As some of the largest companies tell their employees they should plan to work from home for the next year, at least one CEO isn't happy about the move. On the company's earnings call last week, Marriott CEO Arne Sorenson made it clear he's not a fan of companies making a decision to keep their workforce home, in some cases until long into 2021.
That's exactly what Google did last month when it told employees they would be able to work from home until July 2021. Previously, Twitter had said its employees could work from home forever if they choose. Square, which shares a CEO with Twitter, announced the same. Here's what Sorenson said:
There is still frustration to me that when we too often see big, big companies, they're making decisions about keeping offices closed for as much as the next year... And while all of us need to make decisions that protect our people and make sure that we're not putting people out in risky environments before it's ready, there is absolutely no reason for us to be making decisions about what offices look like or what travel looks like in the second quarter of 2021, for example.
Actually, there is a good reason, and we'll get to that in a moment. But it's worth mentioning that of course, the CEO of the world's largest hotel chain has a pretty substantial interest in seeing people start to travel again. His business literally depends on it.
Apparently the company has heard "an increasing level of frustration about remote work," said Sorenson. "We have gotten to the point of after two or three or four or five months saying this is not ‐‐ it's not as good. We can't maintain our culture. We can't bring on new people. We can't train people. We can't invest in the kind of relationships we need to have with our business partners and with our customers."
In some cases that's probably true. Despite the fact that technology has made it a lot easier to stay connected with your team and your customers, there are many kinds of work that simply can't be done from home.
That said, there are very few jobs that absolutely require an office, other than perhaps your dentist or physician. Then again, even physicians have adapted to telemedicine during the height of the coronavirus pandemic.
Technology companies, on the other hand, have more easily made the move to remote work. Software engineering, marketing, and even customer support are all things that don't require sitting in an office. Neither does accounting or HR. Maybe someone has to come in once a week to sign the checks, but a lot of the work can be done from anywhere you have access to a computer and an internet connection.
What Sorenson seems to miss is that the reason the companies are making decisions about working remotely for the next year isn't that they don't know what offices will look like, it's so their teams can make plans about what their lives will look like.
People need stability and some feeling of control over their circumstances. Your employees aren't just software engineers or customer service managers. They're also moms and dads. They have families and homeschooling and everything else that comes along with surviving during a global pandemic.
In fact, for many, school has a lot to do with the decision to allow people to work from home. Having to help your children with remote learning isn't ideal, but at least if you know you'll be able to work from home, you can make a plan.
"I think the statements that you hear from folks frequently that we'll never go back to the office or we'll never go back to travel, I would take with a huge grain of salt," said Sorenson. "And I think increasingly, we will see folks say, 'We've got to get back out there and get back at it.'"
That could be true. I'm just not sure it means the same thing Sorenson thinks it does. Work from home is here to stay.