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May 21, 2020

Shopify is joining Twitter in permanent work-from-home shift

Shopify CEO discusses company's permanent work-from-home shift

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Shopify Inc. will allow its 5,000 employees to work from home indefinitely, even after the dangers of the coronavirus pandemic fade and cities lift shutdowns.

The company plans to keep its offices largely closed for the rest of the year as it re-designs its space for a “digital by default” mindset and adjusts to a remote work environment, Tobi Lutke, chief executive officer of the Canadian e-commerce giant, said in an interview with Bloomberg Television. Offices will be limited to 20 per cent to 25 per cent capacity after that.

Lutke said he would “absolutely” feel comfortable allowing Shopify employees to work from home permanently. That follows a similar plan from Twitter Inc. last week. Banks such as JPMorgan Chase & Co. and are also reducing office capacity, at least in the short-term, as they try to maintain physical distancing in the wake of the pandemic.

“We expect that majority of people will work from home and home offices in the future,” Lutke said in the interview. “The choice is really, are we passengers on this tidal wave of change? Or do we jump in the driver’s seat and try to figure out how to build a global world-class company by not getting together that often.”

Shopify shares hit a record on Thursday, climbing as much as 3.5 per cent to US$804.94 in New York. Its shares have almost doubled this year, benefiting from the shift to online shopping through the pandemic.

Ottawa-based Shopify has more than 16 offices worldwide, including in London, Tokyo and Shenzhen. The company is re-thinking floor plans, including how to redesign conference rooms, elevator banks and employee work stations. It may dispense with traditional conference rooms to avoid crowding and allow people who are in offices to participate via virtual “tiles” or video screens, according to a company spokeswoman.

“I think it’s important to adjust to new realities as quick as we can,” said Lutke.

Shopify announced last year it would open an office at the Well, part of a plan to double its workforce in Toronto to 1,500 by 2022. The office-retail-residential complex being developed by Allied Properties Real Estate Investment Trust and RioCan Real Estate Investment, will be one of the city’s largest, and Shopify was due to lease 254,000 square feet. The company plans to go ahead with the lease and will continue to retain hubs in Toronto, Ottawa, Waterloo, Montreal and Vancouver, the spokeswoman said.

Other Silicon Valley tech giants, including Alphabet Inc. have not gone so far in their work from home policies, instead saying they plan to allow employees to work remotely only through the end of 2020. Apple Inc. has told employees it will start bringing more workers back to the office in phases beginning in late May or early June.