PALO ALTO, Calif. - The Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas kicked off Wednesday, with some notable Silicon Valley tech companies opting to attend the industry trade show virtually. At the same time, tech workers in the Bay Area are wondering how long they'll be working virtually, as companies delay their return to office plans indefinitely.
CES offers a sneak peek at what to look out for in tech, and this year, beyond the products, it's the virtual environment worth paying attention to.
Larry Magid, the CEO of ConnectSafely.org, and a tech industry analyst based in Silicon Valley, streamed CES from his home, noting that he enjoyed the opening keynote presentation from General Motors CEO Mary Barra, who presented virtually from Detroit.
"They were able to put in a lot of media elements that would have been much more difficult to do in a live in-person presentation," Magid said. "So there are ways to both exhibit remotely and certainly ways to observe remotely."
The Consumer Technology Association announced last week that it would end a day early, on Friday because of the omicron variant. More than 2,200 exhibitors are attending in-person.
Silicon Valley's biggest companies, including Google, Meta, Intel, and Twitter, opted to attend remotely.
"I'm not at all surprised," Magid said. "Facebook and Google have been very, very cautious, perhaps more so than many other industries…They're really hunkering down, trying to protect people."
Google had planned to bring employees back to their U.S. offices on January 10, but is postponing its return to office plans indefinitely, given the current surge in COVID-19 cases.
Apple has no set return to office date either, and Meta is giving employees the option to work from home routinely, building virtual workplaces called Horizon Workrooms that work across virtual reality and the web.
Magid thinks the hybrid work mode is here to stay, a hope shared by Bay Area tech employees who like the flexibility of being able to work from the office and from home.
"I think I'm so used to working from home, I cannot give it up that easily," Max, a software engineer at a large Silicon Valley tech company, said.
At software company Twilio Segment, Hannah Campbell specializes in creating employee engagement experiences for remote workers.
"There is always that question of like, you really want that face-to-face engagement and connection from being in the office," Campbell said of working remotely. "We really do our best to ensure that you're getting that same type of experience in that remote environment, to ensure sure you're connected."