An article published a few weeks ago is still buzzing around Health IT circles about Epic’s choice to have their 9000 employees return to the office rather than continuing remote work. This is surprising considering how many tech companies are choosing to continue remote work well into the fall or even the end of year. Plus, most are suggesting that a good portion of their work staff are going to remain remote permanently.
While this move by Epic is generally a surprise, it’s not too much of a surprise for those that know Epic. An example of this was Epic’s decision to cancel their UGM 2020 conference with the note that “We truly believe an in-person meeting is irreplaceable.” They are looking at moving some elements of the Epic UGM 2020 online. However, it’s clear that Epic really values the in person meetings including with their own staff.
While most of us can appreciate the value of in person meetings, I think we’re also learning a more nuanced view of this. Personally, when I’m doing something creative, I like to be in person with my team as well. It adds to the energy and creates a free flowing sharing of ideas that’s hard to replicate in the mostly linear online options. However, there are a lot of positions and functions that don’t need to be in person. It’s surprising that Epic doesn’t see this and isn’t reducing the risk to their employees by allowing at least a portion of their workforce to remain remote.
The article does mention that Epic was doing a survey of their employees for “extenuating circumstances, such as if they or a family member had a medical condition or if they were recently exposed to the coronavirus.” However, one employee noted that there was no option for “I am protesting this decision as irresponsible.” Plus, when a company doesn’t embrace remote working as a viable option, it can discriminate against those who need to work remotely because of these extenuating circumstances. One learning from the pandemic is everyone should be on virtually or no one should be on virtually. If you do half in person and half virtual, it ruins the meeting for those virtual.
It’s simple. Having worked there for years in a role that could have been 100% remote: they want staff there so they can monitor people and keep the culture in check. They don’t trust the 9000+ young people to work from home “efficiently” and with good “productivity”. Old school tech company.
Joe’s post got 30,000 views already and so it resonated with many and attracted a lot of interesting comments. Most wondered why Epic would make the choice to not embrace remote work. One suggested it was because they’ve already invested a lot of money in offices which the NY Times compared to Willy Wonka. That may be part of it, but those are sunk costs.
Back to Joe’s comment, Epic’s decision to hire staff right out of college that they can pay less and mold into the employees they want is well known in the industry. Joe’s theory that Epic can’t control and monitor these employees remotely is a good one. Sure, maintaining the culture of your company is extremely important, but the choice to not embrace remote work might be highlighting the worst parts of your company culture.
Going to be interesting to see how this evolves. Will this cause problem for Epic being able to hire people in the future? Will Epic lose some of its workforce that feels it’s a bad choice by Epic? Of course, these are all questions that every organization is facing including Epic. It will be interesting to see which companies embrace remote work and which ones don’t and how that impacts competition for employees.