopened, discarding its initial five-day-a-week in-office plan.

So, not only has Amazon now caught up with the flexibility on offer at other tech giants: By lifting its across-the-board rule that employees have to spend most of their time in the office, Amazon may have just surpassed some of its peers when it comes to accommodating flexible work.

The downside is that Amazon's corporate employees can't rely on a single hard-and-fast rule to know how much they'll have to come into the office: Their work schedules — and lifestyles — are up to the directors who run their teams.

Tech giants still have one-size-fits-all rules

Google, Facebook, Apple and Microsoft still plan to require most employees to come to the office 50% or 60% of the time, a model that has inspired well-publicized pushback at Apple.

Companies generally say they're open to making exceptions.

Any Facebook employee whose job can be performed remotely is allowed to request remote work, the company said in June.

Google leaders told employees in August that the company had approved 85% of around 10,000 employee requests to continue working remotely long-term. Around 20% will work remotely, the company said in May.

And Microsoft states in its Hybrid Workplace Flexibility Guide, which the company shared in a May blog post, that employees can request manager approval to work remotely more than half the time. So far, none of these companies has indicated it would back-track on imposing a default 50% or 60% in-office work schedule.

Microsoft subsidiary LinkedIn, however, has walked back its initial office work mandate. In July, LinkedIn CEO Ryan Roslansky said that the company would move away from its own plan to require employees to work in the office at least half the time, declaring that "we trust each other to do our best work where it works best for us and our teams."

Will other tech giants get more flexible?

For companies as large as Amazon — or Google, Facebook or Apple — leaving remote work planning up to teams may make sense.

"It's more understandable why they would do it team by team, because their teams can be the size of small companies," said Lana Peters, vice president for the Americas at Hibob, an HR software provider.

Plus, companies are under acute pressure from employees who want more flexibility — and can leave for more remote-friendly employers.

Yet executives — the leaders plotting out how their companies will approach hybrid work — are far more interested in returning to the office than employees are, and most admit they aren't including much, or any, direct employee input in their return to office plans, according to a new survey from Slack's Future Forum research initiative.

Only one in three employees wants to come to the office three or more days per week, according to the survey of almost 11,000 knowledge workers in the U.S., U.K., Australia, Germany, France and Japan.

Executives are much more office-happy: 75% want to work from the office three or more days per week, and 44% want to come in every day. Brian Elliott, Future Forum's executive leader, attributed that disparity to old assumptions about in-person collaboration being vital to innovation.

"It requires a mindset shift to say 'I'm going to focus on outcomes as opposed to attendance and presenteeism,'" Elliott told Protocol last month. "There clearly, though, are executives that are still falling back on old tropes, that are still falling back on 'I want to see that my people are showing up.'"

Protocol | Enterprise

Why Segment is central to Twilio’s path to enterprise software stardom

Given Apple's recent changes to third-party tracking technology and Google's looming changes, the customer data platform provider is poised to play a central role in Twilio's product vision moving forward.

The launch of Engage points to the critical role Segment will play in Twilio's future.

Photo: David Paul Morris/Bloomberg via Getty Images

This week at Twilio's annual conference, it's Segment, the company it acquired last year for $3.2 billion, that's poised to take center stage.

Signal kicks off on Wednesday. Alongside Michelle Obama, one of the highlights of the two-day event is bound to be Twilio Engage, a new product that showcases the combined capabilities of the cloud communications provider and Segment, the customer data platform vendor that Twilio bought last November.

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Joe Williams

Joe Williams is a senior reporter at Protocol covering enterprise software, including industry giants like Salesforce, Microsoft, IBM and Oracle. He previously covered emerging technology for Business Insider. Joe can be reached at JWilliams@Protocol.com. To share information confidentially, he can also be contacted on a non-work device via Signal (+1-309-265-6120) or JPW53189@protonmail.com.

The way we work has fundamentally changed. COVID-19 upended business dealings and office work processes, putting into hyperdrive a move towards digital collaboration platforms that allow teams to streamline processes and communicate from anywhere. According to the International Data Corporation, the revenue for worldwide collaboration applications increased 32.9 percent from 2019 to 2020, reaching $22.6 billion; it's expected to become a $50.7 billion industry by 2025.

"While consumers and early adopter businesses had widely embraced collaborative applications prior to the pandemic, the market saw five years' worth of new users in the first six months of 2020," said Wayne Kurtzman, research director of social and collaboration at IDC. "This has cemented collaboration, at least to some extent, for every business, large and small."

