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Why is everyone going back to the office?

Protocol Workplace

Welcome back to our Workplace newsletter. Hope you’ve enjoyed this early spring weekend. Today: Why it feels like everyone is returning to the office at the same time, how office spaces are changing and anticipated workplace trends.

—Amber Burton, reporter (email | twitter)

This just in: We’re all going back to work.

This week was the return-to-office tipping point for Big Tech. Within the span of three days, Google, Apple and Twitter all announced new return-to-work plans, which will likely send a ripple effect across the industry as companies reevaluate how and where they want their employees to work:

  • Google’s Bay Area employees have to be back in the office by April 4 in a hybrid work model. This means they’re expected to be in the office at least three days a week.
  • All of Twitter’s corporate offices around the world are reopening starting March 15, although Twitter is leaving it completely up to employees to decide where they want to work. It's the first major U.S. company to let its employees work from home forever.
  • Apple’s corporate employees have to return to the office at least one day per week starting April 11. Three weeks after that, they’ll have to go in twice a week, and starting May 23, they’ll need to be in-person Mondays, Tuesdays and Thursdays.

What’s different about this moment in time? Here are a few factors that might be part of the return-to-office calculus for HR leaders at the world’s biggest tech companies:

  • Work-from-home levels are dropping, but slowly, according to research from Stanford Economics Professor Nicholas Bloom. Firms cite employee concerns over new variants, as well as the fact that, well, working from home works well, and we’ve all gotten used to it.
  • Despite employee resistance and a growing cultural acceptance for work-from-home, bosses still worry about employee productivity when they can’t physically see workers sitting at their desks in the office. How many of them are hardly working, or “quitting in place,” like the underachievers profiled in this recent Insider story?
  • There’s also the cost calculus: Last year, Google announced it was spending $2.1 billion to buy a Manhattan office building, around the same time as large companies like Condé Nast and JPMorgan were giving up office spaces in New York and other major cities. If you’re investing money in a space, your employees had better use it, especially if they’re bringing back the famous tech workplace amenities like massages, shuttle services and unscheduled gym time as was announced.
  • Follow the leader. Let’s be real. It likely isn’t a coincidence that these companies announced their decisions in quick succession. As uncertainty over new variants and the state of COVID-19 make it impossible to truly predict how safe it is for people to go back to their offices, company leaders are looking to each other to make the first move.

Tech leaders are under no illusions. Earlier this year, Patrick Collison tweeted that 74% of Stripe’s hiring was outside of the Bay Area and Seattle, as more people shift to permanent remote work. Brian Chesky’s reply? “Yup, the place to be was Silicon Valley. It feels like now the place to be is the internet (which is everywhere).”

Even some of the biggest companies that are calling their employees back are doing so with ample qualifications, letting employees who are firm on working from home apply for extensions or even permanent exceptions to the return-to-work call. Because if Apple won’t let an engineer work from home permanently, you can bet that another firm will. And companies like Apple know it.

— Michelle Ma, reporter (twitter | email)

Proving the office is worth it

Employers are working in overdrive to prove that coming into the office is worth it for employees. They’re making offices fancier and more experience-focused to appeal to their workforce. The office of 2023 will be more like a “boutique hotel or clubhouse with technology activation throughout,” Peter Miscovich, an executive management consultant, told my colleague Allison Levitsky.

The shift back to the physical workplace has required many firms to reinvent themselves altogether to cater to the people they’re asking to commute to work several days a week. Employers are now putting a major focus on the physical organization of the office. They’re doing away with private corner offices in favor of creating spaces that prompt even more collaboration. They’re even shaking up the perks offered in the workplace. One expert called it a “rebalancing” of perks — choosing to offer what employees really need, rather than piling on plush amenities that employees might not ever use.

Read the full story.


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Pay, perks & benefits

Amazon announced last week that it’s going a step further in expanding its “free college” benefit program for warehouse and fulfillment workers. Most notably, it added additional college and university partnerships, as well as English-as-a-second-language classes for employees.

The company’s tuition benefits program was originally revamped last fall and follows the trend of many tech companies seeking to offer employees education benefits to boost both skills and retention. Amazon’s program in particular was originally aimed at competing for talent in lower-skill jobs like delivery, warehousing and fulfillment, reported my colleague Anna Kramer. At the time Amazon originally expanded its education benefits, Target and Walmart were enacting similar changes.

Though such benefits have become more commonplace in the industry, some higher-ed researchers have said "free college" benefits can turn out to be limited in their actual uptake by workers.

Read the full story.

Job trends

We’re three months into the year and we’re still trying to figure out what to expect from the job market. It’s clear at this point that The Great Resignation isn’t going anywhere. So what else can we expect? According to a recent trend report from job site Joblist, we can expect more of the same. The company surveyed over 20,000 job seekers in the U.S. Here’s what you need to know:

  • People plan to keep on hopping – 79% of employed job seekers said they “believe that they can make more money by switching jobs than staying put in the current market.”
  • Despite the widespread return to the office right now, remote work remains highly popular — 61% of all surveyed job seekers said they’re interested in remote jobs.
  • Employers are still being told to up their benefits game — 80% of job seekers believe employers should re-evaluate their benefits offerings, and 67% of job seekers said benefits are now more important to them now than pre-pandemic.

More stories from us

Would you get your brain scanned to learn your strengths and weaknesses at work? Turns out you can do that now.

How not to get ghostedby job candidates.

Twitter announced March 15 will be its opening dayfor all its offices. And while we’re talking about Twitter, the company is hiring a senior director for its new "Future of Work Innovation" team.

Apple has also entered the return-to-office chat and will require employees back in person starting April 11.


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Around the internet

A roundup of workplace news from the farthest corners of the internet.

What’s more popular than a four-day workweek? Working whenever you want.

What would the death of the five-day office week look like for big cities?

Tips for introverts who are heading back into the office.

And finally, we’re throwing it back to this 2017 piece on assuming good intent, which is still relevant.

Thoughts, questions, tips? Send them to Have a great day, see you Tuesday.

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