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Slack’s CEO on why tech companies have to make peace with permanent remote work

Is there a Slack emoji for the world changing forever?

Slack’s CEO on why tech companies have to make peace with permanent remote work
[Photo: courtesy of Slack]
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Stewart Butterfield, CEO and cofounder of Slack Technologies, says that tech companies can’t bring employees back to the office even if they want to.

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“If we say that everyone must return to the office, or we expect people to, and one of our competitors says you can work remotely, who wouldn’t take the second option there?” he said at the Fast Company Innovation Festival today. “There’s a market force at play. So I don’t know that individual companies are going to be able to opt out and say, ‘Our employees have to come into the office.'”

At a virtual panel, Butterfield revealed that over 20% of Slack’s staff joined the company after the pandemic began, and that he just hired his first nonlocal executive team member, in Chicago. Some of his staffers have moved.

“There’s not going to be some point at which we can say, ‘Okay, you have to move back now.’ Once you start going down that path, it’s not something you can just change your mind about a few months later.” Butterfield made the marks during a discussion with Fast Company‘s senior technology editor, Harry McCracken.

Slack has 16 offices in 10 countries. To find a path forward, Butterfield has been deeply analyzing the purposes of Slack’s offices. “Having logo on side of building is a projection of power, and it’s a place to host customers and where we do all-hands [meetings] and events. It’s for recruiting, it’s a cultural touchstone. The one that’s it’s lowest value and yet has taken up most of the real estate is housing for people to sit at desks and use computers by themselves.”

Slack conducted research on pre-pandemic office use and found that 65% of staff were in the office on weekdays, with most of the rest on vacation, sick, or traveling. He predicts that Slack’s future workforce will be 20-30% will be remote, with the majority appearing at work 1-2 days per week for face time with their teams, and working remotely on the other days.