Then, Mark Zuckerberg told Facebook staffers that up to half the company’s workforce would be remote within a decade, according to The New York Times. The announcement came after Facebook found remote workers were more productive than expected.
Employees were likely jumping at the chance to flee the Bay Area and negotiate remote work arrangements. Marketers especially need to consider three trends driving the future of work in a post-pandemic world — both in the companies they serve and within their own organizations.
The cost of living Trump’s culture — to a point. Well-compensated employees at Facebook and other tech giants have griped about the Bay Area’s sky-high housing prices. And though Zuckerberg was clear Facebook would “right-size” compensation for employees who relocated to lower-cost regions, those employees know how much further their money will go in cities like Indianapolis, Nashville, or Atlanta.
This is a challenge for tech companies whose employee retention efforts hinge on all-encompassing corporate cultures, in many cases developed around a centralized headquarters. Current technology doesn’t quite permit the remote workplace to fully replicate being on-site.
The future of work is dispersed to mid-size cities. For tech enterprises, small and midsize media service businesses, marketing firms, publishers, and media-adjacent companies, the solution could lie in a compromise. Rather than fully remote, the future of work could well be dispersed, with relatively small numbers of truly remote employees feeding into geographically diverse nodes.
Facebook and Amazon already have dozens of regional offices and data centers in places like Omaha, Pittsburgh, and Fort Worth. If 20 newly unchained engineers independently decide to take a pay cut to relocate to another lower-cost city, what’s to stop Facebook from opening a shop there?
To be sure, this dispersed model is not revolutionary in the marketing space. Large and midsize agencies have long maintained outposts in promising geographical markets. Periscope, for example, complements middle American hub offices and a network of remote contractors with branches in Toronto, Hong Kong, Delhi.
Reimagining the workplace is not as costly as it sounds. Shifting to a dispersed workplace is much easier than it sounds, even for companies without real heft.
Coworking spaces hit hard by the pandemic and oversupply provide a cheap, flexible platform to house teams as needed. Unchained employees move voluntarily and without subsidy. And even small regional hubs housing multiple company functions can replicate whatever “cultural” intangibles are lost in the move to disperse by building on workers’ cross-disciplinary affinities.
Let’s be clear: The post-pandemic “dispersal” thesis is not a foregone conclusion. Midsize companies and enterprises could instead follow the lead of Nationwide Insurance, which shifted about 30% of its workforce to permanent remote status after a smoother-than-expected transition to telecommuting during the March-April lockdown. Nationwide then shuttered the five regional offices to which they’d been assigned, according to WOSU.
But there’s reason to expect companies — creative firms, the companies they serve, and even larger organizations’ own marketing departments — for which “culture” is a core value for recruiting and customer acquisition might stop somewhere short of a permanent shift to all-remote work, at least until the remote workplace is truly ready for prime time.