Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates expressed hope Wednesday that companies around the world realize the lasting benefits of virtual work after the pandemic passes, adding that virtual meetings are "dramatically better than what came before" in some cases.
"I think we've realized that some part of the activity can be done on a virtual basis and trying to decide as
an employer, hey, do my employees have to be here two days a week, one week out of four? You know, if they live far away, are we willing to accommodate that? What's the minimum requirement?" Gates said during a U.S. Chamber of Commerce forum.
"I hope people are going to their employee groups and thinking about, okay, there were some benefits to not having that long commute. There were some benefits to be able to hire people who live in different locations, and the cost of real estate, you know, in the cities that are doing well, that became a barrier, particularly for the middle class jobs."
Gates, the fourth richest person in the world, said there are some meetings he used to do in-person that he will only conduct virtually going forward. As an example, Gates said, he's working more often with leaders in Africa virtually during the pandemic.
"We're in a very interesting period to take those lessons and, you know, elimination of paperwork and lots of travel and say, 'OK, what should the new steady state be?' In almost every call, I have people say, 'Hey, I look forward to seeing you in person.' But, you know, actually, some of those meetings, I don't think need to be done in-person," he said.
Gates explained that he used to meet with those same leaders in-person every few years.
"At least in that example it's dramatically better than what came before," he said.
Gates also said that "the pandemic risk will always be there," breaking down the risk in two categories.
"Natural pandemics like we're quite sure this one was" and there are "intentionally caused pandemics," he said. "As we invest we have to look at both those scenarios, which if you're not ready for the toll can be very horrific."