Instacart is shifting to a workplace that works primarily remotely, but employees say the company has randomly chosen which teams to come into the office in a way that hurts junior employees. Employees of the central operations team – including logistics and trust and security – have been told to return to the San Francisco office three days a week from September onwards, and they were not given a clear reason why.
“For many employees, this policy that excludes us from permanent remote work is interpreted as ‘we trust that the majority of the company can work remotely on a permanent basis, but not these specific employees,'” said one employee who wishes to remain anonymous. for fear of professional retaliation. “Since everyone has been away for over a year, it’s very disappointing.”
Last week, the company announced that 70 percent of the workforce would work remotely. “We asked our employees what they wanted the future of work at Instacart to be like, what was their answer? Make it flexible, ” says a recently updated career page. “We know there is no one-size-fits-all approach to how we do our best work, so we’re introducing a hybrid work environment for when it’s safe for our offices to reopen.”
Employees at central operations say they are not sure why they should come in. While companies like Facebook mandate work in the office for content moderators handling sensitive information, Instacart has the central ops team working from home twice a week – and has allowed them to be completely secluded for the past year.
In response to questions from The edge, an Instacart spokesperson said, “Central Operations employees often work with sensitive proprietary information and data managed on site at Instacart’s offices.”
The team, which employs an estimated 100 people, includes many entry-level workers and workers new to the tech industry. Employees say the imbalance in power makes it difficult to cut back on remote working policies. “Many of the roles are easy to replace,” said another employee who did not want to be named. “They may be happy to find someone else to fill that role if you disagree with the policy.”
In the anonymous chat app Blind, one user wrote that managers from the central operations team were told to “suppress the problem when reported, rather than seek a solution.” While anyone with an Instacart email address can post to Blind, the comment scared employees who feared they would be fired if they question the mandate. Two commentators say they plan to quit if policy doesn’t change.
An Instacart spokesperson said it has never told managers to silence the issue of remote working, adding, “We always encourage employee feedback on this policy and will continue to create forums for open discussion to make sure every Instacart employee feels engaged, productive and successful. “
In an internal email obtained by The edge, an Instacart president said that personal work was “a fundamental element of professional growth, team cohesion, mutual collaboration and sustainable performance over time.” But the requirement does not apply to most other teams within the company, nor to senior managers in the central operational organization. Those employees can work remotely and, according to the internal note, come to the office a “percentage of the time” during the month.
The tension between Instacart employees and management highlights the dilemma that many tech companies are likely to face when they reopen their offices. While organizations such as Twitter and Coinbase have committed to going completely remote, others are trying a hybrid approach that will no doubt leave some employees frustrated.
That’s partly because many tech workers have moved outside of San Francisco. Natalie Holmes, a research fellow at California Policy Lab, told the Los Angeles Times that the city experienced “a unique and dramatic exodus” amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Instacart employees on the central operations team were already upset that they had to return to personal work three days a week when the San Francisco Business Times published an article last week it was announced that most of the business would be remote. “The article put it into perspective that we were in fact the only people who would be needed in the office,” says the anonymous employee. “That threw the reason for ‘cross-collaboration’ out the window, as the teams we work with will not be there.”