- The pandemic may end office hustle culture at startups as hybrid work becomes normalized.
- We spoke to European startup founders who are planning the return to work.
- Some anticipate certain teams returning 5 days a week; others have implemented asynchronous working.
Hybrid working looks like the new normal for tech firms, with Facebook, Google, Apple, Twitter, and Amazon all laying out plans asking most workers to return to the office a few days a week. Some employers, like Twitter, will allow permanent remote work.
It’s a psychological shift, with bosses like Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella fretting that fully remote work will result in workers burning up the “social capital” generated by years of working in-person with colleagues. JPMorgan’s Jamie Dimon has explicitly said remote work is incompatible with hustle.
Fast-growing startups are also adapting to this new world, potentially spelling an end to a culture of employees working long hours in the office to ship products or software.
We spoke to founders about how they’re planning hybrid work and returning to the office — and it’s clear the era of 100 hour-weeks in the office is over:
1. Startups will treat geographies differently
Dataiku, a French $4.6 billion enterprise software startup, will make decisions about returning to the office on a geographical basis so they “actually make sense.”
The company has offices around the world, including in the US, Europe, and Singapore.
“There are cultural and political differences in terms of remote work and practicalities,” chief executive and founder Florian Douetteau told Insider. Heading into the office may not be practical for some employees, he said, depending on the travel infrastructure in place. Vaccination rates also differ between countries.
US employees are not afforded the luxury of moving between states in the way that Europeans can across the bloc. “What people expect and want in terms of flexibility is also not the same from one country or one continent to the other,” he added.
Another French startup, call software startup Aircall, is also expanding through Europe and says it will make return-to-office decisions by market. “Every geography is different,” said chief executive Olivier Pailhès.
2. Sales will be in the office more often than engineering
Aircall’s Pailhès said the startup is prioritizing flexibility, not “counting the clock” as long as work is getting done. There is a general expectation for staff to come in once a week, but this depends on the team.
“Some teams, like sales … we expect them to be back like five days a week, in the office,” he said. “In engineering, less.”
Dataiku’s Douetteau added: “There are teams that do benefit from actually connecting frequently with one another, and in fact, we do believe a lot in the virtue of human face-to-face connection from time to time, and there are other teams that actually can operate remotely, fairly seamlessly.”
3. Firms are mandating specific days in the office
Venture capital firm Forward Partners said its approach is “flexible-hybrid.”
Team members are expected to make the commute on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, but the rest of the week is flexible. “I’m super excited to be getting everybody back in the office,” said managing partner Nic Brisbourne.
This means that the whole team will be in the office together, which may make negotiations, brainstorming sessions, and onboarding new employees — each identified by McKinsey as potential sticking points for remote workforces — easier.
4. Startups are changing up their office space around employee wishes
Paddle, which provides billing services to software startups, is letting its employees decide.
The startup asked employees what they wanted from its back-to-office plans via a series of surveys. The results were split, so Paddle has shifted to a mixture of office-based, home-based, and remote working. The company took on new office space in London and has designed it around this feedback.
Aircall hopes to get back to “normal” over the summer, having recently found a new New York office after letting the previous lease expire. The company also has offices in Paris, Sydney, and Madrid. Its headcount will reach 700 by the end of the year, with the addition of offices in London and Berlin.
There is little desire to give up the office for good. According to a survey by PwC, just 13% of executives are prepared to wave the office goodbye, while 87% of employees said it is important for collaboration and relationship building.
5. People still like face-to-face
“We believe in celebration and in intense moments, the fun moments that really make the journey enjoyable. So we’re going to invest a lot to gather people together,” Aircall’s Pailhès said. “And then the rest of the time, you can be more flexible.”
While Forward’s Brisbourne saidhas worked “so much better” than he would have thought, he also wants people together in person as “we are social animals.”
He said: “What you don’t get with all of this is little interactions that kind of build those small connections … The big things are fine, everyone knows what they’re doing, but relationships are kind of not quite so close as they were. So when we have little disagreements, it just takes a little bit longer to figure out what the right path is.
“I think that’s just going to get much better when we’re all back in the office a couple of days a week.”
Pailhès said Aircall has two permanently remote employees, who have “separate treatment and compensation,” but said he does not want Aircall to be “a fully distributed company” due to the value of in-person experiences.
6. There’s still a risk of overworking remotely
Paddle’s employee-led policies have seen the startup go “digital-first”, removing the hybrid label so staff can work at a time and place that best suits them. This includes its “navigate” policy, allowing its 150-strong workforce to log in from anywhere for up to six weeks a year.
There are some practical issues around this. To tackle any potential bottlenecks in workflow, Paddle communicates asynchronously, project approval layers have been tinkered with, and there is a cap on time zone differences for those working remotely.
While hybrid working might end hustle culture in its current format, Paddle chief people officer David Barker warned there’s still a risk of overwork.
“Productivity actually increased during the pandemic,” he said. “And that’s also a little bit of a concern, because of the blurring of lines between the home life and work life.”
Barker said Paddle had put several employees through in-depth mental health awareness training, adding that “anxiety and putting people under pressure is something that we don’t want to advocate.”