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Shopify Is Going All-In on Remote Work

By Evan Niu, CFA - May 22, 2020 at 8:30AM

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"I don't think there's a going back to the office the way we had."

Work may never be the same for many people across industries, even after the COVID-19 pandemic abates. Some experts believe that the coronavirus outbreak will cement remote work as a viable model for many companies that can feasibly pull it off. Tech companies tend to be better positioned for those arrangements, as software engineers can ostensibly code from anywhere.

Twitter and Square -- both led by CEO Jack Dorsey -- have recently announced permanent policies allowing employees to work from home, for example. Shopify (SHOP 5.88%) is the latest to go all-in on remote work.

Person sitting cross-legged on a floor, working remotely on a laptop, next to a smartphone, a cup of coffee, a small box, a note pad, and a pen

Image source: Getty Images.

There's no going back

Shopify CEO Tobi Lutke announced the change on social media, proclaiming that the e-commerce tech company is now "digital by default." Previously, most Shopify employees would come into an office while others would work remotely. Lutke expects that dichotomy to flip in the near future, where centralized offices will merely serve as a way to help new hires transition to remote working environments.

Lutke notes that many Shopify merchants work from home already, so having Shopify employees work in a similar way can actually help workers better understand customers' perspectives and have "more empathy." Pivoting to new ideas is a key skill in the world of tech. The Shopify chief executive shows that sometimes pivots can apply to corporate culture and not just product strategy, particularly under extraordinary circumstances.

A lot of logistical details remain unclear, but Lutke is confident that Shopify can navigate the changes. Embracing remote work will also inevitably expand the global talent pool Shopify can tap now that hiring isn't constrained by physical proximity to an office.

Shifting to remote work can have important implications on a company's cost structure, as physical offices are expensive to lease and maintain. Shopify plans to redesign its offices for a digital experience, and Lutke expects just 20% to 25% of employees to work in a traditional office environment.

"I don't think there's a going back to the office the way we had," Lutke told Bloomberg. "I think we will go back to something different, potentially better in some ways and potentially in some instances also worse than it might have been."

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