Katy’s Korner -Work-From-Home – The Year of “Why Not?”

Katy Motiey Chief Administrative and Sustainability Officer Published 7 Dec 2021

Last summer, when my mother decided to sell her home of 31 years in San Diego, I expected it would take longer than it did.  When the house sold, it was a race to find an apartment since she was dead set on not moving into a retirement community.  After the mask mandate was lifted in California in mid-June, I spent several afternoons driving around coastal communities, taking pictures of signs, and calling leasing offices.  With COVID restrictions it was impossible to get into any apartment building without an appointment, but even when you got one, it seemed like nothing was available.

In one of my favorite leasing agent conversations, at the newish complex, ‘One Paseo’ in Del Mar, I inquired about the age range of the tenants.

“Legally, I can’t answer that ma’am,” he said.

“Forget the law,” I said, grinning at my lawyer-self, “I’m asking for my mother, I’m 53 … you do the math on her age.”

“Well let’s just say …  it’s a fun place.  It’s very quiet during the day, in the afternoon and evenings the tenants are out by the pool and in the hallways.”

“It sounds like a dorm,” I said.  I envisioned National Lampoon’s Animal House (again I am dating myself) which is not exactly appropriate for my mother.

“Well,” he paused.  “It kind of is … with this work from home movement, young professionals are moving to San Diego en masse.  Why not? Right?  The beach, the sun, the fun,” he said.

The “work from home movement” phrase caught me off guard but I knew what he meant.  A few weeks later, a friend who talked about her new college grad son, who had moved to the mountains in early 2021, to work remotely and snowboard in the winter, called it “The Year of Why Not?”

As I reflected on these types of conversations, it made sense. The younger generation would move closer to the beach or mountains since almost every company started to allow employees to work from home.  At Extreme, I noted employees of all ages making interesting moves, in our Raleigh office folks started to work from their mountain homes, employees in the Salem office worked from their New Hampshire lake houses, Extreme leaders made permanent moves to places like Paso Robles and Florida.  I, myself, moved down to Encinitas, California after living in Silicon Valley for 23 years.  Why not, right?

During the height of the pandemic, Silicon Valley companies announced the employee exodus from San Francisco down to the peninsula and to places like Lake Tahoe.  In April of this year, I read some of those same tech companies with a younger workforce, moved their return to office date to September 2022 to give the young employees the flexibility to work from anywhere, go to other states and countries, to align their return to office with the school year for their young families.  Many companies like DoorDash, Stubhub and Asana have moved their return to office date to calendar 2022, others like Facebook and Twitter have delayed their reopening until further notice, and still others like Linkedin have canceled reopening and declared and that remote work is available permanently.

I have employees with various circumstances … several with children under the age of 10 living at home, aging parents at home, even grandchildren at home.  At the beginning of the pandemic, I never imagined work from home could work, especially for legal teams and other front-office functions.  However, a few months ago, one of my employees of Brazilian origin was about to make a trip to Sao Paolo and I encouraged him to stay longer, “you have an office set up there, why not?” I asked.  What did I care?  The work was getting done and getting done well.

For the last 19 months at Extreme, we have tracked employee in-office attendance on an internally published weekly tracker for all of our major sites: San Jose, Salem, Raleigh, Toronto, Shannon, Ireland, Reading, UK, Chennai, and Bangalore.  We’re not spying on our employees, we just want to better understand our employees’ appetite for working in a physical office again so we can make informed, data-driven business decisions.  We’ve learned that since the start of the pandemic, of our 2500 or so full-time employees (plus another 500 or so contractors), in any given week, no more than 170 go into the office on any given weekday.  Our data is based on a badging system, which means we are also including janitorial staff and perhaps others who come in for maintenance work.  Imagine … some of the 170 who badge into the office are not even our employees.  So, less than 170 employees, globally, go into the office every week.  It’s jaw-dropping, right?  How can we have such low in-office attendance and yet manage our business without our financial performance suffering?

In the last 19 months, Extreme has been able to fund the highest bonus payouts since 2017. And we’ve had four quarters of double-digit operating margin and three-quarters of double-digit year-over-year revenue growth.

So, guess what? Work from home… works … it’s been working… it is working.  So why are we having this discussion?  Why do leaders care?  What does it mean for everyone to work from home?  Are we never going back to the office?  Are we never going to see our bosses, employees, colleagues?   Will we ever have thirsty Thursdays or go back to an office holiday party?

The answer is probably not.  What we do know is our old habits will change, slowly.  Companies, leaders, and employees are evolving, we’re all rowing down a river and we don’t know where the journey will take us.  What we do know is we are all making it work and very successfully.

For Extreme, it is abundantly clear that work from home … works.  The real question is… “Now What?”

We recently requested our managers and employees to work collaboratively, to designate employees as “remote, hybrid, or in office.”  Once again, we are learning that less than 25% of our employees want to be “assigned to an office.” We define “assigned” as anyone who wants to work from the office 4-5 days a week and those members of the engineering team who are in the office less than that but need monitors and other equipment set up for when they do pop into the office.  There’s a lot that goes into “Now What?” And systematically, day by day… we leaders will figure this out.

For me personally, in the July timeframe, I found my mother an apartment in a beautiful quiet building.  No midnight ragers… yet!

Want to see more from Katy’s Korner? Visit our YouTube channel and check out the many employee spotlight interviews we’ve highlighted so far.

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