My firm, The Kung Group, recently surveyed more than 500 founders of venture-backed companies from within our network about how the global health crisis has impacted their businesses and altered their roadmaps for the 2020s. Some of the results were surprising. They indicate that when we emerge from this pandemic, we’re likely to see profound changes to the professional world.
- 70 percent of founders reported that after their offices reopen, they will let some (or all) of their employees continue to work remotely.
- Of those who stated they’ll let employees continue working remotely after offices reopen, they reported, on average, that 70 percent of formerly office-based employees will be permitted to work remotely.
- 66 percent of founders are entirely reconsidering their investments in their offices.
- 65 percent of founders stated that if stay-at-home orders were lifted tomorrow, they would not return their companies to the office.
- 76 percent of founders reported productivity has either maintained or increased as a result of working remotely.
The key finding the survey revealed is that remote work is here to stay. It is not a passing trend; a solution to COVID-19 that will go away when society reopens. It is a new way of life. The largest tech companies in the world have all confirmed this — Facebook, Google, Twitter, Square, among others — and as go the tech giants, so go the rest.
This trend has been set in motion, and it appears it will become a tidal wave that defines the 2020s and beyond.
As we reviewed our survey’s findings and were surprised by some of the themes, we followed up with numerous founders to gain deeper insight into the thinking behind their responses. Those conversations were illuminating, and we have reached the conclusion that the proliferation of remote work, as the decade progresses, will create a ripple effect that results in these four trends.
An exodus from cities — at least by some people
The shift to remote work will cause a redistribution of workers away from high density cities like NYC, Cupertino, San Francisco and Los Angeles. Silicon Valley will no longer be located in Santa Clara — the startup garage will become a desk. Work From Home is more accurately titled Work From Anywhere — a cafe, a beach, a different country. People can choose where they live based on their desired quality of life without sacrificing career opportunities with the best companies. A recent Bay area survey indicated that two in three tech workers would choose to move if given the choice.
With many companies deciding to keep remote work in place through 2020, people are taking immediate action to change their living arrangements and locations.
Companies are also jumping on this trend to realize cost savings from cutbacks in travel, office space and perks. Facebook announced that they are creating new hubs in third tier cities of Dallas, Atlanta and Denver.
Offices will never go back to how they used to be
While the tech giants’ headquarters will likely remain in place, the use of space will change. Each company will need to test their hypotheses about a remote work culture. Apple has always placed a big emphasis on working face-to-face to maximize collaboration. They are in the process of phasing employees back to work at Apple Park, the iconic spaceship complex that houses 12,000 employees on 175 acres with 2.8 million square feet of curved glass. Mark Zuckerberg at Facebook announced his plans to allow some employees to work from home permanently and began aggressively recruiting talent in remote locations. He projects that 50 percent of their employees will be remote in the next 5-10 years.
A safe assumption is that most offices will become used less for working and used more for important meetings that optimize alignment, innovation and community building. In all cases, companies are redesigning their offices to accommodate new safety standards and collaboration goals.
Great leaders of remote teams will be cut from a different cloth: We’ll see the rise of the “right brain”
This pandemic is accelerating the need for a new kind of leader. Daniel Pink predicts in his book A Whole New Mind that “the future belongs to a very different kind of person with a very different kind of mind—creators and empathizers, pattern recognizers, and meaning makers. These people—artists, inventors, designers, storytellers, caregivers, consolers, big picture thinkers—will now reap society’s richest rewards and share its greatest joys.”
While analytical, data driven “left brain” skills have been so highly prized in our culture, it is actually this new kind of holistic, whole brain approach that will unlock new potential during this complex time.
These leaders are integrated beings with the ability to absorb and manage paradoxes. They can integrate two seemingly competing priorities like people vs. profits or speed vs. thoroughness to arrive at creative solutions. Making the tough decisions around what to cut, preserve and invest in requires both empathy and decisiveness. The best CEOs have been able to balance an immediate, empathetic response to care for employees and customers while they consider the brutal facts, make hard decisions to cut expenses, and invest in emerging opportunities. Some CEOs report getting even closer to their employees — conducting hundreds of one-on-one’s and making town halls more interactive than ever. Others who have had to make hard decisions around salary cuts and layoffs have done it with dignity and maximum consideration for employees — resulting in continued loyalty from workers even after leaving their companies.
Strong culture will win the war (and leave the rest in the dust)
The companies doing well have strong cultures built on trust and are trading on the relationship capital they’ve earned over time. Trust has economic value. It creates the foundation for honest dialogue, alignment and accountability whether someone is looking or not. Tile is an example of a bay area company that made a conscious effort with this. They wanted to create an environment where you could be yourself and where you could grow. The CEO and Chief People Officer set out to define their core values and expectations, then trained all managers to embody and implement common practices. Consequently they are reporting very high levels of engagement and uninterrupted productivity.
With the loss of physical interactions, companies will need to find innovative ways to institutionalize trust that go beyond virtual happy hours. It will require a commitment to the kind of relationship building and ongoing communication that invites the whole person to work, wherever they may be. While the future is uncertain, the trends are pointing us to areas of transformation that we have some control over — to come out of this challenging time with more productive and meaningful lives.
This article first appeared on Entrepreneur.