Big Tech gave workers an ultimatum. Come back to work or find another job.
Elon Musk and Mark Zuckerberg, along with a number of other executives of America's largest companies, have made it very clear that the success of their company depends on everyone working together in person.
Autodesk doesn't give in to peer pressure. When peer pressure is coming from the most successful companies in the world, swimming against the tide can be a risky move.
Rebecca Pearce is the chief people officer of Autodesk. She experimented with a new approach.
Autodesk, an international software company which makes tools for architects, designers and engineers, launched Flex Forward, a hybrid-centric strategy, under her leadership in March. Managers are in charge of the program. They decide whether or not employees are required to report to work.
Pearce, a British-born executive in human relations, was one of those who spoke out loudest at meetings with C-suite executives to promote Flex Forward.
Pearce told CNN that he was "cursed" with the ability to be a futuristic optimist.
She knew that she could be as productive in an office as anywhere else, having spent the majority of her career working hybrid arrangements around the world.
She and other Autodesk executives also wanted employees to visit their offices. They recognized the importance of face-to-face interaction for both the employees and the company.
Pearce said, 'Some things are better done in person'. He became Autodesk’s interim chief human resources officer in January 2020 while the company looked for a replacement for the previous CPO who had resigned.
Pearce said she never expected to be considered because the previous C-suite executives at Autodesk did not live outside North America. There were times I felt a great sense of responsibility for proving that flexible working is possible even at senior levels in the organization.
Steve Blum said that Pearce is always willing to listen to the concerns of employees during any decision-making processes.
He told CNN that 'everyone knows she always presents what is in the company's best interests'.
Autodesk began to reopen its offices in 2021, depending on local regulations, after closing more than 90 worldwide in March of 2020. The company's 13,000 workers weren't eager to return.
It didn't take long before the return-to office mandates started piling up outside of Autodesk.
Tesla CEO Elon Mots ruffled feathers when he announced that employees would have to be present five days per week starting in June 2022.
There are companies who don't need this. But when did they last ship a new, great product? Musk wrote that it's been awhile in an email sent to the entire company. Musk told aposton X (formerly Twitter) that those who do not like the policy should 'pretend to work somewhere else'.
Many companies have now followed suit.
Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg stated in a March blog that 'our early analysis of the performance data shows that engineers who initially joined Meta in person and then transferred to a remote environment or remained on site performed better in average than those who joined remotely'. This analysis shows that engineers who are in the early stages of their careers perform better when they interact with colleagues in person at least three times a week.
CEO Jamie Dimon stated in July that around 60% of JPMorgan Chase employees, including all managing director's work in person 5 days a weeks. He said that 'I don't believe you can be an effective leader if you are not accessible to your team'. Dimon also added that remote work "doesn’t really work" for creativity and spontaneity.
In a memo sent to all employees in February, Amazon CEO Andy Jassy stated that people are more attentive, engaged and observant when they're physically present. Jassy cited 'collaborating and invention is easier and more efficient when we are in person' as one of the reasons Amazon will soon mandate a return to office space.
Autodesk also wanted its workers back. But it took a different approach.Autodeskcommissioned a satirical videourging an employee who initially appears to be Zooming in to a meeting to join their employees at Autodesk's Portland, Oregon, office in April last year.
In the video, an employee in a Zoom office says, 'You should, you should, come.' The employee tells the Zoom employee that this office is cooler than any you've ever seen at home. Don't be a dick. They then proceeded to show him the many perks of the office including the massage chairs and the free snacks.
This video is a great way to understand the foundations of Flex Forward.
We want people to enjoy working [at the workplace]. Pearce said to CNN that he did not want people to feel forced to work in the office. We don't think that being in a workplace is the best way to make people happy, productive, creative and innovative.
Theoretically, it sounded good to let more than 2,600 managers make decisions that directly affect their employees. Autodesk workers were less likely than Amazon employees in May to stage a mass walkout after the company started requiring employees return to their offices three days per week. It is also unlikely that the company would lose half its staff, as happened with LGBTQ dating app Grindr when it announced a mandate to return to office.
The program could have allowed all employees to work remotely from home or other locations. Autodesk would then have had unused office space, and leases which wouldn't expire for many years.
Pearce admitted that he would tell employees, "Hey, you should be here in person for the next couple of months because it will accelerate your success, and it will accelerate our success."
Pearce told CNN that she was not interested in giving the impression that Autodesk is looking for an 'easy way to get talent' by offering such flexible and attractive working arrangements.
Blum stated that Autodesk rethought its office footprint before implementing Flex Forward. Autodesk, for example, closed its San Rafael office in California; consolidated it into the San Francisco headquarters and began subleasing its office space.
Autodesk also redesigned its remaining office spaces in order to move away from individual workstations and cubicles, which accounted for 60% to 70% Autodesk’s space. Instead, the company opted to create spaces that encourage more collaboration. Pearce called it 'intentional gathering'.
Pearce said that the reverse is now true, allowing off-site meetings, previously held in hotels, to be held in offices.
Blum said that this is an efficient and cost-effective method of holding meetings. It's a constant experiment.
Pearce no longer worries about how Flex Forward will make Autodesk appear to companies that are competing for the same talent. She said that the results speak for themselves.
According to Autodesk's internal data shared with CNN, voluntary attrition is down 7% compared to the previous year. Autodesk's job listings received 400% higher views after Flex Forward announcement. They're noticing an increase in women and people of color.
Pearce said that at the end of it all, "we want people who want to work with Autodesk to do so because of the things we do and our culture."
Pearce said that more and more candidates are applying for positions because they see Autodesk, as "that remote company".
She told CNN that there was nothing wrong with wanting a job that allows for hybrid working. "But we wouldn’t want this to be the only aspect of our employee value proposition."
This means hiring managers must be more selective when selecting candidates. Pearce says it's "a nice problem."