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Walmart says its thousands of tech employees will continue remote work — even when pandemic subsides

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Key Points
  • Walmart is the latest company to announce that tech workers, who have been working remotely during the coronavirus pandemic, don't have to return to the office anytime soon — or potentially, ever.
  • In an internal memo sent Thursday, Walmart's global chief technology officer, Suresh Kumar, told the tech team that office space "will be used primarily for collaboration, to sync up and strengthen camaraderie."
  • The big-box retailer has about 10,000 tech employees, including many who are based in the Silicon Valley.

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The Walmart application is displayed on a smartphone in an arranged photograph taken in Arlington, Virginia, May 19, 2020.
Andrew Harrer | Bloomberg via Getty Images

Even after the coronavirus pandemic, Walmart plans to have thousands of its tech employees still working from home.

In an internal memo sent Thursday afternoon, Walmart's global chief technology officer, Suresh Kumar, told the tech team that the company is rethinking how it uses its offices and brainstorming ways to make it easier for them to work remotely.

"We believe the way of working in the future, particularly in tech, will be fundamentally different than it was before," he wrote in the email. "We believe it will be one in which working virtually will be the new normal, at least for most of the work we lead."

Instead of having employees come to the office each day, he said office space "will be used primarily for collaboration, to sync up and strengthen camaraderie."

"We'll be together, at times, and for a purpose," he said in the memo.

During the pandemic, employees across the U.S. have set up home offices, worked from kitchen tables and held meetings by video call. The shift to work from home has inspired some companies to reconsider how they use their office spaces — and if they're worth the pricey rents, high utility bills or hassle of retrofitting to allow social distancing.

Walmart is the latest company to announce that tech workers don't have to return to the office anytime soon — or potentially, ever. Twitter told employees earlier this month that they can continue to work from home "forever," if they're in a role and situation that allows it. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said the company will "aggressively" ramp up its hiring of remote workers and predicted that 50% of its employees could be working remotely within the next five to 10 years. 

In the memo, Kumar said Walmart's tech team has "thrived" during the pandemic and that's influenced plans for the future.

"We are more focused on the things that have the greatest impact for our customers, associates and the business," he said. "We are making quicker decisions and acting. Meetings are now more inclusive of people regardless of location, level or other differences. We have great momentum and need to figure out how to carry it forward.

Walmart competes for tech talent with Silicon Valley companies. The retailer has about has about 10,000 tech employees in the U.S., including software engineers, data scientists and machine learning engineers. Many are based in Sunnyvale, California, but others are outside Silicon Valley at the company's headquarters in Bentonville, Arkansas, or at the former Jet.com headquarters in Hoboken, New Jersey.

The tech team is just a small part of Walmart's huge workforce. The company is the largest private sector employer in the U.S. with about 1.5 million employees. The vast majority of them work in roles that can't be done remotely, such as checking out customers in stores, restocking shelves or packing up online purchases. And many of these employees have been on-site throughout the pandemic, even as Covid-19 cases and deaths were rising, to sell essential goods like food and cleaning supplies. 

Read the full memo below:

Team,

One of the things that impresses me most about this team, is that when the pandemic hit and our customers, associates and company relied on us, you didn't hesitate, you leaned in and delivered. You did it while adjusting to the reality of working virtually. I can't thank you enough!

An equally amazing observation is…that as we've moved to virtual work, we haven't just coped, we've actually thrived. We are more focused on the things that have the greatest impact for our customers, associates and the business. We are making quicker decisions and acting. Meetings are now more inclusive of people regardless of location, level or other differences. We have great momentum and need to figure out how to carry it forward.

We are not alone. This unusual time has many companies, largely those in tech and services, thinking differently about the future of work. So, how do we think the future could look?

We believe the way of working in the future, particularly in tech, will be fundamentally different than it was before. We believe it will be one in which working virtually will be the new normal, at least for most of the work we lead.

With this in mind, we've decided that even as restrictions are lifted and other groups in Walmart eventually return to their offices, we will take our time, and think about how we can invent the workspace of the future. We will have physical office space and it will be used primarily for collaboration, to sync up and strengthen camaraderie. We'll be together, at times, and for a purpose. While we believe working virtually will likely be the new normal, we have a lot to work through to make sure we maintain our momentum and the benefits you've gained as an associate.

We want you to be a part of this reinvention.

We will have multiple workstreams to look at the different dimensions of this and consider geographic nuances. We want to create opportunities for you to actively participate. Our primary focus in this transition is you, our associates. Isabel Cruz will lead all of the workstreams related to associate experience, engagement and wellbeing. I've also asked Cheryl Ainoa to lead our efforts to include you in the reimagination of how we work virtually and collaborate in physical space, enabled by the right tooling and technology. We'll talk more about all of this during our meetup this afternoon.

Sam Walton once said, "After a lifetime of swimming upstream, I am convinced that one of the real secrets to Walmart's phenomenal success has been that very tendency. Many of our best opportunities were created out of necessity." I'm personally excited about how this new way of working can enable all of us to do our best work and to lead the way for many others.

Suresh

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