Twilio’s CEO backs remote work as tech peers push return-to-office

Lawson is confident that remote-first work is the right approach as he steers the company through a difficult period and bets on Twilio’s newer applications segment for revenue growth. — Photo by Mikey Harris on Unsplash

Twilio Inc chief executive officer Jeff Lawson said the company is sticking with remote work, even as many tech peers push employees to return to the office.

“We’re going to embrace being a distributed company,” Lawson said in an interview. While periodic in-person events are important, “we can treat folks as responsible adults, focus on the work outcome and output,” he said.

The software company announced in February it was closing some offices as part of a cost-cutting push. Some of the money saved will be used to bring employees together at events, Lawson said. About 60% of the workforce is in locations where Twilio historically hasn’t had offices, he said.

Twilio, known for its communications services such as direct-to-consumer messaging, grew quickly during its six years as a public company, and employed more than 8,150 people at the end of last year. But the software maker struggled to make a profit and its value plunged 81% in 2022.

As part of the push to profitability, the company announced job cuts over the past few months amounting to about 26% of its workforce, and saw the shares jump when it projected adjusted earnings of as much as 22 cents a share in the quarter ending in March.

Many peer companies soured on remote work over the last year as the tech industry faced a tougher economic environment. Salesforce Inc, an early advocate of remote work, is now “just short” of a return-to-office mandate, chief operating officer Brian Millham said last week in an interview. Apple Inc, Alphabet Inc, Microsoft Corp and Inc now require employees to work in the office a minimum number of days.

Lawson is confident that remote-first work is the right approach as he steers the company through a difficult period and bets on Twilio’s newer applications segment for revenue growth. On Wednesday, the company announced updates to its Segment data platform that lets clients better unify different data types about customers across services.

Earlier this week, San Francisco-based Twilio sold its Internet of Things business to Kore Group Holdings Inc for a stake of 10 million shares, which were valued at US$12.4mil based on Kore’s closing price before the deal was announced. “Every business is asking what is most important and we’re doing the same,” Lawson said when asked about the possibility of further divestitures.

Twilio was questioned by conservative media last year after Lawson told employees the first round of layoffs was being done through an “anti-racist” lens. A major donor in recent years to Democratic candidates, the CEO said that tough economic conditions shouldn’t change a company’s commitment to its values. He stands by the idea that job cuts tend to disproportionately impact underrepresented groups, and said Twilio applied the same thoughtfulness to its latest cuts.

“A lot of companies talk about” diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) “when they are growing,” Lawson said. “Not very much – if anything – was said about how do you think about DEI when companies have to unfortunately do layoffs.” – Bloomberg

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