Special Report

Shutdown: The Coronavirus

Remote is the new workplace normal

Working from home means less time at the water cooler and more time with pets. Photo by @5m3photos via Twenty20

At the start of 2020, fitness aggregator ClassPass had offices in 25 different markets. Their employees were working all over the globe – Amsterdam, Bangkok, Brazil, Dubai, and Tokyo, to name a few. ClassPass was riding the wave of the boutique fitness craze. People were eager to add variety in their regular fitness regimens, and ClassPass offered just that — an extensive catalogue of fitness and wellness experiences to choose. They quickly sped up towards global expansion. In 2018 they expanded into Asia. In 2019 they expanded into Europe. In all of 18 months, they went from four to 28 countries. In January 2020 they became the decade’s first tech “unicorn”, valued at over $1 billion  after receiving a massive round of series E funding for $295 million. 

But in March 2021, because of the pandemic, their growth came to a screeching halt. They now have three active leases – two in Montana where they’re headquartered and one in San Francisco. They significantly reduced headcount since turning off their office lights last March. Over 50% of workers were furloughed or laid-off, with only 20% of those who had been furloughed brought back in summer 2020. With studio doors shut, they were receiving little to no revenue stream. ClassPass’ physical workplace was shifting. 

Like many other companies, their employees have continued to work from home since the onset of the pandemic. What’s been lacking in company culture and social interactions, is made up for in working from the sofa, front stoop, and in the most comfortable leisurewear. 

Ashley Bolitho, a Senior Manager of Employee Experience & Workplace Operations at ClassPass, explained that late last year they conducted a survey. They wanted to get a better understanding on how their employees envision working in the future since for better or for worse, they had become accustomed to working from their homes. 

“Around 22% of the team responded they wanted to be in an office full time,” said Bolitho. “About 48% of the team said that they wanted to work out of an office part time and work remotely the rest of the week. And the remaining showed that they want it to be fully remote in the future.”

The pandemic has forced ClassPass, and many other businesses, to rethink the traditional landscape of the workplace. It has thrown the once hard and fast rules for work structure out the window. For most, gone are the days of the prescribed Monday through Friday office commute. In a survey conducted by Gartner, over 80% of company leaders plan to permit remote work after the pandemic. 

Bolitho clarified that there is no blueprint or a one size fits all for companies on how best to return to the office as COVID-19 loosens its grip. Having a better pulse on their employees’ preferences for returning, ClassPass ultimately decided on a choose your own adventure model, where employees will enroll annually on how they want to return to the office. Options are fully remote, full time in the office, or a hybrid model where employees will be in office some days and remote the others. 

“What used to work, no longer works,” said Bolitho. “We know people need some kind of connection and collaboration, and they are going to continue to need that. But now that folks have a sense of autonomy, we’re going to want to continue to give them that autonomy. That’s why we’re giving them options on how to return to the office”.

The streaming giant Spotify followed suit. Joining the ranks of other tech companies who announced they will shift to a flexible work model, Spotify will allow their 6,550 global employees not only to choose their preferred work mode, but have granted flexibility around location, choosing the city where they work. Spotify stated that their people live and work in different ways and the future of work of Spotify will be more flexible, effective and sustainable through their new model

With more companies leaning towards a hybrid approach, the question begs – how do you maintain an office culture, without, well, an office? Those face-to-face encounters in the kitchen when grabbing an afternoon pick me up will be slim, if not cease to exist. The last year has proved that human interaction is vital, and while digital gatherings help, they certainly cannot be substitutes. 

“Shopify has coined the term bursting,” said Shopify Designer Manager Katarina Batina.

“The idea is that at a certain cadence throughout the year, Shopify will support teams co-locating. We’re imaging a world where your team meets in a centralized location for a week of focused work and intention setting for the quarter or the year. ”

Batina always wanted to work at Shopify, but with headquarters in Ottawa, Canada, she wasn’t champing at the bit to move from her home in idyllic upstate New York. When she eventually joined in October 2020, the company had gone fully remote, or as they like to call it “digital by design”, helping in her assertion that it was the right time to join the team.  

Katarina said that the CEO Tobias Lütke always tinkered to move the company in this direction, even prior to the pandemic. Because of the size and aspiring scale of the organization, they saw this as an organic and fortuitous time to permanently take the company fully remote. One reason they decided not to support a hybrid model, is they’re weary of the divide it will create among the two class citizenry of people who are in the office and people who are not. Also, it would just become a logistical nightmare.

“It’s not going to be an equitable environment if we did a hybrid model,” Batina said. “When everyone’s on a Zoom call, it’s great. But when half the room is and half, the room isn’t, it just creates this dual class structure that doesn’t really work well. We want to create an equal experience for everyone once it comes to a work environment.”

Regardless of the position companies take, each will present their own unique pros and cons. For Batina, she’s enjoying the ease and frequency she’s gained from remote work with the five employees she manages.

