Right now, in almost every company, two of the most challenging things to figure out are how to help employees be productive while stuck working at home, and when to finally bring them back to the office. There are certainly a lot of variables to consider. For example, many employees aren't sure when they want to return to the office.
Plus, in many cases, companies have discovered that a lot of what used to be done in expensive corporate offices in big cities can easily be done by people working from almost anywhere.
"I don't see any positives (to working from home)," Hastings told the Journal. "Not being able to get together in person, particularly internationally, is a pure negative."
Netflix's desire to have everyone back in the office is different from other large corporations', especially those in Silicon Valley. Twitter has said its employees can continue to work remotely, indefinitely, if they want. Facebook and Google have extended work from home until the middle of next year. Apple won't bring employees back to the office until the beginning of next year at the earliest.
Even Salesforce, whose CEO has expressed a desire to get employees back to its office towers, has said it will continue to allow employees to work from home until the end of next July.
It's not hard to see why the current climate makes work difficult for a company like Netflix. Not only is it harder to collaborate when everyone is working largely from home, it's also hard to produce the original programming Netflix is depending on for its continued success.
Hastings says that Netflix has already restarted production here in the U.S., and expects that to ramp up over the next few months--assuming the company is able to implement adequate Covid-19 testing. There's a difference, however, between sending production teams out on location and getting everyone back to the office. On that front, Hastings is pretty clear that he's all in favor of it happening as soon as possible.
Even for Netflix, though, the key to bringing people back to the office is an effective vaccine. "Once we can get a majority of people vaccinated, then it's probably back in the office," Hastings said, adding that it would likely take six months or so after a vaccine is introduced for that to happen.
Those two elements, testing and an effective vaccine, are important for every business trying to come up with a plan to bring everyone back to the office safely.
One of the things that are most interesting to me about this is that in Hastings's famous PowerPoint presentation on Netflix's culture, he touches on "impact" as one of the company's values. Specifically, he talked about measuring people on the basis of "results rather than on process." That's an important value right now, and I've talked before about changing the way we measure productivity to account for the way we work differently.
Further, Hastings describes Netflix's model of corporate teamwork as "highly aligned, loosely coupled." The presentation goes on to explain that "loosely coupled" refers to "minimal cross-functional meetings except to get aligned on goals and strategy," and that "teamwork effectiveness is dependent on high-performance people and good context."
None of that requires an office. In fact, it would seem like the reason Netflix continues to thrive is precisely that it has built a culture that is easily adaptable to the current environment (aside from the obvious difficulty in actually producing content). In that light, it does seem interesting to me that Hastings seems to have such a negative view of remote working.
That said, some people thrive in the environment of working in close physical proximity to their teams. There's no question that working in an office and working remotely are very different. Supporting the culture you've worked hard to build is a real challenge when the context your team is working in changes so dramatically.
I would just argue that isn't a reason to be anxious to get back to the office, but rather a reason to be intentional right now about having the systems and values in place to support your team. Because, at some point, the current pandemic will end. I'm just not sure the same can be said about the shift to working remotely.