Pattern Matching

Remote Work Isn’t the End of Silicon Valley, but It Is the End of Something

A golden era of tech offices sputters to a close

Will Oremus
Published in
6 min readMay 23, 2020
Employees work in Facebook’s “War Room,” during a media demonstration on October 17, 2018, in Menlo Park, California. Photo: Noah Berger/Getty Images

Welcome back to Pattern Matching, OneZero’s weekly newsletter that puts the week’s most compelling tech stories in context.

The notion that remote work is the way of the future is hardly new. It long predates the pandemic and went mainstream in the United States almost as soon as the lockdowns began. (I made the case in early March that the coronavirus response would be a preview of society’s self-isolating future — a future that threatens to exacerbate class divides, among other far-reaching effects.)

Still, it’s remarkable just how suddenly some of the world’s largest tech companies have embraced that future. Last week, as covered in this newsletter, Twitter announced that it would allow its employees to work from home permanently. This week, the floodgates opened.

The Pattern

You can take the techies out of Silicon Valley…

  • In 2013, Yahoo’s former CEO Marissa Mayer made a controversial move to ban her employees from working from home. The idea that remote work was antithetical to collaboration quickly gained traction in the corporate world, and by 2017 it was conventional wisdom. I guess that was one of those “strong opinions, weakly held” that some Silicon Valley thought leaders are fond of, because this week the tech world pivoted in the opposite direction. In the space of a few days, Square, Shopify, and Facebook followed Twitter in signaling a move to adopt remote work as the default.
  • Facebook’s announcement on Thursday was the biggie, because of the company’s enormous scale and influence, but also because it was until recently an exemplar of the “offices matter” outlook. Like Google before it, Facebook’s culture famously blurred lines between work life and personal life, with offices that functioned as an extension of the college experience for its mostly young employees. The word “campus” was apt in more ways than one, and Facebook’s Frank Gehry-designed Menlo Park headquarters embodied the trend toward ever bigger and fancier complexes. (See also: Apple Park and Salesforce Tower.) Fast-forward to this…