May 20, 2022 - Technology
Column / Signal Boost

The future of the office could look like a Starbucks


Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

Twilio CEO Jeff Lawson imagines that rather than have offices in each city where his firm employs a cluster of workers, he could just open a coffee shop where employees could work and gather.

Why it matters: Nearly everyone agrees that the future of work is hybrid, but everyone is still trying to figure out what that actually looks like.

Like many companies, Lawson has seen the proportion of remote workers skyrocket during the pandemic, going from 15% of workers to nearly 50%. In many cities, though, Twilio now has enough people for some sort of office — if it's the sort of place workers actually want to go.

  • "Nobody is excited to go back to the office five days a week," Lawson said at a dinner with reporters last week. "They do, however, want a sense of connection and belonging."
  • Hence the coffee shop idea, where workers could come in and work when they are looking for community, a change of scenery or a double latte. Lawson says he wants to run an experiment to see if it would work. "My CFO tells me not to tell anyone," he said to a room full of reporters.

For its San Francisco headquarters, Lawson said Twilio has also turned two floors of its office in San Francisco to more resemble an offsite meeting space, with breakout rooms. People whose job used to be office manager are more like event managers now, he said.

  • PagerDuty CEO Jennifer Tejada has taken a similar approach, upping her snack budget for those employees who choose to be in the office. "It's like an offsite," she said. "We took out a bunch of tables and desks."

Yes, but: A hybrid work environment also means fostering connections that don't require in-person presence.

  • Lawson notes that there is a long history of strong online communities, going back to the early days of the web, and even before that on services like Compuserve and AOL. The trick is figuring out what online community looks like when it's run by an employer.
  • Tejada says she wants to avoid creating a culture where those in the office get preferential treatment. For example, while she likes to come into the office and chat with employees, she doesn't announce her visits.
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