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GitHub to lay off 10% of workforce, sparks remote work debate

GitHub's plan to cut jobs and move to fully remote work sparks more discussion on whether remote workers will be first on the next tech chopping block.

Microsoft subsidiary GitHub plans to cut 10% of its workforce and shift to a fully remote workforce, sparking a renewed debate about whether the tech industry views remote workers as easily disposable assets.

GitHub's move will improve operational efficiency and scale, said CEO Thomas Dohmke in a Feb. 9 message to staff. The company will close all its offices, which have low use rates, as leases end or as it is operationally able to do so, he said.

"We announced a number of difficult but necessary decisions and budgetary realignments to both protect the health of our business in the short term and grant us the capacity to invest in our long-term strategy moving forward," a GitHub spokesperson said.

GitHub's news is in line with other recent layoffs in the tech industry, including at Microsoft, which laid off 10,000 workers last month. Its belt tightening is to ensure support for cloud customers and also to focus on building an integrated, AI-powered GitHub, Dohmke said. The move aligns with Microsoft's plans to heavily invest in ChatGPT maker OpenAI. Although Microsoft owns GitHub, the two companies operate independently.

Remote workers at risk?

Comments on a Hacker News thread about GitHub layoffs
A screenshot of the Hacker News thread comments about this month's GitHub layoffs.

The GitHub layoffs sparked a debate about what the future holds for remote tech workers -- not just those making the switch at GitHub. In a Hacker News post about the layoffs, some commenters said they prefer enterprises with a remote-first business model, while others voiced concern that such enterprises might target remote workers in future layoffs. The post, published Feb. 9, has garnered more than 800 comments.

"Five years from now, I think we will not see remote only for a large company and think, 'Ooh, they value their employees I guess,' but rather, 'Uh-oh, they like to think of their employees as being like virtual servers, easy to spin up and easy to shut down the moment you don't need to pay for that capacity,'" said Ross Hartshorn, a freelance software engineer based in Austin, Texas, on the Hacker News thread under the moniker "rossdavidh."

Later, in an interview with TechTarget Editorial, Hartshorn added that remote work makes it technically and emotionally easier to lay off employees. If enterprises think they will need to make extra cuts in the near future, keeping everyone working remote looks like a better option, because it makes that process easier to enact, he said.

"If you know that you will have to meet someone in person, eye-to-eye, and tell them that they're being laid off, this puts something on the scales in one direction," Hartshorn said.

Change fuels rise in disposable remote workers

The viewpoint that remote workers are disposable stems from the fact that some enterprises view remote workers as less valuable than their in-office peers, said Brad Hill, division president of digital at SkillGigs Inc., an online tech recruiting marketplace in Houston.

For example, while some executives, including GitHub's Dohmke, are embracing a remote-first workplace, others, including Twitter's Elon Musk view the trend as a subpar option. Musk ended remote work at Twitter last June, opining that remote workers only pretended to work. He later softened his stance after too many staff members quit.

Hill said the information age is redefining how and where work can get done to produce needed outputs.

"The notion that anyone or any type of worker can be easily disposed of is a gross misstatement to someone's ability," Hill said. "The only fair sentiment is the cost savings of the actual physical space is less in a remote setting."

Instead of battling the tide, managers and leaders should embrace the idea of remote work, he said. "Criticizing the move to hybrid and remote work environments is holding onto a draconian idea of the past or the status quo bias," he said.

To have a competitive advantage in the future, enterprises must evolve and recognize that remote workers should be treated as equals in the workplace, he said.

Stephanie Glen is a writer, software developer and YouTuber based in Jacksonville, Fla. She can be reached at [email protected] or on LinkedIn:

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