When Heather Aleinik was fired from Shopify Inc. last summer, it was “one of the biggest shake-ups” of her career.
The now 29-year-old Calgary native found remote work conducive to her neurodivergence and love of travel while working for the Ottawa-based e-commerce company, which launched a policy working remotely at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic – a policy that she said would be permanent.
Aleinik eventually landed a new job at a software company advertising a “five-year remote engagement,” but just when she was starting to feel comfortable, the company built a new office in Florida and its PDG started touting the benefits of on-site work. She quit just before employees living near the office were called back three days a week.
“The idea of going back there is terrifying. The idea of being on a bus, on public transport and all of that being made compulsory and we having no choice, that’s one of the main reasons why I’m fighting to stay away Aleinik said.
“People are healthier when they are at home. They have better relations with their family, they can manage childcare.
Aleinik’s experience signals a shift rippling through the tech sector, as employers move away from fully remote roles and towards hybrid and in-person work arrangements.
As companies in other sectors increasingly require their employees to return to the office at least a few days a week, the change in the tech sector is notable – and even shocking to some – as the industry has been one early advocates of remote work.
At the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, Shopify CEO Tobi Lutke said “office centralization was over” and said he would let most of his employees stay home permanently.
Mark Zuckerberg even speculated that Meta, then called Facebook, could have half of its staff working remotely within five or ten years.
Wary of not being able to compete with the big names in technology and not wanting to disrupt workers accustomed to logging in from their kitchen tables or wherever their travels take them, startups also seemed ready to allow their staff to work remotely. away forever.
These arrangements are more rare these days.
A recent report by job site Indeed found that of the number of Canadians benefiting from some form of hybrid work, just under 60 percent were entirely remote, up from 75 percent a year earlier.
“We find that the majority of positions we’ve posted right now are hybrid and city-bound,” said April Hicke, co-founder of Toast, a women’s collective and talent organization that shares job postings. technology-focused with its staff. members.
The recent shift away from exclusively remote jobs has been “very, very rapid and very dramatic,” Hicke added, attributing much of the change to a ripple effect that started with big tech.
Zoom, the videoconferencing pioneer, asked employees living within 80 kilometers of its offices to be on site two days a week in August.
Earlier this year, Zuckerberg urged staff to visit Meta’s offices in March, even as he announced 10,000 workers were being laid off and another 5,000 jobs canceled as part of his ” year of efficiency”.
“This requires further study, but our hypothesis is that it is even easier to build trust in people and that these relationships help us work more effectively,” he wrote in an open letter.
Data captured by Meta showed that engineers who joined in person and then transitioned remotely or remained in person performed better on average than people who joined remotely. Early-career engineers perform better on average when they work face-to-face with teammates at least three days a week, the company also found.
Other companies touted office work and hybrid working as creators of camaraderie and made it clear that career advancement at their company depended on face-to-face interactions.
IBM Chief Executive Arvind Krishna, for example, told Bloomberg in May that he was not yet forcing workers back to the office, but said those who stick to remote working would struggle. to be promoted, especially to management positions.
Amazon’s Andy Ja*sy seems to agree. The chief executive reportedly told staff in late August that “it probably won’t work” for those who don’t return to the office.
But getting workers back to the office should be about collaboration rather than career advancement, Marta Max said. The executive director of operations at Nanoleaf, a Toronto-based smart home technology company, tells staff that FaceTime doesn’t equate to more or less promotions.
Nanoleaf requires product engineering personnel to be present on Mondays and Thursdays, while sales and marketing employees visit the office on Wednesdays.
“We got to the point where we decided to make certain days mandatory…because they need that interaction, that kind of hands-on approach when solving complex issues with hardware and software,” said Max.
“It’s sometimes hard to do online and when you figure it out there’s no one around to cheer you on with.”
Although it has asked staff from certain teams to be present on specific days, Nanoleaf provides some leeway for staff who have moved out of the GTA or who have scheduling conflicts.
Max, however, claims that most of his industry friends have been fired back into the office. When she asks why, they tell her they think the CEO of their company hates working from home, wants to justify office space expenses, or just doesn’t trust the staff.
Reversing such positions is proving more difficult due to increased layoffs in the tech sector.
Companies like Shopify, Google, Amazon, Netflix and Microsoft have cut large numbers of employees from their workforces. Layoff aggregator Layoffs.fyi counted 231,695 workers across 968 tech companies around the world who lost their jobs this year alone.
“This is clearly an employer-only market right now, so you may need to be more flexible in terms of salary, job title or where you want to work,” Hicke said.
Still, Aleinik was lucky enough to find a remote job, which she started in August. She is confident that this employer will not force her to return, as her contract stated that the position was 100% remote and stated that if there was a return to the office, it would be optional.
“These were major red flags, but I would still say that actions speak louder than words,” she said.
“So if they’re buying offices and other buildings, … if they’re saying coming to the office is the best way to get to know your business, those are red flags that I’ve missed before and don’t certainly not see here.”