Silicon Valley's Remote Work Lie

Facebook today announced that they require masks on campus, regardless of your vaccination status. The near-Trillion dollar market cap company that makes tens of billions of dollars a year selling advertisements on the Internet is requiring people to come to the office “at least half the time” (if they’re required to come into the office), to “ensure that the office remains vibrant and that employees who do come into the office make the most of being a part of that community.” Casey Johnston put it perfectly:

While the idea that anyone on campus should wear a mask is a good one, the idea that the campus is still open is utterly ridiculous. As Johnston said, if things are dangerous enough to warrant mask-wearing, and they have established (and I quote) “that good work can get done anywhere,” there is no good reason to keep it open other than the vacuous shibboleth of “office culture.”

And in the case of Facebook, this is not “allowing everyone to work remotely,” but will allow them to request to work remotely, which is not the same thing at all. Google, another company that literally sells itself on its ability to be accessed and used just about anywhere in the world, has also created an opaque policy around remote work, with some people being able to remote, some having to move (and take pay cuts!), and some being told they’re not allowed to work remote at all. I’ve already written a lot about Apple’s approach to remote work post-pandemic, and they’ve now had to postpone their “return to work” until October.

These companies that have made hundreds of billions of dollars from people’s ability to live their lives digitally are ironically resistant to their employees taking advantage of their own technological successes. Their spurious pro-office arguments make no sense when paired with the very products they create - Uber, a company built to be used remotely to get things done, has said that it requires people to come to the office three days a week in a statement that says culture four times and claims that “many” employees “missed the camaraderie and connections of in-person office culture.” Salesforce, a company that says “cloud software” 90 times a minute, talks about “the 9 while to 5 workday [being] dead,” will allow people to work remotely who don’t live near an office, which sounds great until you realize that the corporation itself will judge what “near an office” actually means.

The overall issue I have with all of these companies is that they’re either cowards, assholes, hypocrites, or a combination of all three. They have all directly monetized and championed a remote work future while failing to commit to one themselves, building vast meccas to in-person work. It’s evil yet understandable why they’re doing it - both Apple and Salesforce put incredible sums into building big, stupid buildings and have to justify those purchases by investing as heavily in the capture of their workers as the workers themselves. While the Benioffs, Cooks and Zuckerbergs of the world are honored as business luminaries, they are stuck in the same control and ego-oriented patterns as their predecessors, doomed to make the same mistakes and have the same talent drain.

The funny part of their arguments is that they’re deeply spurious based on one simple thing; if people really wanted to work in the office, you’d give them a good reason to go to one. If their “office culture” and “competitive environments” were so powerful and endearing, they would be the superior option for their staff.

The reason that they are making these draconian policies is that they are deeply aware that there is no actual office culture to return to. If there was, they’d have more to add to the justification of an in-person office than vague statements around “culture” and “camaraderie” - they’d have statistics, they’d have studies, they’d have things to actually evaluate and say “okay, this looks like a good idea,” or “we need in-person work, and here’s the actual study that says why.” These trillion-dollar companies boast about enabling people to cross vast distances with a few taps of their app, empowered by thousands of patents and billions of dollars and R&D, but their justification of in-person work is vague and directionless.

Eventually, I think, at least one of these companies will realize that this is untenable. And once they do, everybody else will follow suit. Until then, there’s going to be a protracted war with their staff over whether these companies actually want to be part of the future of work.

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