“We’re not in a fishbowl of a conference room or in a coffee shop with a lot of distraction,” said Batina. “You can have a really open conversation, where if you’re in the office, and you’re having emotional responses, you don’t need to worry about someone seeing you.”

Not all Silicon Valley execs are on board for fully remote or a flexible approach work. Netflix CEO Reed Hastings stated last year that he expects his employees to return to the office once the majority receive the vaccine. No matter what approach companies take, one hope remains. That the formal office dress code never comes back, and the days of pandemic sweat-centric wardrobe reigns supreme.



Other Stories in Special Report: Shutdown: The Coronavirus

Life returns to the East Village

Quincy Walter May 5, 2021

Reopening for Ramadan

Hassan Abbas May 4, 2021

And the band played on

Xavier Bartaburu May 2, 2021

Queens residents mourn at Covid vigil

Annie Burky May 2, 2021

Floating for Free: COVID and the Staten Island Ferry

Trish Rooney May 2, 2021

COVID-19 has left many Black and Hispanic landlords in serious debt

Norah Hogan April 24, 2021

Village East movie theater reopens to the public

Inga Parkel April 13, 2021

Chinese adoptions halted by COVID

Inga Parkel March 24, 2021

One year of COVID-19 in New York City

Michelle Diaz March 16, 2021

COVID long haulers deal with lingering symptoms and doubt

Kaity Assaf March 5, 2021

Pandemic Weddings

Chuyan Jiang March 2, 2021

Pandemic fatigue 101

Chuyan Jiang February 28, 2021

Yankee Stadium becomes COVID-19 vaccine site for Bronx residents only

Michelle Diaz February 24, 2021

The queer community rallies behind their sacred spaces closed because of COVID-19

Inga Parkel February 23, 2021

Street vendors struggle as New Yorkers and tourists stay home

Norah Hogan February 13, 2021

Keeping the faith in COVID-19

Courtney Guarino February 3, 2021

Little Italy’s restaurants need indoor dining to survive pandemic

Michelle Diaz February 2, 2021

Stray pets find homes and love during pandemic

Inga Parkel February 1, 2021

No Actors, But the Show Goes On

James Pothen December 5, 2020

New York City, a place of refuge 

Edith Rousselot December 4, 2020

Commuting in a pandemic world

Michelle Diaz December 3, 2020

Battling food insecurities during a pandemic

Courtney Guarino December 3, 2020


Justin McGown December 3, 2020

Honk!: Cars earn a special spot in 2020

Luana Harumi December 3, 2020

Working out looks very different during a pandemic

Chuyan Jiang December 2, 2020

One kitchen’s transformation in the age of isolation

Isabel Beer December 2, 2020

Nursing homes are filled with sadness and loss during pandemic shut down

Inga Parkel December 1, 2020

The show goes on

Norah Hogan December 1, 2020

Loyal members help keep independent cinemas afloat

Courtney Guarino December 1, 2020

Musicians deal with the reality of no live shows as covid takes center stage

Paola Michelle Ortiz December 1, 2020

 Black Friday’s Aftermath

Sughnen Yongo-Okochi November 30, 2020

The Spirit of Little Haiti

Savannah Daniels October 14, 2020

Small business owners hope for future relief

Courtney Guarino October 2, 2020

Brooklyn Book Festival held virtually

Chuyan Jiang September 28, 2020

NYC Restaurant owners worry about maintaining business during winter 

Isabel Beer September 27, 2020

The pandemic is causing mental health struggles for many Latinos

Paola Michelle Ortiz September 24, 2020

Politically divided family can agree on one thing, rallies are bad during a pandemic

Michelle Diaz September 23, 2020

New Yorkers are vulnerable to mental issues due to pandemic

Sughnen Yongo-Okochi September 23, 2020

Healthcare professionals struggle with Trump’s decisions during pandemic

Tori Luecking September 23, 2020

Some Americans Say “Not So Fast” on Operation Warp Speed

James Pothen September 23, 2020

Trump voters unfazed by morality of Trump’s Covid response

Norah Hogan September 22, 2020

Trump rallies continue, despite the rising Covid-19 death toll

Isabel Beer September 22, 2020

Latinos weigh in on President Trump’s management of the pandemic

Paola Michelle Ortiz September 21, 2020

Fast track vaccine causes fear

Kaity Assaf September 21, 2020

It’s business as usual at McSorley’s Old Ale House

Tori Luecking September 20, 2020

Trump defiance to hold indoor rallies amidst COVID-19 sparks polarized responses 

Courtney Guarino September 20, 2020

NYC Cafes and restaurants try and survive the pandemic

Isabel Beer September 19, 2020

A typical afternoon at Shade Bar NYC

Kaity Assaf September 19, 2020

West Village staple, Caffe Reggio, remains open for outdoor dining in the wake of coronavirus restrictions 

Norah Hogan September 19, 2020

Fort Greene’s Dino adds outdoor dining to keep business flowing

Courtney Guarino September 19, 2020