The Seattle area’s corporate leaders and their veteran employees need to get back to the office regularly for the sake of the region and the next generation of workers, T-Mobile CEO Mike Sievert told a crowd of more than 700 technology, business, and political leaders on Thursday afternoon.
“It’s your responsibility to lead the way and get back in there,” Sievert said at the Technology Alliance‘s 2023 State of Technology luncheon in downtown Seattle. He cited the benefits of in-person mentorship for young employees, and the impact of physical presence on the economic vitality of the region.
His comments were part of a wide-ranging conversation with investor and entrepreneur Jonathan Sposato, the GeekWire chairman, Seattle Magazine owner/publisher, and JoySauce founder. They came when Sposato asked Sievert what’s needed to ensure the region continues to “punch above our weight.”
The T-Mobile CEO started by crediting regional leaders including Seattle Mayor Bruce Harrell and King County Executive Dow Constantine, among others, for what Sievert described as “incredible progress made in the county and in the city over the last year” as the region has emerged from the pandemic.
However, he said, the region is “nowhere near where we were five years ago” in its ability to deal with the economic challenges that contribute to homelessness, crime, and high housing prices. Sievert, part of the Seattle-area CEO group Challenge Seattle, said one key is to make sure the business sector is doing its part.
“I’ll say a few unpopular things” he said. “First of all, y’all gotta get back to the offices.”
The comment drew a smattering of applause and scattered laughter, illustrating the divided nature of a crowd that is more typically aligned on core issues facing the technology industry and the business community.
Sievert acknowledged that his perspective on the topic might be unpopular. T-Mobile was early among tech companies in bringing employees back to the office, starting in the fall of 2021, after vaccines became widely available.
Amazon and others have more recently followed suit, bringing thousands of employees back to downtown and nearby areas for multiple days a week, but other companies are still fully embracing remote work.
T-Mobile is headquartered in the Factoria area of Bellevue, Wash., east of Seattle, but Sievert cited the company’s stake in the broader region’s economic success.
He drew a direct correlation between the absence of office workers and crime in Seattle’s urban core. Before the pandemic, he said, criminal actors downtown were “drowned out by tens of thousands of other workers,” creating a feeling of overall safety that contributed to healthy commercial activity.
“So we’ve got to get our people back at the offices, particularly in downtown Seattle,” Sievert said. “Our government has to do their part, too. It’s not just the private sector. The public has to do their part, as well.”
But the issue is also about the cultural dynamics of companies, Sievert said.
In his experience, he said, younger generations are more open to the idea of returning to the office if they know they’ll get in-person mentorship and opportunities for career growth from more experienced employees.
“It’s the people who are 10-15 years into their career, in their mid 30s and 40s, who have been most stubborn about coming back,” he said. “We’re not going to get the young people back unless the mentors are already there.”
Note: We’ll have more details from the conversation with Sievert and the Technology Alliance event in upcoming posts and on the GeekWire Podcast this weekend.