The final season of The American Office?

Ian Hunter | 06 Apr 2021 | General

“They say on your deathbed you never wish you spent more time at the office — but I will.”   After a year in lockdown, working in our bedrooms, kitchen tables, or the luxury of a Wi-Fi enabled garden shed, many of us probably empathize a little too much with Michael Scott’s throw away joke from the American Office.  But new survey data and company announcements from the US indicates that 2020 may have witnessed the final season of our own traditional work experiences with the pandemic radically reshaping office culture forever.


Once considered a “perk” of the job, the pandemic has shifted employee expectations regarding remote working which is quickly becoming a priority for many.  More than 40%of US millennials – who now make up the largest generation in the workforce – say flexibility to work from anywhere is a priority when considering job opportunities.  And companies are taking note; Amazon, CVS Health and American Express have all increased the number of remote work opportunities they offer.

With an eye on saving costs, a GartnerInc. survey of 317 CFOs and Finance leaders in 2020 reveals that 74%will move at least 5%of their previously on-site workforce to permanently remote positions post-COVID 19.[1]  This data is an example of the potential lasting impact the current pandemic will have on the way companies structure their operations in the future.

Remote “FDI”

These announcements signal a long-term trend towards remote working, built around a flexible office-centric culture.  These changes are already taking effect within the US techsector and are influencing FDI projects in Europe.  Recent US technology FDI investments into Europe have included a high degree of remote recruitment – especially from nimble companies from the software sector.

This presents opportunities for investment promotion agencies to position their entire work force, rather than simply focusing on their hot tech metro clusters.  Countries who demonstrate a solid digital infrastructure that can cater to a networked, distributed workforce will have a clear advantage.  Supporting interested investors to connect with a broader talent pool will be a challenge but one that can be overcome by connecting with a wider group of recruitment agencies, local university and colleges who can draw from new talent sources and support more regionalization.  Never has the appetite for a regional FDI strategy had such a potential audience.

The Office reboot

Ultimately, the long-term trend points towards a hybrid model, with technology companies moving towards a mix of in-office workers and work from home.  Indeed, while announcing long-term remote working, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said employees will have to meet certain criteria to be considered for permanent remote work.  This includes a level of seniority, strong performance and, naturally, being part of a team that supports remote work.  Google and Amazon have followed this trend, with both saying they expect a proper return to the office after the summer. It seems remote will be a “perk” again.

It will be interesting to see if younger, high-growth startups follow the same pattern or if they will continue to offer more flexibility to differentiate themselves from the big beasts of tech.

A new potential arrangement could be the “studio” model, first launched by Dropbox in October 2020.  The company said it will stop asking employees to come into its offices and instead make remote work the standard practice.  For employees who need to meet or work together in person, the company is setting up “Dropbox Studios” in San Francisco, Seattle, Austin, and Dublin when it’s safe to do so.

Recently, when launching their new UK office (their first outside of the US), Terminus, a high-growth startup from Florida, said their new office would be built around a “hybrid work approach, allowing people to work remotely but having some days where they will go into the office to keep the team culture”.

The office is not dead but, unfortunately for Michael Scott, it looks like we will be spending much less time there.


[1] Gartner – CFO Actions in Response to COVID-19