Will remote working be the end of Silicon Valley?

Not a day goes by on LinkedIn when a connection doesn’t declare their non-return to work. As lockdowns are lifted, companies are increasingly thinking “why would we go back to the office?” For many, business has ticked over quite nicely in lockdown, if not better. In turn, companies across the globe are committing to remote-first models, welcoming in the new future of business.

Although it seems like a story of positive change, it’s also a story of possible office abandonment – and nowhere will feel this more profoundly than Silicon Valley.

The South San Francisco Bay Area has been a one-stop shop for technology and innovation most notably since the 70s, after the name ‘Silicon Valley’ caught on. Abundant in startups, tech giants, tech veterans, and university graduates, Silicon Valley is home to some of the greatest tech stories and somebodies today.

On a normal day (by which we mean six months ago when COVID-19 wasn’t a part of the daily lexicon), Silicon Valley would be bustling. The private bus lines for Google, Apple, eBay, and many more would be picking up and dropping off employees around the area. Tech bros on electric scooters would whoosh past you like a Back to the Future scene. It’s also one of the only places you’ll hear: “and how would you like to pay for that?” “Bitcoin, please.”

Since the pandemic hit, numerous Silicon Valley businesses have decided to embrace remote working going forward. Some companies, such as Google, are permitting employees to work from home until further notice, often late into 2020 or, in Google’s case, mid-2021. Coinbase, Slack, and Twitter made the change permanent, committing to an entirely remote-first model. However, the landmark moment was when Facebook too made the remote-first shift. Zuckerberg had spoken, and everyone else would be sure to follow suit.

However, these choices, particularly Facebook’s, came as a surprise given the huge investment into Silicon Valley workplace environments. Only two years ago, Facebook unveiled its $300 million Gehry-designed campus, with ‘campus’ being the keyword. Notable for its suuuuper relaxed culture, Facebook created a university-esque multipurpose village for its employees. It was a place to eat, recharge, work (of course), but most importantly, it nurtured the serendipity that Silicon Valley is so special for.

The decision to commit to remote-first working is quite the U-turn from the on-site mini-cities that Silicon Valley businesses were once boastful of. In turn, it begs the question: if remote-first is the working style de rigeur, what will become of Silicon Valley?

Exiled by expenses

Silicon Valley-ers have been the envy of tech enthusiasts elsewhere for a long time. However, for those actually living there, it’s not all rainbows, butterflies, and algorithms. You see, despite being home to some of the sexiest salaries on the planet, Silicon Valley is really, really expensive. Six figures a year doesn’t amount to much in the region, and most inhabitants spend more than half of their take-home pay on accommodation.

As a result, employees at some of the best-known tech companies have had to live ‘creatively’ to get the best for their buck. Some live in shipping containers, others live in a van in the company car park (no, seriously). The alternative? Live elsewhere – but you’d be looking at nearly a two-hour commute before you find anything remotely less expensive. You’d also have to factor in the cost of travel too, meaning you might be better off in the car park with the rest.

However, thanks to the remote working shift, employees have been given the best deal possible. Now, they can keep their Silicon Valley jobs, but without having to live in or commute to the area itself. (Note, however, that Facebook’s policy is to adjust the salary dependent on where the employee lives.) In turn, it’s another nail in the Silicon Valley coffin.

The sacrifices might save the day

Should a time come when coronavirus is no longer a threat, Silicon Valley companies will be open for business as usual. Just because they are embracing remote working doesn’t mean they won’t open their doors when the time comes. Besides, as mentioned previously, some have spent millions on their offices, and even the richest of companies won’t want to see that go to waste!

In turn, the appeal of working at, for example, Google, is not just because it’s a big name on your CV (although admittedly, that helps!). Rather, these tech giants boast a great on-site culture, equipped with in-office perks that make anyone go green with envy. What’s more, they all nurture a highly collaborative culture. Remember, one of the key narratives in Silicon Valley’s existence is the concept of serendipity and chance encounters. It only takes two people to have a valuable discussion at, say, Facebook HQ on their lunch break, which could be the key to the next greatest tech innovation.

Furthermore, Fear Of Missing Out – better known as FOMO – is becoming increasingly prevalent in Silicon Valley. Employees want to get stuck into new projects in case it becomes The Next Big Thing. Likewise, angel and venture capitalists don’t want to miss a beat in the next best investment opportunity. Given that Silicon Valley is a hotbed for million-dollar chance encounters, people want to be there and want to create the next household name.

Silicon Valley also has links to universities that will simply never be severed. With Stanford only a stone’s throw away, students flock to the university to get a piece of the Silicon Valley action. Stanford is deeply rooted in Silicon Valley culture, and vice versa. Therefore, it’s unlikely that any generation of graduates would pass up the opportunity to work in the region once it’s safe to do so.

For now, it’s just too early to tell what the impact of COVID-19 will be on Silicon Valley’s future. It’s a battle between expenses and entrepreneurial spirit, as it always has been, but for the sake of boundless innovation, let’s hope the latter will prevail.

Next, check out the Top 10 Blockchain Platforms to Explore in 2020.