Earlier this week during a companywide mental health day off of work, Julie Steele, 34, set up a lunch date with her mom and two grandmothers, who are both in their 90s, at a restaurant in Dallas.
Usually after these get-togethers, Steele would board a plane home to the Bay Area, where she works as Twitter's director of global internal communications. This time, however, she already was home.
More than a year after Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey announced all employees could work from home "forever," Steele took up the offer and, along with her husband, relocated from San Francisco to return closer to family in Dallas.
"For the first time I wasn't worried about when to catch my flight or when I'd be able to see them again," Steele says of her family lunch. "We could just be together and enjoy each other's company. It was such a moment for me to realize this can now be part of my daily life — interacting with family rather than having to choose between them and work."
After 16 months of working from home during the pandemic, some workers, like Steele, may never go back to a physical office, at least not in the way they used to. As employers bring office employees back to workplaces this summer, many are having to contend with a new demand for remote-work flexibility, and some are allowing workers to ditch the office altogether.
Meanwhile, being able to work remotely full-time has empowered some people to reprioritize their lives in ways they never thought possible before.
Working in tech communications, Steele says she always felt a "magnet" pulling her to live in San Francisco in order to succeed, even though in her heart she hoped to eventually move back to Texas. It wasn't until remote work became more widespread in March 2020 that she and her husband actually considered doing it.
By May, Twitter's permanent remote-work policy "expedited that timeline," Steele says, "and before you know it, we're driving across the country looking at homes."
Steele is glad she had several months to work out her relocation not only in her personal life, but also with her company. She made the official pitch to her manager in the fall and physically moved in June 2021. She tapped Twitter's flexible work program team to make sure she was "set up for success and had the same career growth opportunities anyone else would have in an office." As head of internal communications, she had a front-row seat to seeing how decisions were being made, and knew there would be a plan for meetings, management, stretch assignments, getting face-time with senior leaders and continued training as a remote worker.
Her advice to anyone considering full-time remote work is "to make sure you understand how your company will be operating, what your manager's expectations are and as a team how you'll work together," Steele says.
Ultimately, of her decision, "it feels so wonderful to not to have to choose between work and family and have the kind of life I always dreamed for myself, while working for a wonderful company," Steele says.
When JoAnn Shilling was considering a new career last year, she knew she wanted it to be remote-first. The 42-year-old of Wilmington, Delaware, worked full-time at her family's auto repair shop for 15 years until her father sold the company during the summer of 2020.
Shilling knew she wanted her next job to be a lot more flexible — she was exhausted after helping run the essential business during the pandemic, after all. While on a van trip with her son out West in early 2021, she thought of getting a remote job where she could literally take her work wherever she wanted to go.
In March, she secured a job as a podcast relationship manager and took her work on her travels, including to Glacier National Park and Bend, Oregon. "I could work wherever I had my laptop and an internet connection," she says. Her new job even helped keep her mind occupied as she recovered from a knee injury, and subsequent surgery, sustained while skiing in Jackson, Wyoming.
Now back in Delaware, Shilling works virtually with colleagues across Florida, Canada, Spain, Italy and Mexico. Shilling says setting her own hours and working from home has been beneficial to her health — she attends regular physical therapy for her knee and can hop on her exercise bike or walk her dog throughout the day.
Already, she has plans to meet her son and parents in Florida this summer, and will head back to Wyoming for ski season.
After spending the bulk of her career in the family business, Shilling is excited to pick up new skills in podcasting. And the freedom of her new job gives her hope for continued growth: "This job has really given me a sense of security that I don't have to go out and pick some job that isn't going to be inspiring and fun and give me what I'm looking for."
In Sacramento, California, 37-year-old Jessica Kriegel never thought she wanted a job in senior leadership. She used to work remotely for Oracle doing HR development and talent management work. As she moved up in her career, she realized getting promoted would mean having to give up her work-from-home status.
At one point, she took a promotion at the senior director level. It was a disaster. Any semblance of work-life balance from her carefully curated remote arrangement was gone. Suddenly, she was commuting into headquarters four times a week; her days started earlier and ended later; and she fielded calls from her boss at 3 a.m. "It was the hardest three months of my entire life," Kriegel says. "I saw the extent to which they expected senior leaders to be available at all times .... The nonstop urgency wore on me."
After three months, she went back to her previous position, which she could do remotely.
By 2021, Kriegel thought she'd never pursue the management track again until she interviewed with the enterprise management startup Experience.com. The team needed a chief people and culture officer, and they were fully remote. It sealed the deal for Kriegel, and she started her C-suite job in April.
"To have a senior leadership role in organization and still work from home, I feel like I can create some space for myself," Kriegel says.
"I still have the same drive and commitment," she continues. "I have the same amount of work, but the space in between gives me time to give my daughter a hug, close my eyes outside, grab a healthy snack I made rather than get something from the café. I feel like my whole life has been upgraded by working from home."
Some employees have enjoyed working from home so much in the last year that, according to one survey, 39% of people said they would consider quitting if their employers weren't flexible about remote work moving forward.
Giselle Sitdykova, 45, is now officially part of that group. She spent the pandemic working as a data management and analytics manager for a mortgage company from her Oak Park, California, home. Remote work was a wakeup call: Between getting her 11-year-old son ready for school every day, preparing meals, commuting, networking, doing her actual work and sneaking out to bring her son home from school, "I was on autopilot," Sitdykova says. "I didn't have time to think."
After getting into the groove of virtual schooling for her son, Sitdykova realized she had nearly four hours back to herself every day. She picked up an old hobby — ice skating — and played chess or went to the pool with her son daily. On the weekends, she learned to program and built a website to help people, perhaps newly able to relocate and work remotely, find a new city to call home based on 100 metrics across personal preferences and work-life needs. The more time she spent on her website, the more she saw the potential to make it her full-time work.
So when she heard her employer planned to bring people back to the office in July, Sitdykova took it as a sign to go all-in on herself. She and her employer parted ways last week, and Sitdykova is energized to work for herself from home for the foreseeable future. After a year of burning out at work, "I feel so much freedom and breathing room," she says. "I feel with the economy reopening I am opening a door to a new life."