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 (NYSE:SHOP) is the latest to go all-in on remote work.
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.
Until recently, work happened in the office. We've always had some people remote, but they used the internet as a bridge to the office. This will reverse now. The future of the office is to act as an on-ramp to the same digital workplace that you can access from your #WFH setup.— Tobi Lutke 🌳🌲🛒🕹 (@tobi) May 21, 2020
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 common misconception about company culture is that if you have a good one, you have to hold on to it. I believe this to be wrong. If you want to have a great culture, the trick is to evolve it forward with your environment. Take the best things with you from version to version— Tobi Lutke 🌳🌲🛒🕹 (@tobi) May 21, 2020
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."