Welcome back to Tech Chronicle. Resolve to make this fine newsletter one of your favorite subscriptions in 2021.
Watch this space
There’s little appetite for looking back, and 2020 is a year we’d just as soon archive. But amid the pain and sadness, some interesting trends materialized that are worth watching in the coming year.
Work from home just becomes work
Location will matter less, particularly for technology companies whose output is mostly digital. As coronavirus vaccines become available to the broader population, we’ll see some large Bay Area employers reopen their offices to those who choose to return. But more and more, it will be a choice.
Before the pandemic, it was common for employees at companies headquartered on the Peninsula or in the South Bay to spend Fridays at a satellite San Francisco office, or just work from home, to cut down on the 101 or 280 slog. I suspect that will flip: There will be days of the week designated for meetings and collaboration, with most of the office population working from home on other days. That will create interesting commute rhythms.
I also think companies that try to insist on office appearances will find they’re viewed less favorably as employers than companies that allow all-virtual work. The office will be an option, not a mandate.
That will mean tools embraced during the pandemic — Zoom, Slack, Teams and so on — will still be in heavy use. If one person on a team is remote, the rest will have to act as if they’re remote. 2021 and the years following will see us spending a lot of time figuring out what that means in our daily work, wherever we do it.
Downtown San Francisco transforms
The corollary of more working from home means that San Francisco’s Financial District and Transbay area will be far less crowded on most days. It may well be that Thursdays and Fridays become the days to go to work in person, once people can go to bars and concerts afterward. I suspect going into the city will be as much about fun as work.
There will be less need for office space, though there may be a need for more casual drop-in space. Could WeWork make a comeback, or will we see a better-run company capture the idea of temporary office space?
I also think we will see at least one big San Francisco-headquartered tech company leave. It won’t be Airbnb, Salesforce or Twilio, whose leaders have recently declared their loyalty to the city where they started their multibillion-dollar businesses.
But Square might well do it; the company has declared itself all-remote, and it could shift its physical headquarters to Oakland’s Uptown Station, if only to thumb its nose at San Francisco city leaders. (Square has sued the city over business taxes; it and other financial companies object to their treatment under the local tax code.)
It is not clear that a symbolic move of a company’s headquarters will have a big effect on what it pays in taxes. That requires a mass relocation of operations elsewhere. But the symbolic loss of a big tech name might be what it takes to wake city leaders up to the crisis of business confidence they are facing.
Salesforce and Microsoft escalate their fight
It all has to do with control over their customers’ work identities and data. Microsoft has a ton of that stored in LinkedIn contacts and Outlook inboxes. Salesforce depends on access to that data.
In this battle, Slack is more than just work chat. It’s a repository of data about customers, colleagues and processes that doesn’t depend on Microsoft.
After Salesforce completes its acquisition of Slack next year, expect a rapid-fire release of products. Slack has made some moves to displace email; what if it offered tools for reading and responding to email within Slack, making Outlook less necessary?
What if Salesforce went further and offered its own equivalent to Microsoft’s hosted email service, cutting Microsoft out of the flow of email, contacts and calendar data? Or what if Slack made it possible to look up people not just within an organization but outside it? Picture something like LinkedIn, but maybe without the performative career-boosting bromides.
I’m just speculating here, but I know that Salesforce’s Bret Taylor, the fast-rising No. 2 at the company, is a product guy who likes to move quickly. He’ll waste no time putting Slack at the center of Salesforce’s strategy to compete with Microsoft.
— Owen Thomas, firstname.lastname@example.org
Quote of the week
“You may stop writing about Substack now.” — Substack co-founder Hamish McKenzie, tweeting on his email-newsletter startup’s adequacy in the attention economy
Is CES still a thing? Virtually, yes. The gadgets show opens digitally Monday. Which reminds me: Did we ever get to the bottom of the theory that CES 2020 was a super-spreader event?
What I’m reading
Daniel Victor on the lasting influence of Zynga’s much-derided “FarmVille.” (New York Times)
Kathleen Pender’s final Net Worth column, on what happens to your gift cards when companies go bankrupt. (San Francisco Chronicle)
David Morris’s brief history of bitcoin bubbles. (Fortune)