Jun 1, 2023 - Economy

Yelp is down to one office in the U.S., as it leans into remote work

Illustration of an office chair with a "closed" sign hanging from it.

Illustration: Maura Losch/Axios

Online review site Yelp is closing two offices that very few employees have actually been using — affirming its commitment to a remote-first workplace, the company announced Thursday.

Why it matters: While employers like Amazon are grabbing headlines by pushing unwilling employees back to the office, many others are leaning into remote work — making permanent changes to the way they operate.

  • Companies are shuttering under-utilized spaces or redesigning them with an eye towards a hybrid work model.
  • Despite the noise we hear from “the desk-banging CEOs,” there are plenty of companies “that lean into remote-first or more radical flexibility," said Erin Grau, co-founder of Charter, a media and services company.

State of play: Last year, Yelp closed offices in New York, Chicago and Washington. The closures announced Thursday will shutter its Phoenix and Hamburg, Germany spaces on July 1.

  • On average last month, fewer than 6% of the desks in those offices were being used, the company told Axios.
  • Yelp now has one remaining U.S. office in San Francisco, as well as locations in Toronto and London.
  • The closures mean that a few office-dependent employees like security providers — will lose their jobs, the company said.
  • The office closures and space reductions completed so far — the company downsized its San Francisco office — are saving Yelp around $26 million to $28 million in annual expenses in 2023 and 2024, it said.

Zoom in: The office closures are part of Yelp's commitment to "fully embrace remote work," the company's chief people officer Carmen Whitney Orr said in a blog post.

  • "Our employees overwhelmingly favor remote remote work," Orr told Axios in an interview.
  • Yelp, which now has 4,900 employees globally, said it's expanded remote-friendly employee benefits, including a travel reimbursement for healthcare where a procedure like abortion or gender-affirming care might be banned in an employee's state.
  • It also beefed up a wellness stipend that workers use for gym memberships or workout apps. "They're able to spend the time they don't spend commuting working on things like their health," Orr said.

"[F]orcing people back to the office, even in a hybrid model, is the wrong approach," Yelp CEO Jeremy Stoppelman wrote last year.

  • It's a stark contrast to Amazon, where employees staged a walkout this week over the company's return to office policy, which requires employees to come in three days a week.

The big picture: Yelp's certainly not alone — plenty of other companies are also still embracing remote work.

  • In May, 28% of companies of the 4,000 companies tracked by a new data report called the Flex Index were fully flexible, either with no offices or leaving it up to employees to decide whether or not to come to work.
  • 30% of companies were doing some kind of structured hybrid plan where workers come in a minimum number of days a week. And 42% were fully in-office — down from 49% in February.
  • The index, run by a software company called Scoop, uses public sources and a survey to amass information on what companies are doing  and then cross-checks the data with employers, said CEO Robert Sadow.
  • Nearly a third of the companies in the database are public; 80% have 10,000 or fewer employees. And 20% have more than 10,000 workers. Smaller companies are more likely to be flexible, according to the report.

Online retailer Etsy has also leaned into remote work — redesigning its Brooklyn headquarters for a more hybrid model, the company's CEO Josh Silverman told Axios.

  • There are permanent desks for workers who live nearby and come in often, as well as more open areas for collaboration when big groups come in for meetings.
  • "Most people I think are coming to a conclusion that we've got to find a different way of working. I'm not trying to go back to any past. We're trying to lean forward to how work is going to happen," Silverman said.

Zoom out: The average national office occupancy rate is just 49% of what it was during the pandemic, according to office swipe-in data from Kastle.

What to watch: Who gets promoted. For companies that mix remote and in-office set-ups, Grau and others worry that those who aren't coming in for face time could be left behind.

  • "One thing we're watching is how many of those companies are shoring up their internal practices to be sure that if they're offering more flexibility, it's not preventing [employees] from advancing their careers," Grau said.
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