Tech companies seemed to have readily embraced the remote work challenge that the coronavirus pandemic had thrown at them, and even appeared to be relishing it — many companies had said they were going remote-first, and many were giving up their offices altogether. But it appears that the trend is catching in the FMCG sector too.
Unilever employees will never return full-time to their desks, CEO Alan Jope has said. “We anticipate never going back to five days a week in the office,” he said speaking at a Reuters conference. “That seems very old-fashioned now.” He added that “permanent changes” would be made to how a majority of the company’s 1,50,000 employees worked, and said the pandemic had made it clear that the company did not need to be as hierarchical.
However, Unilever wouldn’t be doing away with offices entirely — Jope said that Unilever was still keen to return to offices after seeing a “slow erosion of social capital”, as working from home was preventing colleagues from meeting in person.
Responses to the covid-enforced lockdowns have ranged across the spectrum, but most people have agreed the working from home is a lot more feasible than was thought before the pandemic. Some companies, like Shopify and Quora, have gone remote-first, which means that working from home will be the norm for employees rather than an exception. Twitter had gone ahead and said that its employees could work from home “permanently” if they so wished. In India, TCS had said that it expected that 75% of its employees would likely work from home permanently by 2025, and CavinKare had gone ahead and shut down its corporate offices, saying that employees would now work from home full-time.
There have been discordant voices though amidst the rush to go remote-first. Microsoft’s Satya Nadella had cautioned of employee burnout early into the pandemic, and Netflix CEO Reed Hastings had said he viewed remote work as a “pure negative”, saying that it made debating ideas harder. But the two extreme responses to remote working might might end up being somewhat where Unilever is right now — in-person meetings once in a while might still continue, but for many companies, it’s unlikely that the working week will ever return to how it was before the pandemic.