The Future of Work in the Bay Area

Our primary focus at BVOH Search & Consulting is adding value to our relationships. During a time when everyone seems to be living in a vacuum, we realize we have a unique position of reaching finance leaders to better understand what they’re facing, connect them to each other, and share their insights with the community. 

We connected with over 150 CFOs and financial leaders (mostly from VC-backed or public companies headquartered in the Bay Area) to get a clearer picture of where the future of work is headed. We not only want to navigate the best way to serve our clients, but also to share insights with others so they can learn from those outside their own world. 

In these responses, we’ve noticed a resounding truth: This time is an exercise in humanity. There is pervasive uncertainty and lack of control. As we ask company leaders how they view long-term remote work and if they’ll consider moving finance and accounting jobs outside of the Bay Area to reduce costs, feedback is mixed at best, polarized at worst. As John Allen Paulos once said, “Uncertainty is the only certainty there is.” 

Feedback from Bay Area Financial Leaders

Yes, times are uncertain. 

No, there’s not a consensus on timeline or logistics. 

But, we did hear three consistent messages from the leaders we surveyed: 

  1. Most companies won’t force their people back into the office this year. 
  2. Long-term, most think there will be a hybrid model of work, combining time spent in the office with work from home. 
  3. There are too many variables right now to make long-term decisions. 

Here’s a deeper dive into what we learned about how leaders perceive working from home and the long-term job outlook in the Bay Area. 

Working from Home

People’s experiences working from home differ greatly, as do company perspectives. There’s no universal answer for when we’ll return or how it will work logistically. 

For now, many company leaders are deferring the decision, slowly extending how long employees can work from home for a month at a time as they consider school reopenings, vaccine progress, and what’s best for their people.

Deciding Factors

Now that California schools are not starting in-person this fall, there is yet another hurdle for companies who previously planned on bringing employees back in the August/September timeframe. Most working parents never expected to homeschool their children, especially while working a full-time job. The possibility of continuing to teach or provide full-time child care through the fall semester, while trying to get their jobs done, is particularly daunting. Employers are now considering this new paradigm in their workforce as a whole, in order to not create a disparity between the parents and non-parents. 

Companies are also waiting to see how the release of a vaccine impacts reopening. The sooner it’s approved and released, the sooner moving back to the office becomes a viable option. 

While remote work is sufficient for many companies right now, most leaders we spoke to eventually want the opportunity to work in the office again.

The commuting patterns of employees also weigh in, particularly in smaller organizations. The concern over taking crowded public transportation into San Francisco is concerning for many, while companies with accessible and inexpensive parking, and employees with the ability to drive to work in their own vehicles, appear more viable to returning quickly. Thus, further driving a disparity between San Francisco-based companies and their suburban counterparts. 

While many companies are delaying the return to the office, manufacturing and medical device companies have a greater appetite to bring people back full-time more quickly. For some, this is driven by necessity – if those on the manufacturing floor are essential then it makes sense to extend those parameters company wide. For others, it is driven by leadership’s comfort and preference to have face-to-face interaction. 

Different Perspectives

Despite these considerations, the personal preference of the leader seems to be a big driver of accommodating remote work. If the executive team feels comfortable and productive working from home, this sets the stage for their teams as well. However, if their personal preference is on-location work, they are more apt to promote getting people back in the office sooner rather than later. 

How do most of these leaders feel about remote work? It’s a wide spectrum. People with the right setup to work from home see it as the break they’ve been looking for. They’ve wanted flexibility for years — and now it’s finally proving possible. They feel strongly that their team is 100% productive and they’ll never go back to an office climate full time. There’s no doubt that everyone saves time by not commuting, which translates into more time working, and thus, more productivity. 

Those without the right setup and connections feel quite the opposite. They’re ready to get back into the office and do the work they want to do and collaborate face-to-face in an environment with fewer distractions and disruptions. 

And still many others have a more measured response: Remote work suffices for now, but isn’t really effective long term. They believe we’re in a honeymoon period that will change when business returns to normal and companies are scaling again. Growth and progress will require face-to-face collaboration, and meeting face-to-face is easiest in a central location. 

Keeping Jobs in the Bay Area

While remote work is sufficient for many companies right now, most leaders we spoke to eventually want the opportunity to work in the office again, especially in the Bay Area. We’re proud of our talent here in San Francisco. Company leaders hold a slight bias in believing the talent they need exists here more than other places. Why would they look outside the Bay Area if the best talent is right here? 

Plus, many leaders have noticed at least some breakdown in the collaboration piece. They want the option of face-to-face collaboration, even if it’s not every day. Training junior staff remotely also presents its own challenges, and one that many leaders acknowledge but have not admitted to figuring out yet. 

The Implications of Leaving the Bay Area

Although it’s not the majority, some leaders will move positions out of the Bay Area for cost savings (remember, they’re CFOs!), but they seem to have a measured approach to doing so. For most, the plan isn’t allowing anyone to work from anywhere. Hypothetically, having employees in all 50 states creates tax implications on a state and jurisdiction level that could prove financially and operationally arduous. Plus, most still want the option for employees to meet in person, at least on occasion.

In this time of polarized opinions and stances, remember this key principle: However you feel about working from home — not everyone feels that way.

Even among companies who promote remote work, there’s still a focus on having an office within commuting distance. When considering relocation, more CFOs have a preference for employees to live around “hubs.” The decision of who lives where breaks into two lines of thought:

  1. Allow employees the opportunity to relocate to locations where the company already has a physical presence. They can then easily access a central location established for meeting and collaboration. When they need to gather, they’ll be able to. 
  2. Build teams in a specific area. When they need to collaborate, they’re able to meet face-to-face. 

Yes, Google, Facebook, and Twitter are making big claims about long-term (and maybe even indefinite) remote work. While this inevitably creates pressure for Bay Area tech companies to do the same, many leaders aren’t in favor of it for their own companies. Even the tech giants don’t know what the future holds, they’re just the first to make the decisions. This is likely due to the complications of having such a large infrastructure; they need more time than their smaller counterparts to figure out an appropriate in-office solution. 

When Will Companies Make Long-Term Decisions? 

No one knows with certainty how work will transform due to the pandemic, but everyone is thinking about it. As for now, most company leaders agree they’re not coming back to work… yet. 

In companies who haven’t established policies and timelines, employees are drawing their own conclusions. Many have moved out of the Bay Area temporarily to save on rent, have more space, or be with family. But be aware of the potential for long-term changes if there’s a mass exodus. 

If you’re considering moving to a less expensive location, you might not keep a Bay Area salary. At Facebook, employees can expect to receive a location-based payroll adjustment if they choose to relocate. If people start moving en masse to lower cost-of-living areas, their salary will likely be adjusted to reflect that. 

In this time of polarized opinions and stances, remember this key principle: However you feel about working from home — not everyone feels that way. There isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution for the future of remote work. Plus, there are still too many variables to make long-term decisions right now. In the meantime, companies are exercising a short-term approach and trying to stay agile. As we at BVOH learn more, and companies continue to navigate the best way forward, we’ll keep you posted. 

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