Tech

HR reacts to CEO criticism of remote work

Executives have had a lot to say about flexible working arrangements in recent weeks, but HR leaders are more skeptical of a RTO push.
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Jason Redmond/Getty Images

· 3 min read

Executives have had a lot to say about flexible working arrangements in recent weeks.

Sam Altman, CEO of OpenAI, said he believes one of the tech industry’s “worst mistakes” was believing they could be fully remote forever.

“I would say that the experiment on that is over, and the technology is not yet good enough that people can be full [sic] remote forever, particularly on startups,” the CEO said at an event hosted by financial tech firm Stripe on May 3.

Two weeks later, Twitter owner Elon Musk had stronger words to say on the matter, deriding tech workers as “laptop classes living in la-la land,” and calling work-from-home arrangements “morally wrong” in an interview with CNBC. The billionaire argued that if service workers have to show up to their jobs IRL, other employees should, too.

Meanwhile, Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky suggested in a podcast that many of the CEOs pushing return-to-office in New York City are “going away to the Hamptons for the summer or going to Europe in August.” (Airbnb went fully remote last year.)

What do folks in the HR world, who are often tasked with developing and enforcing workplace attendance policies, think about all this?

Employee-leader disconnect. “Elon Musk's recent dismissal of remote work as ‘bullshit’ and subsequent backtrack, along with Salesforce's CEO, pushing for a return to the office, highlight the disconnect between leadership and employees.”—Kaleem Clarkson, COO of Blend Me, a remote and hybrid-remote people operations consultancy, writing on LinkedIn

More data needed. “Dear CEOs and COOs who are behind the drive to mandatory RTO—can you share the data that supports your reasoning? Or is this all a hunch game?”—Levi Tenenbaum, HR communications manager at B&H Photo Video, responding to Sam Altman’s comments on LinkedIn

Quick-to-read HR news & insights

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Remote work benefits employers. “Even though you hear a lot of prominent people out there saying that remote is over…it allows managers and leaders to hire people at a lower cost than in expensive cities like San Francisco or New York…And so you have a lot more impact per dollar.”—Adam Nathan, CEO of Almanac, a platform for asynchronous collaboration, to Yahoo Finance.

Flexible work is feminist. “We must destigmatize flexible work and prevent it from becoming another mommy track, a career path for mothers that offers flexible work at the expense of career advancement—or even worse, another version of the tired misogynist trope ‘women belong in the house.’”—Erin Grau, co-founder and COO of Charter, and an HR Brew columnist, writing in Fortune

Leave morality out of the picture. “Let’s remember: Work is a contract, an exchange of time and skills for remuneration. It’s not a moral battleground.”—Gleb Tsipursky, CEO of hybrid work consultancy Disaster Avoidance Experts, responding to Elon Musk in an op-ed for the San Francisco Chronicle

Zoom out: Though tech executives such as Musk and Altman have soured on remote work, the tech industry remains one of the most flexible, according to a recent report published by Scoop Technologies, a hybrid work platform. Three-quarters of tech companies are either fully remote, or let employees choose when or if they work from an office, according to the report, which analyzed firmographics and office requirements of more than 4,000 companies. Tech is starting to embrace structured hybrid policies, though, with 39% of large tech companies (those with more than 1,000 employees) setting “specific expectations” for when workers should come into an office.

Quick-to-read HR news & insights

From recruiting and retention to company culture and the latest in HR tech, HR Brew delivers up-to-date industry news and tips to help HR pros stay nimble in today’s fast-changing business environment.