The COVID-19 pandemic forced remote working on to companies and employees across the world; sometimes against their will.
Nonetheless, the vast majority embraced remote working to keep businesses operational in the context of the pandemic.
However, as the world inches closer to normality because of the promising roll-out of COVID-19 vaccines, those who viewed remote as a necessary evil are desperate for their employees to return to the office full-time as soon as possible.
While others have embraced the model – and realized that it can work to the benefit of both the businesses and employees – and therefore are planning to fully embrace a more hybrid approach to working in the future.
Let’s take a look at the differing opinions of five Fortune 500 CEOs on the role of remote and hybrid working options in the future of work.
2020 Fortune 500 ranking: 6
2020 revenue: $255bn
Number of employees: 391,500
Known as the ‘Oracle of Omaha,’ Warren Buffett, the CEO and chairman of Berkshire Hathaway, is often ahead of the curve — and remote working was no exception.
Even as early as May 2020 when the pandemic was only beginning in the US, Buffett wondered if workers would ever return to offices and the way they used to work.
During the company’s annual meeting – which was held remotely for the first time — Buffett noted: “A lot of people have learned that they can work at home, or that there’s other methods of conducting their business than they might have thought from what they were doing a couple of years ago. When change happens in the world, you adjust to it.”
He himself has embraced working from home – joking that rather than deciding what tie to wear, now “it’s just a question of which sweatsuit I wear”.
In his February 2021 written annual report introduction, Buffett once again talked about remote working. He announced that this year’s annual meeting would be held in Los Angeles – rather than the usual Omaha – but will once again be live-streamed with the help of Yahoo.
Although he remarked that the meeting will fun, he said “Better yet, of course, will be the day when we see you face to face. I hope and expect that will be in 2022. The citizens of Omaha, our exhibiting subsidiaries and all of us at the home office can’t wait to get you back for an honest-to-God annual meeting, Berkshire-style.”
However, he made no mention of if or when he might be expecting Berkshire Hathaway employees to return to the office.
2020 Fortune 500 ranking: 18
2020 revenue: $137bn
Number of employees: 164,000
Just this week, General Motors’ CEO and chairman Mary Barra announced a future of work policy for employees: ‘Work Appropriately’.
What does this vague-sounding policy actually mean? In a LinkedIn blog post, Barra explains “this means that where the work permits, employees have the flexibility to work where they can have the greatest impact on achieving our goals.”
Essentially, the policy centers around the view that employees are capable of making smart decisions about their productivity and that one size doesn’t fit in all.
She adds that she knows that this level of flexibility cannot be evenly shared between the different jobs roles at General Motors, which has multiple manual labour roles based in factories.
But the company is “committed to doing more to help create balance for everyone. For example, we are adding more than 200 new manufacturing group leaders in North America to offer better flexibility for these front-line leaders”.
It is also committed to modernizing workplaces where possible and allowing for online training to be done either from home or work during working hours.
She concludes by saying, “with changes like “Work Appropriately” we are glad to bring forward some of the more positive learnings of the last year, and perhaps create an even better ‘normal’”.
In embracing the new normal of hybrid working, General Motors follows in the footsteps of its rival Ford. In mid-March Ford, announced it would allow most of 86,000 global employees would be expected to balance their time between the office and remote locations.
2020 Fortune 500 ranking: 58
2020 revenue: $58bn
Number of employees: 56,000
HP CEO Enrique Lores told Forbes in March 2021 that the future of work will be hybrid.
“People will work from the office, will work from home. Over time, office printing will regain momentum and will grow again, but it will be always lower than what we were expecting it to be before the pandemic because again, people will not be spending so much time in the office.”
Computer World reported that HP worked hard to make its remote working effort efficient. It retrained managers to handle distributed workers better – including through more one-on-one meetings and performance reviews.
It has also been working to engage its employees – and their families – with extra-curricular film nights and other social events.
Importantly, unlike Facebook and Twitter, which have discussed cutting the salaries of those who no longer commute into its California HQ, HP is focused on making sure those who decide to work from home permanently do not miss out on either income or benefits.
HP has also spotted a major benefit of the remote or hybrid working model – the ability to hire from anywhere in the world.
2020 Fortune 500 ranking: 164
2020 revenue: $20bn
Number of employees: 8,600
The banking sector – particularly Goldman Sachs’ CEO David Solomon — has very vocal against remote working, but Netflix’s CEO Reed Hastings is equally as negative.
He has described remote working as a “pure negative” and claimed it does not fit in with Netflix’s working culture.
According to WWD, Netflix expects its employees to return to the office after Labor Day on 6 September. It is unclear whether they would be expected to work from the office full-time, but it is clear that Netflix staff are not to be given the option to work remotely full-time after the summer.
Bank of America
2020 Fortune 500 ranking: 25
2020 revenue: $114bn
Number of employees: 208,131
Like Reed Hastings, Bank of America CEO Brian Moynihan wants to have his US employees back in the office after Labor Day. He is also prepared to let locations open once half of the staff have been fully vaccinated.
He told Bloomberg:
“We’re a work-from-office company because the productivity and the culture and the mentoring that can take place is just better,” especially for newer and more junior employees.
However, it is possible that in the future employees may have the choice to commute to local office spaces, rather than just the major hubs.
“We have to think about our real estate configuration and retool it,” as well as making it more efficiently used, noted Moyinhan.
The Bank of America plans to initiate return to offices elsewhere in the world on a business-by-business and market-by-market basis.
So, there you have it. It’s clear there’s no-size-fits-all approach but it’d be interesting to see how employees feel once normality sets in again.