NC tech companies sculpt post-pandemic workplaces

·3 min read

Local tech executives see their post-pandemic future and it looks like this: Most of their employees will keep the ability to work remotely, at least some of the time.

Over 80% expect to offer employees a hybrid model of remote and in-person work, according to a new NC TECH Association poll.

Nearly 43% of close to 65 technology company leaders also reported they will not require their employees get a COVID-19 vaccine, nor will they offer incentives. That said, 17.5% indicated they will mandate vaccinations but not masks.

Some are willing to take legal risks to mandate employees get vaccines. Others are avoiding this risk by requiring that non-vaccinated employees work from home, according to Natalie Sanders, employment law attorney at the Brooks Pierce firm.

The main risk employers face with mandates is violating the Americans with Disabilities Act, Sanders said. While the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has given some guidance on how to avoid violating ADA, substantial guidance is still missing from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, the ultimate authority on workplace health and safety issues, she said.

“I think we’re seeing employers just doing their best,” Sanders said at a virtual event called “Work Forward - What’s Next?

NC TECH polled about 300 North Carolina technology leaders in April, May, and June of last year asking how their companies were managing in the thick of the pandemic. In May, nearly 75% of respondents predicted that working from home will be more common moving forward. This time NC TECH asked 140 tech executives about what their workplaces will look like post-pandemic. The latest poll targeted CEOs of North Carolina-based technology companies or site leaders of major technology hubs headquartered elsewhere.

With the pandemic affecting every employee differently, hybrid models of working can accommodate all preferences, panelists said during a virtual event this week where the trade group released its findings.

“Some people are very eager to get back to the office and get back face to face but I think others have enjoyed the flexibility afforded by working from home,” said panelist Andy Jenkins, vice president of engineering at Credit Karma. “I think hybrid is going to be the way forward.”

Despite all of the challenges ahead, NC TECH president and CEO Brook Raiford pointed out tech leaders can draw from past experiences with remote working because it is not a new practice in the tech industry. “It’s just new on this scale,” he said.

Even though not-in-the-office work isn’t alien to this group, enacting it does cost money. Among the poll respondents, 75.4% reported investing in tools during the pandemic to promote online work from home. This includes virtual team building events, well-being programs, and project management apps such as Asana.

That said, the poll suggests that a hybrid model will reduce needed office space, even as workforces grow. Among poll respondents, 57% reported that the size of their office space will likely stay stable even though 81.5% expect to hire more employees this year.

A major challenge that tech companies will have to face is negotiating work from home policies with their employees, said Patrick Flynn, assistant professor of human resource management at North Carolina State University.

“The biggest I expect to see is more employee choice and empowerment in their own work arrangements,” Flynn said. “I think people will be given the opportunity to choose an arrangement that works best for them whether it’s fully in person, hybrid, or fully remote.”