Tech workers are worried about their jobs, especially in San Francisco. And those concerns may be a key factor in the tug of war between employees who want to continue working remotely and tech companies who want to bring them back to the office.
Most American workers (53%) are more concerned about their job security than they were a year ago, according to a new survey of 7,000 by professional social network Blind. But job-related fears reach a new level here.
In the national survey, five of the top 10 companies nationwide where employees worry about their job security are San Francisco tech companies: Twitter (91%), Robinhood (90%), Instacart (90%), Coinbase (83%) and Docusign (79%).
There is a reason for their concern.
More than 10,000 Bay Area tech workers, many of whom work remotely for fast-growing start-ups, have been laid off so far this year. But there is a paradox in the labor market, and this is where things get interesting.
Larger and more stable companies hire technicians, but many of these jobs require a return to the office, at least part-time. So that begs the question:
Will layoff fears end the era of remote work?
Many workers say they are more productive and focused when working from home and don’t have to waste time commuting. On the other hand, employers believe that workers collaborate better in person, which has been confirmed by recent research. So far, a lack of talent in tech has given an advantage to in-demand workers, who have mostly stuck to remote work embraced at the start of COVID.
But economic downturns matter because of the impact they have on people, not just earnings or stock prices. And that impact is often fear. There’s an old saying that when your neighbor loses his job, it’s a recession. When you lose yours, it’s a recession.
In 2008-2009, when many laid-off workers needed a scramble to pay their bills, the gig economy was born. All sorts of people have started tinkering with portfolio careers. People found new ways to work.
In this incipient recession, laid-off workers who are vying for fewer and fewer jobs could find an old way of working, economists say. They can go back to the office.
“A recession will make the job market much more problematic, and people will want time to keep those jobs,” says longtime Bay Area economist Ken Rosen, president of the Fisher Center for Real Estate & Urban Economics. at the Haas School of Business at UC Berkeley. “I’ve spoken to a number of companies and they’re all saying the first people they’re going to fire are people they don’t know.”
And these workers may find that their new job prospects are much less favorable to remote work.
A prime example of this conflict unfolded on Tuesday, when Robinhood, a remote fintech company with executive offices in Menlo Park, laid off nearly a quarter of its staff, more than 800 employees. (Note that Robinhood topped the list of companies where employees, who were surveyed in June, were concerned about their jobs.)
The laid-off employees flocked to social media to post their job losses – a sad summer 2022 trend – and were met with support from their peers. A software developer licensed by Robinhood said “any reference would be helpful”. He heard from employees whose companies are hiring, including Apple, Microsoft, Adobe, MasterCard and Citibank.
In all of these large, stable companies, employees have been urged to return to the office at least part-time. It didn’t always go well.
“Stop trying to control how often you can see us in the office,” the Apple Together group said in a May letter to company executives that was signed by more than 1,400 current and former employees of Apple. ‘Apple. “Office work is a technology of the last century,” the employees wrote.
Apple gave in on its policy that employees come to work three times a week after staff were pushed back. But that was May, before most of the layoffs and before tech job openings began to dwindle. Although there are still job openings at major Bay Area companies, they are quickly disappearing.
Over the past three months, job postings in the software development industry have fallen about 30% nationwide, more than any other industry, according to job-tracker Indeed. In the Bay Area, overall job postings fell about 11% over that three-month period.
And tech jobs could have a major impact on the nation, according to an Indeed economist.
“The recent fortunes of tech jobs could serve as a guide to the near-term outlook for the overall economy,” wrote Nick Bunker, research director at Indeed, in a recent jobs report.
If a recession sets in, remote working could become much less common, economists say.
Rosen, the longtime UC Berkeley expert, estimates that only 10-15% of jobs will end up being remote. “People are going to realize that the old business model had big advantages. People will come back. Maybe it’s only three days away, but they will come back.
San Francisco Chief Economist Ted Egan believes the current reshuffle follows previous patterns of tech workers moving from big companies to startups in good economic times, and from startups to big companies in tough economic times. In bad times, workers lose their influence, he says.
“A colder job market is definitely going to rob employees of options,” Egan says. “If you’re a business that didn’t like working from home and you only did it for the benefit of your employees, now is the time to worry less about the benefit of your employees.”
Layoff fears may seem irrational, but economic downturns are different when they affect you.
“Why are tech workers so afraid of layoffs?” an Amazon technical account manager asked Thursday on Blind. (Blind verifies where someone works with their work email address, but users remain anonymous.) “Why are well-paid people in the tech industry so neurotic about this?” asked the Amazon worker.
“The emotional impact of being made redundant is significant,” replied a Redfin employee. “It’s embarrassing and painful. There is also no guarantee that you will find another job.