Few if any companies have been hotter this year than Nvidia. Amid the boom in artificial intelligence, its high-powered chips are clamored over by the likes of Amazon, Meta, and Google.
Yet while those companies and many others have issued return-to-office mandates, Nvidia, which has about 26,000 employees worldwide and a valuation of over $1 trillion, is bucking the trend and putting no pressure on remote workers to commute to cubicles.
In May 2020, Huang said he had “no trouble with” letting employees work out of the their home indefinitely. “There’s no question we’re going to do this,” he told VentureBeat at the time.
Today the California-based company is sticking with the policy while also offering employees luxurious office spaces (see below) in which to gather and collaborate. Nvidia leaves it up to workers whether they work at home, in a cafe, or in the office. It views the arrangement “as a way for employees to balance their personal and work obligations, while preparing for the future, so they can focus on doing their life’s work,” Beau Davidson, vice president of employee experience, told Commercial Observer.
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In contrast, other companies have grown increasingly strident about employees working more in the office. Amazon CEO Andy Jassy recently warned employees that “it’s probably not going to work out for you” if they continued to ignore a return-to-office mandate. That followed an earlier employee walkout protesting the policy, where one worker leading the charge insisted, “We can be productive, customer obsessed, we can do our good work, we can make a difference, and it does not have to be in an office building.”
Nvidia’s Huang would seem to agree with that sentiment. However employees prefer to mix their work settings, “I’m perfectly comfortable with all that,” he told VentureBeat.
Unlike other CEOs, however, he’s sticking with the policy. A few years ago, Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg boasted, “We are going to be the most forward-leaning company on remote work at our scale, with a thoughtful and responsible plan for how to do this.” He estimated that about half of the company’s employees would be working remotely within the next five to 10 years. Fast-forward to today and his employees must be back in the office three days a week, with their presence tracked by card keys and other tools. Those failing to comply risk being fired or taking a hit on performance reviews.
Yet Meta workers returning to the office have reportedly struggled to book conference rooms or even find a desk that they can use for a full day. Adam Mosseri, head of Meta’s Instagram, wrote on Threads, “We have not yet figured out hybrid work.” Meanwhile Zuckerberg touted cutting-edge metaverse headsets, saying on the Lex Fridman Podcast, “I think this gets us a lot closer to being able to work physically in different places…I think we’re not there today with just video conferencing and the basic technologies that we have.”
Other firms are resorting to preferential treatment to get employees back in the office. Of more than 400 U.S. CEOs surveyed by KPMG, 90% said they would reward those who work in person with favorable assignments, raises, and promotions.
But Rob Sadow, CEO of Scoop Technologies, maker of a hybrid-office productivity app, believes many company leaders are clinging to the past. “Sometimes that desire to return to office comes more out of fear and desire to repeat past experience than it is around optimizing for what the future is going to look like,” he told the Observer.
Another company bucking the return-to-office trend is the software giant Atlassian, which makes collaboration tools such as Jira.
“We expect people to be able to work from home, from a café, from an office, but we don’t really care where they do their work—what we care about is the output that they produce,” co-CEO Scott Farquhar told Australia’s 60 Minutes program in August, adding, “I might come into the office about once a quarter.”
The company still has ambitious plans for new offices, including in Seattle and Sydney, where it’s broken ground on a 40-story headquarters featuring lush interiors and spaces designed with employee gatherings in mind. It now evaluates its real estate strategy not by card swipes, but with metrics such as cost per visit and the degree to which employees utilize an office and engage within it.
Similarly, Nvidia’s latest headquarters addition, an airy, jaw-dropping 750,000-square-foot structure dubbed Voyager (see above), rejects boxy structures, emphasizing instead communal spaces and views for everyone.
Sadow believes that by letting workers choose between working remotely or collaborating in cutting-edge office space, Nvidia gains a “pretty meaningful talent advantage.”
Indeed that advantage could help it attract employees alienated by harsh return-to-office mandates elsewhere. In a recent survey by Deloitte and Workplace Intelligence, two-third of executives said they’d likely quit if forced back to the office five days a week. The report warned that companies forcing employees back to cubicles “run the risk of losing their pipeline of leaders and have difficulty recruiting fresh talent.”
That’s one risk Nvidia, it would appear, doesn’t need to worry about too much.