These are just some of the tech companies that are either moving out, downsizing or transferring their headquarters out of Silicon Valley.
And it’s not just because of Covid. Other states and cities have increasingly been more attractive for tech companies, offering better tax incentives and business perks. Then there’s remote work, which allows roles to be done from practically anywhere on the globe. Workers are finding locations that offer better lifestyle choices.
Regardless of the reason, companies are putting up their office spaces for lease.
According to a Cushman & Wakefield report, there are around 17M square feet of vacant office space in San Francisco right now. This is equivalent to 10+ Salesforce Towers sitting empty and gathering dust.
Sf.citi, San Francisco’s tech trade association, has been tracking the exodus of big players from the Bay Area and found out that only 14% of those surveyed plan to return entirely to their old offices.
One can account for the string of high-profile moves and be too quick to judge and say, “Silicon Valley has failed!”
But there’s another way of looking at it.
This is happening exactly because Silicon Valley has become a runaway success.
This Is How We Used To Do Things
Silicon Valley grew out of the tradition of engineering professors putting up their own companies.
In the 1940s, Frederick Terman, the dean of Stanford School of Engineering led the charge, establishing research facilities and bridging business and tech. Over the decades, the academe churned out engineers whose superpowers were to design chips made out of silicon, (thus the name “Silicon Valley”). They either had their start-ups or worked for companies too happy for the talent available.
The hardware and devices invented and produced in the area slowly drew out venture capitalists who saw the tremendous potential of nascent technologies. Before long, you have the perfect storm of brains, vision and money tightly packed into this 50 square miles of space of the San Francisco Bay Area.
(The history of Silicon Valley is a rich read on business, science, and human nature, and would make for a very interesting study.)
Silicon Valley had to happen because, at that time, if you want to “get into the action,” you need to be where the action is. If you want to work on industries at the bleeding of technology, you’d have to pack your things, wave bye-bye to your parents and settle in the valley.
Then you get to be at “ground zero” and be able to do things like knock on doors, attend meetings, and pitch your ideas to investors. Then you’d be able to fish for mentors in the field, apprentice for them, or take them out for coffee and pick their brains. (There’s also the serendipity of meeting some tech guru in the produce section and striking up a wonderful back-and-forth ofyour ideas.)
That’s how we used to do things.
That’s how we collaborated and bounced ideas off each other. In her book, “Secrets of Silicon Valley: What Everyone Else Can Learn from the Innovation Capital of the World,” author Deborah Piscione talks about the importance of the convergence of people, skills, ideas, and philosophies for innovation.
If you’re a young engineer with the beginnings of an awesome product, you can find in Silicon Valley like-minded individuals and mentors who are just as passionate and just as brilliant. The resulting synergy was palpable.
Silicon Valley was a Mecca for brilliant people developing, testing, and honing their ideas, whether it was for a nifty hardware product or a game-changing app. That spirit of cooperation (and competition) was invigorating, and people were building on top of each other’s best work. There’s a spirit of experimentation that gives you license to freewheel, fail, and have a go at it again.
It was this kind of Silicon Valley ecosystem that produced technological marvels like the internet, email, Wifi, websites, search engines, smartphones, computers, video calling, and the multitude of software applications that we use and take for granted today.
So why are companies leaving Silicon Valley?
Because they can.
Talk about the ultimate Oedipal story of birthing the son that would be the very one to kill you. Silicon Valley birthed the very tools that could ultimately render it unnecessary. (At least not at the levels of its heyday.)
When you look at the hardware and software products that came out of this space, taken together, they allow productive work to be done in novel ways.
This time, you don’t have to be in the same space as like-minded individuals to collaborate, cooperate and innovate. You can easily send an email, schedule a Zoom, or do a full presentation online.
It may still be years before broad adoption, but they are developing VR experiences so immersive it’ll feel like you’re actually meeting your company’s vice president for international accounts.
Silicon Valley planted the seeds of its obsolescence by spawning new ways of communication and making it possible to be productive from the comfort of your own home while wearing your favourite jammies. (What used to be frowned upon has become the most efficient way of getting things done.)
There will probably never be a substitute for pressing real flesh when shaking the hand of your mentor, colleague or client. But when you think of the travails of business travel and the hours spent sitting in airport lounges, when you can simply press a few buttons on your home computer and spruce up that ficus plant in the background, people are foregoing the real handshake.
From this point of view, Silicon Valley has been a runaway success, changing the way we work and play, reimagining our concepts of space and time. For example, work is now “location agnostic” in that no matter where you are you can do practically the same job as if you were in the office.
After Silicon Valley
A sea change is happening in our midst. Gen-Z folks, (who will soon make up a great part of our labour force), consider online presence more important than real-life interactions.
This really shouldn’t come as a surprise, especially when, even before Covid, we see a table of teenagers in coffee shops looking down on their smartphones instead of talking with the people present.
And since we’ve digitized a whole lot of human activity—from the economy to entertainment—thanks to Silicon Valley, we can now do almost everything remotely. The adage “Location, location, location” just might have to come up with a whole new meaning—in cyberspace.
We are now adapting to remote activities quite nicely--doing them matter of factly as if it wasn’t just years ago when used to wake up very early to drive to the airport, brave the long lines at check-in and risk getting frisked by the TSA.
It’s a brave new world, but it’s not “out there.” It’s inside the home, and the issues that face remote workers are quite different from those in the office. Suddenly, you see Google searches on how to maximize workspace at home, how to soundproof a room, what’s the best cam for Zoom, or how to feng-shui your home office for success.
It’s not just about changes in space. It’s also about time. When workers are given more flexibility, how do they plan their day? How do they manage to be productive even without a physical presence taking notice?
Employers are asking:
Will my guys still be productive?
How will this impact their creativity?
How are they going to collaborate?
These questions are slowly being answered and addressed, with the issues taking centre stage as more and more businesses have switched to a remote workforce as a competitive and strategic concept.
Thanks to Silicon Valley, our “tools” have fundamentally changed. And because of that, the way we work will ultimately have to change.
Remote work is here to stay. The question is: Is your business ready for it?
Kinetic Innovative Staffing (KIS) helps companies around the world find seasoned remote workers, from virtual assistants, customer service associates, software developers etc. We also give you the tools needed to effectively manage them.
Going remote has proven to be an effective and potent cost-saving measure. By tapping into the rich pool of highly-skilled remote professionals from the Philippines, we help clients save 70% on their labour expenses.
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Kinetic Innovative Staffing has been providing hundreds of companies in the Asia Pacific, North America, the Middle East, and Europe with professionals working remotely from the Philippines since 2013. Get in touch to know more.