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The vibe has shifted: We’re all going back to work

Protocol Workplace

Welcome back to our Workplace newsletter. And if you were off yesterday, welcome back to the real world. Today: the latest news in tech workers returning to offices, Google’s new certificate program fund, and execs and HR leaders are shifting their focus from retaining to hiring.

—Amber Burton, reporter (email | twitter)

Workers are headed back to the office. Maybe.

The pandemic is nowhere near over, and yet, is it just us, or is it starting to feel like companies are back on their return-to-work push?

When it comes to COVID-19, the future is impossible to predict. And instead of giving up trying, tech company leaders are saying, “Since we’re going to be living with this forever, we might as well go back to the office.” The risk profile hasn’t changed much, especially not for at-risk groups, and yet corporate attitudes have shifted.

Here’s a range of return-to-work vibes across the industry:

  • Microsoft originally said that employees weren’t going to have to return until COVID-19 was no longer "a significant burden.” This week the company announced that it’s reopening its Washington and Bay Area offices on Feb. 28. Beginning that day, workers have 30 days to "make adjustments to their routines and adopt the working preferences they’ve agreed upon with their managers.”
  • Expedia employees are expected to “spend at least 50% of their time in the office, working with their respective leaders on an appropriate schedule” starting April 4, a company spokesperson told The Seattle Times this week. Currently, most of Expedia’s offices are open to vaccinated employees.
  • Last month, Meta pushed its return-to-office date for U.S. employees to March 28 after the omicron surge nixed its original plans for a Jan. 31 reopening. Employees can request to work remotely full-time or extend their remote-work period for an additional three to five months.
  • On Tuesday, ed-tech company Chegg opened its Santa Clara, Portland and New York offices to “those employees who voluntarily wanted to return,” a company spokesperson wrote in an email to Protocol.

For the rest of the industry, my colleague Allison Levitsky has been compiling a massive return to work calendar, which she has been continually updating. Please shoot her a note if your company isn’t on the list or if its plans have changed at

It’s clear that companies are headed one way. What’s less clear is how their employees are feeling about it. According to weekly surveys conducted by Morning Consult, current remote workers’ comfort returning to the office has climbed to its highest point since November.

How do you feel about how your company is handling the return-to-office decision? Let me know.

— Michelle Ma, reporter (email | twitter)

The dawn of the tech union

What are the key drivers at play leading tech workers to form unions? What does this mean for employers? How can companies better adapt to the needs of their workers? Protocol’s Anna Kramer will chat with tech unions about their needs, companies about their strategies at the bargaining table and labor experts about how workers and employers can best collaborate at 10 a.m. PT on Feb. 22.

RSVP here.


New process control technologies and improved operational efficiencies will deliver the necessary quality, precision and cost-effectiveness to move next-gen therapeutics forward. This can only be achieved if the industry embraces the shift to smart manufacturing, particularly with the use of IoT and edge applications.

Learn more

Google’s new certificate fund

Last week, Google CEO Sundar Pichai appeared in a public video alongside U.S. Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo to announce the launch of a $100 million Google Career Certificates Fund. The joint appearance makes more sense when you hear the program is anticipated to reach 20,000 people via Google Career Certificates. The goal is to help Americans achieve higher-paying jobs in high-growth industries through online training courses. Unlike Amazon's free college program for employees, Google's program is aimed at job seekers. The one catch: Though the program is designed for students to pay zero upfront costs for the certificate courses, students are expected to repay program costs if they land a job paying at least $40,000 annually.

Read the full story.

Pay, perks & benefits

Since we’ve been talking a lot about the latest effort to return to the office (we’ve lost track of how many times we’ve tried at this point), I thought it would be a good time to discuss what perks employees can expect, and not expect, when they get back to their desks.

Dropbox made news earlier this month when some employees shared with Insider that they were leaving the company partially due to the corporate decision to stop office perks, like free food from Michelin-starred chefs. Dropbox’s elaborate cafeteria, the Tuck Shop, was anecdotally one of the top perks for employees when company culture revolved around the San Francisco headquarters. It also housed a fancy gym, coffee bar and karaoke lounge, according to the report. Dropbox reportedly sold its headquarters in March 2021 and said it would shift to more flexible workspaces, referred to as Dropbox Studios.

The shift in perspective about elaborate in-office perks is not siloed to Dropbox. In an interview with KQED, Clive Wilkinson, the high-profile office designer of some of the most famous tech headquarters, said he has regrets about designing the Googleplex. Google’s Mountain View HQ is known for its perks like out-of-the-box collaboration rooms, gardens and even a pool. But in Wilkinson’s view, such designs have made workers dangerously dependent on their companies. Tethering employees to an office, even with perks, also goes against helping them achieve true work-life balance.

He’s not alone in his thinking that perks need a vibe shift. My colleague Allison Levitsky reported that many tech companies are still trying to reevaluate what to pay for and provide to workers when they go back to the office. And my own reporting last year found that when employees do return, they still want the luxuries of free food and drinks on tap. We’ll soon see if more employees consider these perks to be a deal-breaker.

To hire or retain?

Cloud recruiting software company iCIMS released its 2022 Workforce Report earlier this week, finding that companies have shifted attention from retaining to hiring. The company surveyed CEOs and HR professionals alike to get their latest outlook on recruiting and retaining top talent. Here’s what you need to know:

  • 56% of C-suite executives now believe hiring is a larger company issue than retaining talent.
  • 92% of executives responded that their companies will fail to meet 2022 goals if the rapid quit rates and hiring challenges persist.
  • But that doesn’t mean they no longer care about existing employees. 56% said they provide their employees with training to obtain new positions.
  • In addition, 96% of C-suite executives increased salaries to incentivize retention.
  • With the rush for talent, some say DEI falls to the bottom of the list of priorities. 70% of HR professionals said they’re concerned their organization’s HR tech is not helping them meet their DEI goals.
  • 85% of executives admit “they struggle to prioritize DEI goals due to competing HR and recruiting needs.”

More stories from us

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When was the last time you achieved “flow” in your work? Superhuman CEO Rahul Vohra shares his hack for achieving an uninterrupted, all-absorbing state of work.

Pay and equity cuts are coming for Google’s Durham, Des Moines and Houston employees.

Around the internet

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Tech recruiters are not OK. A deep dive into the tech hiring crisis that we can’t stop talking about.

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A look into how Seattle tech companies are handling the return to the office.


As we move into a world after COVID-19, the biopharma industry must understand how to maintain this incredible pace of innovation without forfeiting precision or quality. Smart manufacturing — otherwise known as Industry 4.0 — converges IoT, software-defined infrastructure, advanced analytics and AI to create more flexible and interoperable digital manufacturing platforms.

Learn more

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

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