The Remote Revolution: Insights from Glassdoor CEO Christian Sutherland-Wong

Christian Sutherland-Wong took over as CEO of job-review site Glassdoor in January 2020 after five years in various roles across the firm—including COO, head of product, and president. “It was a super interesting period to be taking on the reins,” Sutherland-Wong tells Fortune. “These past four years have seen a lot of change—and a lot of good stuff, too.”

One such good thing: Companies across the globe are taking a renewed interest in flexibility—and Glassdoor is no exception. Glassdoor told Fortune exclusively that the company will close its last remaining offices in Chicago and San Francisco imminently, and in the meantime will be subleasing the spaces as they “double down on being a remote-first company going forward.”

Glassdoor shifted to a fully remote operation on March 3, 2020; its Bay Area headquarters was one of the first U.S. regions to feel a COVID surge. “Like other companies, we were really pleasantly surprised to see how productive we still were when working from home,” Sutherland-Wong recalls. “We were very much an in-office company before that; we believed we needed to be in-person to collaborate and work together.”

Once that belief was proven to be unfounded, Glassdoor never looked back. “We were so productive [working remotely], and employees really liked it, and it really opened up our talent pool to people we never had access to before,” Sutherland-Wong says. “So it was an incredible accelerant for us in hiring talent.”

There’s no turning back now; three quarters of the company’s workforce live beyond commuting distance from one of their offices. “We don’t even think we need an office presence eventually,” he says. “What we need more of is bigger event spaces where we want to bring people together for shorter periods of time to encourage relationship building.”

Glassdoor, bolstered by the reviews on its site for other companies that exercise a remote-first approach, is “very invested in being a remote-first company” for good. The drastic change to its real-estate strategy, Sutherland-Wong says, was inevitable because “pre-2020, we expected employees to come in 5 days a week.” Even he, as CEO, has only been heading to the office around once a week.

Word on the site

On the anonymous-review site, discussion around remote and hybrid work is at an enduring fever pitch. “The general sentiment is: Workers, for the most part, crave flexibility,” Sutherland-Wong says. “There are workers who feel lonely and like the opportunity to come into the office and connect with colleagues. But on the balance of things, it certainly feels like workers desire remote work more.”

It’s also been a fascinating exercise to observe how companies have reacted—and in many cases, pulled back. “At the beginning of the pandemic, it felt like the large tech companies would embrace a remote-work future, but now the pendulum has swung back and you see a lot of them mandating a return to office, at least a few days a week,” he says. “I think that’s a reflection of: While you can do many things remotely, you lose some connection and brainstorming opportunities. That’s why larger tech companies have swung back a bit.”

On the other hand, smaller tech companies—like Glassdoor—still “see many benefits,” he says. “You can, if you’re thoughtful, do things really effectively both remotely and asynchronously. Glassdoor has chosen to really embrace remote because it feels like the right decision for us.”

While there is often dissonance between what workers want and what their bosses want, workers are nonetheless likely to do what leadership says—for now.

“We’re seeing a real difference between the 2021-22 sentiments on Glassdoor and the 2023-24 sentiment,” Sutherland-Wong says. “Earlier, we saw a real economic boom, particularly in tech, and we saw a lot of turnover because there were so many opportunities for workers and such high demand.” Then came 2023, where hundreds of thousands of tech workers were laid off and hiring demand cooled off significantly. “We’ve seen a real swing towards workers wanting to stay put, valuing job security way more than the things that could be out there. They’re just really nervous about layoffs.”

As for the ability to learn through osmosis and make connections with higher-ups, the office still can’t be beat, Sutherland-Wong admits. “I’ll say upfront, our embrace of remote [work] is not perfect,” he says. “We’re certainly making trade-offs by being remote, when it comes to the fun of being in-person day-to-day, and I also think the informal learning opportunities that can come just from being next to a colleague physically—we just have to deal with those trade-offs.”

One of those trade-offs is onboarding, where Sutherland-Wong says “we’re not perfect yet.”

“We haven’t solved the whole gap, but we’re confident we can get most of the way there through a more concerted effort, doing it really well and making sure managers really check in with their workers, knowing that things can slip through the cracks,” he says.

Still, the Glassdoor CEO is happy with the many upsides of remote work: “A ton of flexibility benefits and the ability to tap into talent pools around the world,” he points out. “We know there are things we need to solve for—the relational aspects of being together, things better done in person.” But they’d rather bridge the gap with remote capabilities than renew their leases.

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