Remote Work Is the New Signing Bonus | Kanebridge News
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Remote Work Is the New Signing Bonus

Workers are trading jobs, enticed by the guarantee of flexible schedules and working from home.

By Chip Cutter and Kathryn Dill
Mon, Jun 28, 2021 11:52amGrey Clock 7 min

After almost a year and a half of working from home, many white-collar employees say they are not willing to return to corporate offices full-time. Even whispers of returning have been enough to send some professionals searching for an exit—and plenty of bosses are welcoming them to new jobs with the promise they can work remotely, at least most of the time.

The push for flexibility is adding to the wave of resignations rippling through the U.S., recruiters say, and motivating many employers to re-evaluate their work-from-home policies. Canadian video-software firm Vidyard says it has seen a steep increase in job applications in recent months after emphasizing that roles can be performed mostly at home. And at Allstate Corp. , conversations about every new position now begin with the question: “Why can’t this be done remotely?” says Carrie Blair, the insurance giant’s chief human resources officer. “It’s a big workforce shift for us.”

Hardly anyone will return to Allstate’s offices full time, Ms. Blair says, after employees expressed in surveys that they didn’t want to and the company found most functions don’t require an office setting. Allstate recently decided 75% of roles can be performed remotely, and another 24% can be done on a hybrid basis, with workers splitting time between home and the office. The 1% who will go back to a pre-Covid-style office setting include some top executives and certain people in field offices with customer-facing roles.

Brandon Minaya, a 26-year-old tech-company employee, calls remote work ‘the arrangement that I want to keep.’ PHOTO: JOVELLE TAMAYO FOR THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

Marc Cenedella, founder and chief executive of Ladders, a job-search site for roles that pay north of $100,000 a year, says greater flexibility is shaping up as a perk that companies can wield to poach talented people.

“Remote is going to be the new signing bonus,” he says. “Instead of dangling, ‘We’ll give you $10,000 if you sign for this job,’ it’ll be: ‘Instead of having to commute 35 minutes every day, go to work, and get in your car and drive 35 minutes home, you can work from your home office all the time.’ ”

Matt Croak, a 27-year-old software engineer in New York City, wasn’t actively looking for a new job earlier this year, but believed his consulting-firm employer could begin reopening its offices this summer in a hybrid capacity. So, when a recruiter reached out in April about an engineering role at an e-commerce company that would allow him to continue working fully from home, he pursued it. The job comes with higher pay and the chance to learn new skills, but it will also allow him to spend mornings reading in his living room in Brooklyn, instead of hunched over a subway seat while commuting 45 minutes into Manhattan. Mr. Croak says that, over the past 16 months, he has had more personal time for meditation and other self care—activities he wasn’t ready to give up in order to rush back and forth to and from an office again.

“I do really want to work from home permanently,” he says.

More American workers are quitting their jobs than at any time in at least 20 years, according to the Labor Department. One factor behind the trend, executives say, is that more employers are outlining their return-to-office plans in detail, giving employees a clearer sense of what to expect next. Apple Inc. recently said it wants most office workers to show up Mondays, Tuesdays and Thursdays, with the option to work remotely on Wednesdays and Fridays. Other companies, such as Pontiac, Mich.-based United Wholesale Mortgage, are recalling thousands of employees to a corporate campus in the coming weeks, with a goal of getting close to 100% of workers back and resuming a traditional five-day workweek, according to the company’s chief executive, Mat Ishbia.

“You see tons of bold statements. Companies saying, ‘No remote work.’ Some companies are saying, ‘We’re getting rid of all of our offices,’ ” says Bret Taylor, president and chief operating officer of Salesforce.com Inc. In many cases, it is the employees who are primarily calling the shots. “There’s like a free market of the future of work and employees are choosing which path that they want to go on.”

In a recent survey of 2,000 workers commissioned by Prudential Financial Inc., a quarter of respondents said they planned to look for a new job post-pandemic, with many of those planning to leave citing work-life balance issues as among their top concerns. Half of the respondents reported feeling that the pandemic had given them more control in deciding the direction of their careers.

Jeff Simonds, a 38-year-old who lives in Burlington, Vt., began a new remote job this past week as a search engine optimization manager at Updater Inc., a New York-based tech company that makes software designed to help with logistical challenges when people relocate. Before the pandemic, Mr. Simonds worked in an office and says he never would have considered doing otherwise.

One benefit of working for an all-remote company, says Pallavi Daliparthi: ‘You know there’s nothing happening in the background, in-person somewhere.’ PHOTO: PALLAVI DALIPARTHI

Over the past year, he says he appreciated being able to throw in a load of laundry during the workday or to begin his day from home earlier so that he could squeeze in a round of golf in the late afternoon, with his work completed. The new role came with a raise, and he says he considers the ability to work remotely as a kind of bonus. “It’s the freedom to kind of define my own workday,” he says.

