The global pandemic has had a profound impact on many parts of our lives, and the way we work is no exception, propelling us into a new way of working that has altered our long-standing practices from the past several decades. We have forever left behind the requirement to show up in an office every day, to work pre-set contiguous hours like a 9-to-5 schedule, and to commute long distances in order to work in person with colleagues while still being able to live in the neighborhoods that fit our lifestyle, budget, school choice, and other personal preferences.
At Twitter, our journey away from these ways of working began a few years before the pandemic. We started exploring flexibility in work styles and locations in late 2017, believing it would help us attract and retain the talent we needed to grow by letting people choose where and how they work.
On January 9, 2018, our CEO, Jack Dorsey, sent an email that read in part:
“Unrelated but important: I decided to work from home today. I’m going to do this every Tuesday. I got a lot done, and felt more focused and creative. We should always optimize for where people feel their most creative, and I’d love to see us be a lot more flexible about working from home. As long as people are setting the right expectations with their colleagues, communicating progress and blockers, and getting their work done, all good.”
My inbox was immediately flooded with questions from employees and managers about this new ‘mandate’ from our CEO. We didn’t actually have any new policies or programs ready since it was still in early stages, but suddenly, flexible work was the top priority for our team.
Although I never asked him about it, by sending that email, I think Jack was actually making a point to accelerate this transition. It was clear based on employees’ reactions that they were eager to have more flexibility about where and how they worked. I knew we had a long road ahead of us to change our office-centric culture and long-standing mindsets and behaviors, but changing now was going to be critical to our future success and durability as a company.
We started piloting a Flexible Work Program shortly after Jack’s email and stood up a cross-functional team to explore the different aspects of creating a more distributed workforce that would offer more choice and flexibility to our employees. We launched training courses for managers on how to lead teams working in new ways, and provided a slew of resources, like guides for setting up home offices, and how to work effectively across time zones and locations to support these new ways of working. For the entire fourth quarter of 2019, we piloted remote work as much as possible across the People Team to truly understand what that experience was like, and how to improve it for everyone. By the time the pandemic hit and we sent everyone home, we were grateful to have several foundations in place that helped set our people up for success.
It wasn’t without challenges during the pandemic, though. We all struggled with setting boundaries on our time and found ourselves immersed in back-to back-meetings to try and compensate for the lack of ‘face time’ and personal connection. By leaning into these challenges, we developed things like team agreements to outline and communicate boundaries and set expectations about how to collaborate and communicate. We also leveraged Slack and other virtual events as ways to connect on a more personal level and to infuse some of the fun and silliness we had enjoyed while working together in offices.
Now emerging from the pandemic, we find that 95% of our employees surveyed say they want to either remain working from home full or part time. This was a big change, because previously, only 3% of our employees worked full time from home, and the majority spent their time working in our offices.
Our focus now is to build on this progress and go beyond choice and flexibility. We’re obsessing about what the experience is like for our people no matter where or how they work. We let employees choose the city or town in which they want to live, as well as the work style they prefer—working in an office, working from home, or splitting their time between the two—and we’re redesigning our workspaces and People programs to build an inclusive, equitable experience for all. San Francisco is no longer the same center of gravity that it used to be for Twitter—where the decisions were made, where the leaders were based, and where one needed to be to advance their career. The new practices we are embedding create a level playing field for all, no matter where they live or how they work. Whether someone lives near one of our global offices or nowhere near one, they can be productive, they can grow their careers, and they can be seen and heard in the same way as every one of their colleagues. We still see value in promoting certain in-person interactions but need to keep increasing our ability to work effectively asynchronously and agnostic of timezone or location.
We are still figuring it out. We will learn a lot in the coming months as offices continue to reopen and we observe how and where people are choosing to work. There is much we don’t know, but I do know this: we’re confident this is the future for Twitter and there’s no turning back. We have forever left behind many of those former practices and habits that were so deeply ingrained in how we used to work. That now seems like 100 years ago, not 18 months ago. Companies that don’t understand that or think they can return to the way things used to be will themselves be forever left behind.
Jennifer Christie is chief human resources officer of Twitter.