Monday, August 17, 2020
The world is being reshaped by the COVID-19 pandemic with new appreciation for life’s little pleasures when restrictions are eased and constant worry over virus cases surge. As for companies, the work-from-home model is gaining momentum in an economic environment full of uncertainty. Let’s see why this paradigm shift raises challenges, but also opens up new opportunities for Silicon Valley.
According to Mark Zuckerberg, up to half of Facebook employees could work remotely within five to 10 years. That’s quite a 180 from the company when HR reportedly claimed employees couldn’t work from home or work part-time, and couldn’t take extra unpaid leave. But workplaces have seen more changes over three months of the COVID-19 pandemic than in the past decade because they had to adapt, and fast. Most Silicon Valley companies are on the same page—all employees able to work from home are encouraged to jump on the opportunity.
The new popularity of remote work means more flexibility and agility for companies. With this structure, they can hire talent from anywhere in the country and around the world. Geographic location is no longer a barrier or an issue. If a neural network expert in Kansas doesn’t want to uproot their family and relocate, they can be in Silicon Valley eight hours a day without leaving their home state. Besides, this “new normal” offers new opportunity for recruitment and workplace diversity. Hiring processes are smoother and competition for talent—which artificially raises the cost of labour—isn’t as fierce. Employees can be drawn from a much larger pool, which considerably lower the risk of cultural bias. New hires no longer have to move to the Bay Area, they can manage cost of living and quality of life better. Finally, the work-from-home model offers better work-life balance for parents with young children.
Despite great quality of life, a mild climate, amazing landscapes and a fascinating culture, living in San Francisco and in the Bay Area also has major drawbacks, such as sky-high rent prices, glaring and worrying socio-economic inequalities, pollution, long commute times and traffic probably as bad as LA, Boston or Mexico City.
The pandemic triggered an exodus of local employees. It’s still a limited phenomenon for now but it could accelerate and reshape Silicon Valley. And tech giants’ campuses are not just physical offices—they are lively hives of activity supported by small businesses and services. Local socio-demographic shifts could lower housing prices and lead to further urban planning, public services and economic changes. Silicon Valley, nested between big companies, famous universities, investors and start-ups, was built on scientific knowledge and research. This unique environment contributed to centres of excellence in the region. What will happen to these huge campuses if half of the employees work remotely? And how about the mindset and culture nurtured through daily on-campus interactions, meetings and events? Of course, people don’t just move to San Francisco for professional opportunities—a vibrant culinary scene and cultural life, pro-sports, and a mild climate are also good reasons to relocate. But with pandemic uncertainties and recurring outbreaks, the city could become less attractive and other places such as Boise, Portland, Atlanta or Toronto could gain in popularity.
At RealChange, we’ve been watching Silicon Valley evolve, adapt and change for 25 years. The COVID-19 pandemic is a major challenge, but it’s neither the first nor the last the Bay Area is tackling. Silicon Valley is not just a dot on the map, it’s a culture that knows how to integrate talent from all walks of life, leverage technologies, and extend its influence far beyond state borders. With our Virtual Learning Expeditions, we took the world of Silicon Valley online to make it more accessible, inclusive and rewarding. If remotely tapping into this energy, networks, funding sources and innovation pipeline is possible, then Silicon Valley is looking ahead to a bright future in a post-COVID world. You thought you’d seen it all with digital transformation? Turns out it’s just the beginning!