On Remote Work, Part 2

There we are, 2023. San Francisco downtown looks like an apocalyptic preview of times to come. The over and over again predicted reality hit the city hard.

The past two administrations bet on an unsustainable economic formula, resulting in catastrophic results. The city’s middle class is gone, and with it, the essential parts of the engine that runs a town. If you didn’t buy a house before the mid-nineties (and I am stretching here) or make way more than 100k a year, you can’t afford to live in this town.

Now, the CEOs who rented the city’s hundreds of new office spaces together with the big developers and City Hall incumbents understandably campaign hard to save what’s left of their investments. And they already zeroed in on a culprit. The remote worker.

Bringing back the workforce to the office has been chanted as the solution to San Francisco’s problems. This may temporarily bring some relief, and I understand entirely what’s at stake here. But the truth is that the damage is done. People would instead move to a place where they can have a decent life than keep struggling in this new reality.
Small businesses can’t survive in the city anymore; the middle-class professionals who still live in the city are retired or getting close to retirement age, and the workforce is not renewed simply because policemen, firemen, and hospitality workers can’t afford to live here. And they probably don’t even want to come here anyway.

I wish I knew a way out of this mess, but I know the solution isn’t putting remote workers against the wall and threatening them with mass layoffs. This may keep them from getting stronger at the negotiation table, but it won’t bring back the Silicon Valley utopia.

What I know for sure is that remote work is part of the solution, not the problem.

On remote work, part 1.

This is great to hear (from BBC Worklife):

Leading voices in the tech industry have been backing remote work and the advantages that it brings since fairly early on in the pandemic, however. They cite evidence that working from home can result in increased productivity as well as providing better work-life balance, a wider workforce talent pool for hiring, and greater employee inclusivity and retention.

But there is always people trying to go against the tide, not surprisingly this one, Alphabet CEO Sundar Pichai. The New York Times reported:

Google expects employees to work in-person for at least three days a week after the planned return to offices on 1 September .

However, it means that Google employees are required to work from the office at least three days a week. At least here, it sounds like this: go back to the office full-time unless you don’t care for a promotion.

The attraction of the tech sector lifestyle and good salaries is huge, principally to the young workforce, but at this point in 2024, we all know what happened to the Bay Area housing market and the cost of living. It doesn’t look good short term. I love San Francisco and have lived there for more than 25 years, so I witnessed what happened; it was at the front door. Remote work can bring more balance to this equation—not just for SF, but worldwide. It’s part of the solution.

And then there is this:

“It’s an aberration that we are going to correct as quickly as possible.”  Goldman Sachs CEO David Solomon said at a Credit Suisse Group AG conference in February.

It’s not worth commenting on; what is worth commenting on is Solomon’s pay package: it is comprised of $2 million in base salary, a $4.65 million cash bonus, and $10.85 million compensation in stock form, which is based on the bank’s performance (CNBC). This is a real aberration these days.

I’ve been working remotely since March 2020. My agency fought hard to stay alive during the pandemic. It survived. We were never as united, collaborative, and productive, individually and as a team, as we are right now. I am not being naive; I am experiencing this new reality, and as much as there is resistance to change, as usual, and in some cases for valid reasons, the future is coming. It seems pretty different—and better— for those who can improve their life-work balance.

I am posting this from a cabin in Lake Tahoe in front of a fireplace. I worked all day, got a lot of things done, was stress-free, felt great, and enjoyed my family around me.