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Why Companies Are Expanding Their Office Footprint After Embracing The Remote-Work Trend


In a move that is challenging the current trend of companies embracing employees working from home, Facebook is purchasing the beautiful, new and unused 400,000 square foot corporate campus headquarters from the outdoor lifestyle retailer Recreational Equipment Inc (REI).  

The spectacular complex offers a design and functionality incorporating the environment and nature with an office space consistent with its outdoor lifestyle brand. It has outdoor staircases, a bridge, courtyard and skylights for workers to see the wide-open sky.   

The REI campus was never occupied, as the company pivoted to a remote-work setup. The company planned to sell the building in its entirety or keep some office space and rent out the rest.   

Facebook cofounder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg joined other tech titans, such as the heads of Google, Twitter, PayPal, Spotify and Salesforce, in offering employees the option of working from home through the summer of 2021. Zuckerberg told the Wall Street Journal that he “expects as much as half of his firm’s employees to work from home within a decade.” 

A clear pattern is emerging about the remote-work trend. Around late March, companies woke up to the severe reality of  the Covid-19 outbreak. Many organizations implemented work-from-home options. As the virus kept spreading and a vaccine looked far from fruition, corporate executives pushed out the timeline of remote work to about July 2021. 

The work-from-home trend seemed to work well for both workers and the companies. It looked like this would continue even after the outbreak eventually ends and the virus gets under control. Over the last month, the corporate mood has changed. Concerns were raised by parents that it was difficult to maintain their jobs, while desperately trying to juggle child care and homeschooling via Zoom videos. Some people became frustrated being stuck at home for six months and looked forward to getting out of the house and starting to socialize again with colleagues. Executives, such as JPMorgan CEO Jamie Dimon, openly questioned the productivity of people working from home. 

After months of announcements from companies talking about their remote-work policies, the conversations have shifted back to returning to the office. Amazon challenged the remote-work movement by announcing that it was leasing corporate office space in six major U.S. cities with plans to hire over 33,000 corporate and technology professionals. As part of the expansion, the online retail juggernaut purchased the former Manhattan Lord & Taylor flagship. The department store chain had previously sold the historic building to WeWork. Google laid out blueprints to build a company-owned, mixed-use campus, including residential housing and office space.

In an interview with the Wall Street Journal, when asked about the benefits of working from home, Netflix cofounder and co-CEO Reed Hastings said, “No. I don’t see any positives.” Hastings added, “Not being able to get together in person, particularly internationally, is a pure negative.” The chief executive said that he’d expect his 8,600 employees to return to the office “12 hours after a vaccine is approved.”  This week JPMorgan, the large Wall Street bank, called for its traders, bankers and brokers to return to work by late September.

Zuckerberg is a shrewd businessman. He is hedging his bets. When Twitter and Google told their respective employees that they could work from home for the foreseeable future, Zuckerberg followed suit with his own similar plans. As the trend of the tech companies veered toward bringing back people to the office, he pounced on the REI property.

His prior comments aren’t disingenuous. It’s reasonable to conclude that we will end up having a hybrid work system. People who have health concerns or are anxious about returning to work may be allowed to continue staying at home. Those who must be in the office—by the nature of the job—will return and so will those folks who desire the social interactions and benefits associated with being around others. To ensure health and safety, shifts may be scheduled. The traditional nine-to-five workday may be replaced by early morning and later-in-the-day work shifts. Employees could be asked to work three days in the office and two at home.

For Zuckerberg and other executives, it’s a smart decision to keep all of their options open. As we’ve already seen, this is an unprecedented situation and has changed our mindset about work, health concerns and the fragility and unpredictability of life. REI may have acted too hastily in going all in on remote work, while Zuckerberg cannily scooped up a beautiful space where his employees will love to work.



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