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Kate Silver

Kate Silver is an award-winning reporter and editor with 15-plus years of journalism experience. Based in Chicago, she specializes in feature and business reporting. Kate's reporting has appeared in the Washington Post, The Chicago Tribune, The Atlantic's CityLab, Atlas Obscura, The Telegraph and many other outlets.

Protocol | Workplace

The whiteboard wars: Miro and Figma want to make meetings better

Miro and Figma separately launched features on Tuesday aimed at improving collaboration on their platforms.

Whiteboard rivals Miro and Figma each released collaboration improvements.

Logos: Figma and Miro

We expect a lot from our productivity tools these days. You can't just stroll over to your team members' desks and show them what you're working on anymore. Most of those interactions need to happen online, and it's even better if the work and the communication can happen in one place. Miro and Figma — competitors in the collaborative whiteboard space — understand how critical remote collaboration is, and are both working to up their meeting game.

This week, both platforms announced features aimed at improving the collaboration experience, each vying to be the home base for teams to work and hang out together. Figma announced updates to its multiplayer whiteboard FigJam, and Miro announced a new set of tools that it's calling Miro Smart Meetings. Figma's goal is to make FigJam more customizable and accessible for everyone; Miro wants to be the best place for content-centered, professional meetings. They both want to be the go-to hub for teams looking to get stuff done.

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Lizzy Lawrence

Lizzy Lawrence ( @LizzyLaw_) is a reporter at Protocol, covering tools and productivity in the workplace. She's a recent graduate of the University of Michigan, where she studied sociology and international studies. She served as editor in chief of The Michigan Daily, her school's independent newspaper. She's based in D.C., and can be reached at llawrence@protocol.com.

Protocol | Workplace

Hybrid work is here to stay. Here’s how to do it better.

We've recovered from the COVID-19 digital collaboration whiplash. Now we must build a more intentional model for hybrid work.

This is a call to managers to understand the mundane or unwanted projects their employees face, and what work excites them.

Photo: Adobe

Ashley Still is Adobe's Senior Vice President of Digital Media – Marketing, Strategy & Global Partnerships.

When COVID-19 hit, we were forced into a fully digital mode of business operation. Overnight, we adopted available remote work tools — even if imperfect, they were the best tools for the job.

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Ashley Still
As Senior Vice President, Digital Media – Marketing, Strategy & Global Partnerships, Ashley Still leads product marketing and business development for Adobe's flagship Creative Cloud and Document Cloud offerings. This includes iconic software brands such as Photoshop, Lightroom, Illustrator, InDesign and Acrobat. Her expanded remit now includes Adobe's strategic partnership work with technology companies globally, including Apple, Microsoft and Google; and driving Adobe's fast-growing mobile app business. Her team is also responsible for the demand generation marketing campaigns that makes Adobe the market-leader, across creative and document productivity segments. Previously she was Vice President and General Manager, Adobe Creative Cloud for Enterprise. Here her team delivered an integrated content creation, collaboration and publishing solution that securely enables brands to create exceptional design and content. Prior to this, Ashley was Senior Director of Product & Marketing for Adobe Primetime, an Internet television platform used by Comcast, Turner, NBC Sports and other global media companies to deliver TV content and dynamic advertising to any Internet device. Under Ashley's leadership, Adobe Primetime won an Emmy Award for the Adobe Pass TV-Everywhere service. Ashley joined Adobe in 2004 following her internship with the company and held several product management positions for Adobe Photoshop. Still earned her Bachelor of Arts degree from Yale University and her Masters degree from Stanford Graduate School of Business.
Protocol | Workplace

Meet the productivity app influencers

Within the realm of productivity influencing, there is a somewhat surprising sect: Creators who center their content around a specific productivity app.

People are making content and building courses based off of their favorite productivity apps.

Photos: Courtesy

This is the creators' internet. The rest of us are just living in it. We're accustomed to the scores of comedy TikTokers, beauty YouTubers and lifestyle Instagram influencers gracing our feeds. A significant portion of these creators are productivity gurus, advising their followers on how they organize their lives.

Within the realm of productivity influencing, there's a surprising sect: Creators who center their content around a specific productivity app. They're a powerful part of these apps' ecosystems, drawing users to the platform and offering helpful tips and tricks. Notion in particular has a huge influencer family, with #notion gaining millions of views on TikTok.

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Lizzy Lawrence

Lizzy Lawrence ( @LizzyLaw_) is a reporter at Protocol, covering tools and productivity in the workplace. She's a recent graduate of the University of Michigan, where she studied sociology and international studies. She served as editor in chief of The Michigan Daily, her school's independent newspaper. She's based in D.C., and can be reached at llawrence@protocol.com.

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