Protocol | Workplace

Tech company hybrid work policies are becoming more flexible, not less

Twitter, LinkedIn and Asana are already changing their hybrid policies to allow for more flexibility.

Two workers bump elbows
Photo: FG Trade/Getty Images

Twitter, LinkedIn and Asana are all loosening up their strategies around hybrid work, allowing for more flexibility before even fully reopening their offices.

In the last week and a half, Twitter announced it's adopting an asynchronous-first approach, and both Asana and LinkedIn said they would increase the amount of time their employees can work remotely.

The three changes point to one thing: With 17 months of remote work in the rearview mirror — and the delta variant now postponing office reopenings — work styles in the tech industry are getting more flexible, not less.

Twitter tells employees to be less Zoom-happy

"Any company that goes backwards will be backwards," Twitter's chief human resources officer, Jennifer Christie, told Protocol on Thursday. "Companies that have tried to drive this top-down and say 'This is how you'll work' are finding a lot of resistance from employees."

Twitter has been looking into asynchronous work since late 2018, meeting with leaders at remote-only companies like GitLab to better understand async. The social media giant has also been planning to become a more remote-friendly company for several years now, Christie said.

Almost three years and a pandemic later, Twitter leaders now encourage employees to replace some meetings with other collaboration tools, such as Slack and document sharing.

"There's a higher bar for having a meeting," Christie said. "We still will have meetings. People won't be in meetings 12 hours a day, back to back."

The new approach better accommodates remote workers who live in different time zones, Christie said, noting that she doesn't expect the company to adopt async-first overnight. It's worth noting that unlike async companies like GitLab and Doist, Twitter's executives still plan to reopen the company's offices rather than go fully remote.

Perhaps for that reason, Christie said Twitter won't be a fully asynchronous company, either.

"It doesn't mean everything has to be async," Christie said. "It just means that instead of everything having to be live, everything having to be a meeting — which doesn't work as well for distributed teams all the time — we want people to think async."

LinkedIn lifts its 50% policy

Meanwhile, both LinkedIn and Asana announced last week that they would increase the amount of time their employees can work remotely after reopening their offices.

LinkedIn will remove the expectation that employees work from the office at least half the time after its offices reopen, CEO Ryan Roslansky wrote in a blog post.

"We trust each other to do our best work where it works best for us and our teams," Roslansky wrote. "We've learned every individual and every team works differently, so we're moving away from a one-size-fits-all policy."

Roslansky expects more LinkedIn employees to be remote than before the pandemic, but noted that 87% of the company's workforce still wants to go to the office sometimes.

Notably, neither Twitter nor LinkedIn has set a date at which it expects to reopen its offices. Last week, Twitter closed the offices that had reopened. Christie attributed that decision to there being "too much conflicting or unknown information out there that we just don't feel comfortable having our people come in."

LinkedIn has done away with its plans to fully reopen next month, but has opened some offices, including in New York and San Francisco, spokesperson Alaia Howell said.

Asana backs off of Wednesdays-only approach

Asana, meanwhile, has postponed its reopening until February or later and is reversing an earlier plan to only let its employees work remotely on Wednesdays.

The company will now allow for remote work on both Wednesdays and Fridays, which provides more flexibility for employees who otherwise would have faced an unusually office-centric model.

Asana had touted the earlier Wednesdays-only approach as one that would maximize the benefits of in-person collaboration, which is interesting given that the nearly $12 billion company sells project management software that allows teams to collaborate from anywhere.

Part of the reason for Asana's emphasis on the office is how quickly Asana has been growing, according to the company's head of people, Anna Binder. Between March 2020 and July 2021, the company hired more than 500 employees for a total of more than 1,000.

Evidently, much more growth is in store: The company has a new 12-story headquarters in San Francisco.

"We really believe from a culture perspective that collaboration and trust are spurred and reinforced by the daily shared experiences, those face-to-face communications," Binder said. "The drive-bys, the minutes before and after an official meeting starts, the open space where there's whiteboards everywhere and that people get to just drop in and do jam sessions."

Pros and cons to the in-office approach

Both Binder and Asana's head of diversity and inclusion, Sonja Gittens Ottley, acknowledged that the in-office approach had limitations when it came to hiring more candidates from underrepresented backgrounds, including women and people of color.

Some have touted flexible work as a possible route to diversify the tech workforce, given that it allows for more remote hiring outside of expensive tech hubs and provides more options to those who have caregiving responsibilities or simply don't want to work in the office.

Asana's leaders say they're more focused on building an office culture that promotes retention through inclusivity.

"It probably does impact recruiting," Gittens Ottley said last month. "The thing that I'm interested in, though, is: After you've done that recruiting and you get people in, how are you ensuring that they're staying? How are you ensuring that those folks are thriving?"

Binder said that employees' individual productivity "wasn't part of the discussion" when it came to crafting Asana's original four-day-a-week approach to office work; Asana is thinking more about collaboration and innovation across teams.

"When I think about productivity, I think about something that can be easily measured, like 'How many tickets did I close?' or 'How many phone calls did I take?'" Binder said. "That's not what we're talking about here. These are knowledge workers that are innovating and co-creating on a daily basis."

Another Silicon Valley company, Pure Storage, is also fond of its in-office culture. The company will allow its employees to work remotely part-time, but won't support remote workers after it fully reopens its offices, CEO Charlie Giancarlo told Protocol last month.

Although Pure Storage employees have told the company that they feel more productive working from home, managers report that team productivity is down, Giancarlo said. He sees this as an indicator that remote work makes it hard to innovate together.

"It's a team sport," Giancarlo said. "We don't operate in a sport where one engineer operating on their own can create brilliant things. It really requires collaboration."

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