Working from home has its benefits, especially when you’re trying to do something that has never been done before.
"There's an opportunity to get into a state of flow when you don't have the distractions that you have sitting at an open desk," Aaron Rosekind, Zoox senior manager, said.
Rosekind works on a team tasked with developing an autonomous robotaxi. But even though he can focus more at home, he admitted that during the pandemic, he missed being able to go up to a colleague inside the Foster City, Calif. headquarters and collaborate in person.
"Within an hour, we've had some great solutions that we would not have been able to do on our own," he said.
Like a lot of companies, most of Zoox’s employees went fully remote during the pandemic. A few teams that had the essential work of constructing vehicles were allowed to return earlier, under strict protocols. Rosekind, who was a new father, observed the work from afar until it was safer. Now, he comes in twice a week.
"The plan is to come in four times a week," he said. "That was the sweet spot I had before COVID. And I want to get back there, but I'm going to wait until my son's vaccinated."
About 58 percent of Americans can still work from home at least one day a week, according to a recent survey by Mckinsey and Ipsos. More than one-third said they can work remotely full time.
Companies are adopting a hybrid model of work, especially across Silicon Valley. Zoox is encouraging people to come in about three days a week, but it is up to the team leaders.
"We do have some flexibility for folks who don't have to be in the office every day," Jesse Levinson, Zoox co-founder and CTO, said. "That's the learning from the last couple of years."
The company had been mostly in-office before the pandemic before learning it could still function even without everyone there physically. However, the culture of teamwork did decline.
"We did see productivity declining, not across the board," he said. "And in some limited cases, maybe people were even more productive not having some of the distractions, but we definitely saw a decrease in spontaneous collaboration."
Similarly, A.I. data mining company Weka had an in-office policy but went remote during the pandemic. With demand for their services skyrocketing as people were working from home, it hired about 100 people. Because everyone didn’t have to come in, it was able to hire the best candidate even if they didn’t live near an office.
"What this has opened up for us is there is a pool of talent out there that we've been able to tap into that maybe wouldn't be available to us at central office locations," said Jonathan Martin, Weka president.
Weka hasn’t instituted a formal return-to-work policy even though offices are open. Martin comes into the Campbell, Calif., offices two to three days a week. But even though the office may not have many people inside, Weka wants even more room to give people the option. Other companies that have announced hiring slowdowns and hybrid models, including Google and Apple, still have plans to expand their Silicon Valley presence or have done so recently.
"If we can establish trust with our employees, then we found that in this distributed model, that they thrive," he said. "Equally, we find that they are wanting to come back to the office when they value those in-person interactions, brainstorming sessions, team meetings, those sort of things."
Martin doesn’t believe the Weka will ever force everyone to come in at the same time. He believes the hybrid model is here to stay.
"I struggle, frankly, seeing a day when the workforce in the foreseeable future will be coming back to the office 100 percent of the time," he said. "I think people have really valued work-life balance through the pandemic."
Updated on August 8, 2022, at 12:29 p.m. ET with the correct spelling of Aaron Rosekind's surname.