Kunal Tandon

In March 2020, the world suddenly shutdown, we all were told to stay home for an indefinite period of time. People adapted. Makeshift home offices popped up. You heard people’s roommates, spouses, and children on Zoom calls. Better lighting setups, professional microphones, and curated backgrounds began to emerge slowly, and then all at once. Some tech companies led the way by telling employees that they could be remote forever. This newfound geographical freedom sent people all over the world, no longer constrained to high priced cities where jobs were. People who knew nothing, but were happy to pretend made proclamations about the future of work, and began to tout the arrival of a new better way to work, one that meant people didn’t have to be together in person. Then vaccines arrived, people started trickling into offices, or getting on planes to meet their colleagues, and then a steady but growing drum beat of getting people back into offices began. Eventually, the economy turned, swinging the pendulum from employee power to employer power, giving companies leverage to bring employees back to the office if they wanted to remain at the company. This is an oversimplification but it’s where we’re at today.

Personally, I don’t have a hard take on remote or in office work. I think it’s a personal and nuanced topic, and the only correct take is that it depends. Acknowledging that either choice has real tradeoffs, and sometimes the “right” choice is a function of happening at the “right” time. This post isn’t about one approach vs. the other. I’m trying to write every week, so I can save that for another time. Rather, I wanted to talk about a new issue that’s emerging as we’re seeing some companies, particularly larger ones insisting that their teams be back in the office at least a few days a week. This is happening while many startups are trying to preserve precious runway, while trying to recruit the best talent from anywhere are still staying distributed. This is all fine and good, until it comes time for a smaller startup looking to be acquired by a bigger company that is pushing to have their team back into the office.

It’s complicated enough for any acquisition to get completed. Throw in a challenging economic environment and the complexity increases. Now mix in the fact that a startup Founder can’t make real guarantees to a potential acquirer that most members of the team would be willing to relocate in order for a deal to go through. Startup employees, particularly the most talented, always have an abundance of employment opportunities, which allows them to prioritize their desired work setup, which often can be remaining remote. If enough key employees at a company aren’t willing to relocate, it can make doing a deal incredibly difficult. I’m curious to see how this dynamic will continue to evolve as the market continues to get tighter, and more startups will be trying to engineer landings for their teams, while their teams might be the impediment to getting a deal done.