His prior company, which provides marketing services and tools for auto dealers, had tentatively discussed returning to the office in September, Mr. Simonds says.

“Knowing that there was somewhat of a looming deadline of life back in the office” helped to inform the career move, Mr. Simonds says, adding that he was primarily drawn to his new employer’s growth prospects and the chance to help shape a new team. “I didn’t hate the office life, but I’m very accustomed to this now.”

Though a number of companies are still calling workers back to offices, some bosses realize policies must shift to remain competitive. At First Advantage Corp. , an Atlanta technology company that employs more than 3,500 people and had its initial public offering this week, CEO Scott Staples says the company plans to reopen its offices in phases over the coming months. Some employees, particularly those in technology roles, will likely be able to spend more time working remotely.

“I think CEOs of the future just have to have a lot more flexibility on policies and procedures. It’s the only way you’re going to grow and survive,” Mr. Staples says. “There are certain roles where if a person doesn’t want to come back in for a variety of reasons, we can accommodate that, and I think that will make us an attractive employer.”

Technology giant Adobe Inc. said this week that its roughly 23,000 employees could spend 50% of their time at home once U.S. offices begin reopening in July, but also said that remote-work arrangements would expand for those who desire them.

“Our default work arrangement going forward for employees is to be flexible,” says Gloria Chen, the company’s head of human resources. Adobe won’t mandate which days employees go into offices or track how much time they spend in them. “Flexibility means flexibility,” she says.

Last fall, as Amy Culver’s employer began discussing plans to eventually return to the office, she found herself filled with dread. Without her typical 40-to-60-minute commute, Ms. Culver, a marketing copywriter, had more time to spend with her daughters, 11 and 16. She was able to continue horseback riding, her postwork outlet, even as the winter sun set earlier. Previously, she and her husband, who works irregular hours, might go several days each week without seeing each other. Working from home outside Richmond, Va., eliminated that issue, she says, and made it easier to spend time together as a family.

The Seattle beach where Brandon Minaya often starts his days looking for seals and birds. PHOTO: JOVELLE TAMAYO FOR THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

“I felt like I had a handle on everything for the first time in a long time,” says Ms. Culver, who is 43.

Though her manager told her she could continue to work from home even after the office in Richmond reopened, Ms. Culver worried about scrutiny and whether she’d be treated as a second-class citizen in the company, losing out on opportunities if she stayed in her basement workspace while co-workers returned. She began applying for jobs at companies that allow most employees to work remotely, and quickly had an offer that appealed to her. In November she started at When I Work, an employee-scheduling software company.

Today Ms. Culver typically works from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., but says she has the autonomy to take her daughter to driver’s ed class in the middle of the day or return to a project later in the evening when she feels creative.

“Now that I work for a remote-first company, we’re all in the same boat. I’m not concerned that’s going to hold me back at all,” she said. “I’m on a team, but I still get to work from home, and I feel like that’s the best of both worlds.”

Other employees have chosen companies with defined remote-work cultures. Pallavi Daliparthi, a 36-year-old who lives outside Austin, Texas, took a job in May with GitLab Inc., a fully remote company that sells tools for software developers. Ms. Daliparthi, now a senior manager on GitLab’s sales team, had previously worked remotely at a large enterprise-technology company, and knew that in a hybrid environment, decisions could be made over coffee in the office that she may have missed while at home. “Whereas here, everybody really is remote,” Ms. Daliparthi says. “You know there’s nothing happening in the background, in-person somewhere.”

A lot of people say they hope to stay remote for years to come. Brandon Minaya, a 26-year-old tech-company employee, moved to a neighbourhood in Seattle late last year that has few links to public transportation, anticipating that he would no longer be commuting to an office in future roles. In March, he took a fully remote client-facing position with Intellum, an Atlanta-based company that makes education software.

Instead of taking an hourlong bus ride each way to a WeWork location, as he did in a previous role, Mr. Minaya says he often starts his mornings walking to a nearby beach, where he looks for seals and birds. Most mornings, he takes the time to brew himself a pour-over coffee, something he once reserved for weekends.

While searching for a new job, he prized companies that seemed committed to remote work. “I wanted to find somewhere where this isn’t something that’s going to be pulled back in six months,” he says. “Like: ‘Just kidding!’ ”

He has the flexibility to meet with colleagues in person, or to travel to the company’s Atlanta headquarters, he says. But “the fact that it’s not expected of me is kind of the arrangement that I want to keep.”

Reprinted by permission of The Wall Street Journal, Copyright 2021 Dow Jones & Company. Inc. All Rights Reserved Worldwide. Original date of publication: June 27, 2021.



