Cloud computing COVID-19 Job market Startups Workplace

At Software Startups, Remote Hiring Rules. For Other Sectors, Not So Much

Illustration of remote worker on Zoom meeting.

If you want a job at one of the hottest American startups, there’s a decent chance it’ll be an on-site gig.

However, if it’s a software company whose output is fully digital, the likelihood of remote work goes way up.

Those were the findings from our latest survey of hiring practices at this year’s top-funded U.S. startups. Results showed remote hiring is the norm at top seed-stage software companies. But for the most heavily funded companies across sectors and stages, a majority are on-site or hybrid work environments.

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The breakdown hews fairly closely to what we’re seeing at workplaces across varied industries, observed Nicholas Bloom, a Stanford economics professor who tracks work-from-home trends.

“It is definitely the case that tech is massively more into WFH than other industries,” Bloom told Crunchbase News. A big reason, of course, is that many tech jobs can be done remotely very easily, which is not the case for, say, manufacturing or retail. Beyond that, Bloom notes: “Tech also genuinely seems very open to change, and WFH is new and different and they embraced this faster.”

Highest funding recipients aren’t heavily remote

The latest data dive into remote work trends at funded startups revealed a split in hiring trends that correlates with industry and company stage.

As we observed in a February survey, roughly half of the most heavily funded U.S. startups required all or most employees to be on-site. Unsurprisingly, the biggest determinant for whether a company is remote or location-based appears to be whether it requires physical infrastructure beyond computers and cellphones.

When we updated the list, the findings were similar. We sampled job listings at the 20 largest venture funding recipients of 2022 and found that, once again, roughly half were fully or predominantly on-site employers. This includes Elon Musk’s The Boring Company, AI research company Anthropic, and biomanufacturing unicorn Resilience.

Once again, few shockers. Obviously one can’t bore complex networks of underground tunnels or operate a million square feet of biomanufacturing space while sitting at home in pajamas clicking around on a laptop.

Funding recipients with only digital output, meanwhile, leaned remote. This was the case, for instance, with  ConsenSys, a developer of technology for building applications on the Ethereum blockchain, and Yuga Labs, of Bored Ape Yacht Club NFT fame.

WFH rules at newer software startups

Meanwhile, at younger, software-focused companies, it looks like remote work is pretty much the norm today.

In an attempt to demonstrate this, we compiled a list of U.S. software companies 1 that raised $10 million or more in seed funding this year. We then looked to see what portion of companies listed job openings as remote or remote-first.

Turns out, the overwhelming majority of companies on this list with published job openings were explicitly remote. Sure, they all have some geographic headquarters. But few expect employees to actually go there.

Zora, an NFT platform that raised $50 million this spring, is a case in point. Per securities filings, it’s headquartered in California. But on its hiring page, the company touts: “Our headquarters are the internet and we have employees all over the world.”

Bennie, an employee benefits startup that raised $33 million in January, is another example. Although the company has offices in Connecticut and downtown Manhattan, its team is fully remote across the country.

It’s a sharp shift from the archetypal pre-COVID startup image, which featured lavish in-office snacks and big industrial-chic workspaces. The dominance of remote work among younger software startups, however, seems to indicate it is a rising trend and one that’s likely to stick.

Even firms that back hot startups are joining in. This month, Silicon Valley’s Andreessen Horowitz became the latest VC to embrace the remote way, announcing that: “a16z is Moving to the cloud.” The firm says its headquarters will now be “in the cloud,” although partners will  create physical offices globally.

So seed startup staffers are staying home. Is this a good thing?

At this point, there’s no argument as to whether you can scale a startup without a physical headquarters. The unsettled question is whether it’s the optimal approach.

For Bloom, there are clearly lower overhead costs for a remote workforce and it does help in casting a wider net for hiring. On the downside, he said: “It seems harder to innovate when you are working remotely. It is harder to mentor, and it’s harder to build company culture.”

Chon Tang, founder of the UC Berkeley SkyDeck Fund, echoes this notion. The fund, which works with new founding teams, has mentored both in-person and remote groups, when necessitated by the pandemic. In Tang’s view, the level of camaraderie and collaboration in the in-person groups is almost incomparably greater than in the remote ones.

“Jobs that are very well designed Point A to B, those are amenable to remote,” Tang said. “But for early-stage startup creation, so much is the serendipity of the right conversation with the right person at the right time.”

Illustration: Dom Guzman

  1. Founded in 2019 or later.

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