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Competitive pressure and creativity have made Chinese-designed and -built electric cars formidable competitors

By GREG IP
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China rocked the auto world twice this year. First, its electric vehicles stunned Western rivals at the Shanghai auto show with their quality, features and price. Then came reports that in the first quarter of 2023 it dethroned Japan as the world’s largest auto exporter.

How is China in contention to lead the world’s most lucrative and prestigious consumer goods market, one long dominated by American, European, Japanese and South Korean nameplates? The answer is a unique combination of industrial policy, protectionism and homegrown competitive dynamism. Western policy makers and business leaders are better prepared for the first two than the third.

Start with industrial policy—the use of government resources to help favoured sectors. China has practiced industrial policy for decades. While it’s finding increased favour even in the U.S., the concept remains controversial. Governments have a poor record of identifying winning technologies and often end up subsidising inferior and wasteful capacity, including in China.

But in the case of EVs, Chinese industrial policy had a couple of things going for it. First, governments around the world saw climate change as an enduring threat that would require decade-long interventions to transition away from fossil fuels. China bet correctly that in transportation, the transition would favour electric vehicles.

In 2009, China started handing out generous subsidies to buyers of EVs. Public procurement of taxis and buses was targeted to electric vehicles, rechargers were subsidised, and provincial governments stumped up capital for lithium mining and refining for EV batteries. In 2020 NIO, at the time an aspiring challenger to Tesla, avoided bankruptcy thanks to a government-led bailout.

While industrial policy guaranteed a demand for EVs, protectionism ensured those EVs would be made in China, by Chinese companies. To qualify for subsidies, cars had to be domestically made, although foreign brands did qualify. They also had to have batteries made by Chinese companies, giving Chinese national champions like Contemporary Amperex Technology and BYD an advantage over then-market leaders from Japan and South Korea.

To sell in China, foreign automakers had to abide by conditions intended to upgrade the local industry’s skills. State-owned Guangzhou Automobile Group developed the manufacturing know-how necessary to become a player in EVs thanks to joint ventures with Toyota and Honda, said Gregor Sebastian, an analyst at Germany’s Mercator Institute for China Studies.

Despite all that government support, sales of EVs remained weak until 2019, when China let Tesla open a wholly owned factory in Shanghai. “It took this catalyst…to boost interest and increase the level of competitiveness of the local Chinese makers,” said Tu Le, managing director of Sino Auto Insights, a research service specialising in the Chinese auto industry.

Back in 2011 Pony Ma, the founder of Tencent, explained what set Chinese capitalism apart from its American counterpart. “In America, when you bring an idea to market you usually have several months before competition pops up, allowing you to capture significant market share,” he said, according to Fast Company, a technology magazine. “In China, you can have hundreds of competitors within the first hours of going live. Ideas are not important in China—execution is.”

Thanks to that competition and focus on execution, the EV industry went from a niche industrial-policy project to a sprawling ecosystem of predominantly private companies. Much of this happened below the Western radar while China was cut off from the world because of Covid-19 restrictions.

When Western auto executives flew in for April’s Shanghai auto show, “they saw a sea of green plates, a sea of Chinese brands,” said Le, referring to the green license plates assigned to clean-energy vehicles in China. “They hear the sounds of the door closing, sit inside and look at the quality of the materials, the fabric or the plastic on the console, that’s the other holy s— moment—they’ve caught up to us.”

Manufacturers of gasoline cars are product-oriented, whereas EV manufacturers, like tech companies, are user-oriented, Le said. Chinese EVs feature at least two, often three, display screens, one suitable for watching movies from the back seat, multiple lidars (laser-based sensors) for driver assistance, and even a microphone for karaoke (quickly copied by Tesla). Meanwhile, Chinese suppliers such as CATL have gone from laggard to leader.

Chinese dominance of EVs isn’t preordained. The low barriers to entry exploited by Chinese brands also open the door to future non-Chinese competitors. Nor does China’s success in EVs necessarily translate to other sectors where industrial policy matters less and creativity, privacy and deeply woven technological capability—such as software, cloud computing and semiconductors—matter more.

Still, the threat to Western auto market share posed by Chinese EVs is one for which Western policy makers have no obvious answer. “You can shut off your own market and to a certain extent that will shield production for your domestic needs,” said Sebastian. “The question really is, what are you going to do for the global south, countries that are still very happily trading with China?”

Western companies themselves are likely to respond by deepening their presence in China—not to sell cars, but for proximity to the most sophisticated customers and suppliers. Jörg Wuttke, the past president of the European Union Chamber of Commerce in China, calls China a “fitness centre.” Even as conditions there become steadily more difficult, Western multinationals “have to be there. It keeps you fit.”

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