Employers are under pressure to make office visits worth it

Companies that require workers to come to the office are under particular pressure to offer an “outstanding experience.”

A commuter wearing a mask on a BART train in Oakland

Some have forsaken the office altogether, and many have trimmed back their office footprint.

Photo: Sam Hall/Bloomberg via Getty Images

The last two years have upended the role of the physical office in most tech companies. What is the purpose of the tech office now, and how can companies make sure that workers actually want to use it?

Some have forsaken the office altogether, and many have trimmed back their office footprint. Peter Miscovich, an executive management consultant at the commercial real estate giant JLL, has seen some clients let go of as much as 20% to 30% of their real estate portfolio, he said. Others are signing new leases, but their office spaces are smaller than before.

“The workplace and the corporate campuses now really have to reinvent themselves to be relevant,” Miscovich said. The office of 2023 will be like a “boutique hotel or clubhouse with technology activation throughout,” he added.

Companies that force workers to come to the office regularly — the Googles and the Apples that require a certain number of days on site each week — are under particular pressure to offer an “outstanding experience” to employees in order to avoid attrition, said Joe Du Bey, co-founder and CEO of the people operations software maker Eden Workplace.

“They’re going to really have to create destination spaces if they’re going to expect people to come in three, four, five days a week,” Du Bey said.

The vast majority of employees do want to have access to an office. Eden surveys have found that around 85% of workers want to have the option, and this number is closer to 90% for early-career professionals, according to Du Bey.

Forget the corner office

The way an office is organized reflects the priorities of the organization within it. Office spaces now have two major purposes: to aid in culture- and team-building and, in some cases, to host customers, said Maury Peiperl, dean of the School of Business at George Mason University.

“What that means, I think, is that the design and the expectations around office space will focus on those things, rather than on turf,” Peiperl said.

That means that the private offices and workstations that once made up 90% of the typical office will be repurposed as collaboration space and amenities, said Miscovich. Some JLL clients are setting up library-like areas for heads-down work separately from more communal work spaces.

It also means a de-emphasis on status signifiers like the corner office, said Peiperl. (This trend is long in the making in the tech industry, but Peiperl said the pandemic has only accelerated it. Dropbox rebranded its offices as “studios” last summer, revamping them to accommodate team meetings, quarterly strategy sessions, concerts and all-hands meetings.)

KPMG’s suburban Washington, D.C., office is a good example of this, said Peiperl: The nicest space is reserved for customers and flexible, shared workspace while the partners’ glass-walled offices are set up “20 feet in,” he said. When partners are away from the office for a couple of days, their desks are available for other employees to use.

This setup, Peiperl said, is “a shift away from the traditional, hyper-masculine, alpha-male way of running things, which we know is not particularly good for innovation and connection and culture-building and motivating a more diverse workforce.”

How to know which perks to offer

Perks have long been synonymous with the tech office, but these, too, are changing. With only part of the workforce in the office on any given day, companies will increasingly be asking employees to know what it makes sense to offer.

Many of JLL’s tech clients are using employee “sensing” to grasp what the workforce wants, Miscovich said: Surveys can help companies understand what amenities are important now. “If what they want is to go to the gym in their local neighborhood three days a week and go into the tech campus two days a week, they may not need the gym on the campus.”

Companies are also using employee sensing to know how many employees will show up to the office on a given day. What could have been a catered lunch in-person might instead be sent to an employee’s home, Miscovich said.

“We’re going to see a lot more workplace technology sensors in the office space,” Miscovich said.

A number of JLL’s tech and non-tech clients are looking at on-site and off-site child care as a perk, Miscovich said, and some are also showing interest in wellness offerings like meditation rooms.

Office perks and amenities will look different depending on the demographics of a company’s employee base. Miscovich has one client that hosts a well-attended movie night at its headquarters every Saturday — an event that he imagines would be less popular at a company with many employees who have young kids at home.

Peiperl expects a “rebalancing” of perks in the interest of what employees really need, rather than piling on plush amenities that they might not even use.

“It’s about getting you to level zero, of being able to fully function,” Peiperl said. “The other things which make it even better to work at a place — fine, good. But let’s see that we’re supporting the full group from each of the places they exist.”

LA is a growing tech hub. But not everyone may fit.

LA has a housing crisis similar to Silicon Valley’s. And single-family-zoning laws are mostly to blame.

As the number of tech companies in the region grows, so does the number of tech workers, whose high salaries put them at an advantage in both LA's renting and buying markets.

Photo: Nat Rubio-Licht/Protocol

LA’s tech scene is on the rise. The number of unicorn companies in Los Angeles is growing, and the city has become the third-largest startup ecosystem nationally behind the Bay Area and New York with more than 4,000 VC-backed startups in industries ranging from aerospace to creators. As the number of tech companies in the region grows, so does the number of tech workers. The city is quickly becoming more and more like Silicon Valley — a new startup and a dozen tech workers on every corner and companies like Google, Netflix, and Twitter setting up offices there.

But with growth comes growing pains. Los Angeles, especially the burgeoning Silicon Beach area — which includes Santa Monica, Venice, and Marina del Rey — shares something in common with its namesake Silicon Valley: a severe lack of housing.

Keep Reading Show less
Nat Rubio-Licht

Nat Rubio-Licht is a Los Angeles-based news writer at Protocol. They graduated from Syracuse University with a degree in newspaper and online journalism in May 2020. Prior to joining the team, they worked at the Los Angeles Business Journal as a technology and aerospace reporter.

While there remains debate among economists about whether we are officially in a full-blown recession, the signs are certainly there. Like most executives right now, the outlook concerns me.

In any case, businesses aren’t waiting for the official pronouncement. They’re already bracing for impact as U.S. inflation and interest rates soar. Inflation peaked at 9.1% in June 2022 — the highest increase since November 1981 — and the Federal Reserve is targeting an interest rate of 3% by the end of this year.

Keep Reading Show less
Nancy Sansom

Nancy Sansom is the Chief Marketing Officer for Versapay, the leader in Collaborative AR. In this role, she leads marketing, demand generation, product marketing, partner marketing, events, brand, content marketing and communications. She has more than 20 years of experience running successful product and marketing organizations in high-growth software companies focused on HCM and financial technology. Prior to joining Versapay, Nancy served on the senior leadership teams at PlanSource, Benefitfocus and PeopleMatter.


SFPD can now surveil a private camera network funded by Ripple chair

The San Francisco Board of Supervisors approved a policy that the ACLU and EFF argue will further criminalize marginalized groups.

SFPD will be able to temporarily tap into private surveillance networks in certain circumstances.

Photo: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Ripple chairman and co-founder Chris Larsen has been funding a network of security cameras throughout San Francisco for a decade. Now, the city has given its police department the green light to monitor the feeds from those cameras — and any other private surveillance devices in the city — in real time, whether or not a crime has been committed.

This week, San Francisco’s Board of Supervisors approved a controversial plan to allow SFPD to temporarily tap into private surveillance networks during life-threatening emergencies, large events, and in the course of criminal investigations, including investigations of misdemeanors. The decision came despite fervent opposition from groups, including the ACLU of Northern California and the Electronic Frontier Foundation, which say the police department’s new authority will be misused against protesters and marginalized groups in a city that has been a bastion for both.

Keep Reading Show less
Issie Lapowsky

Issie Lapowsky ( @issielapowsky) is Protocol's chief correspondent, covering the intersection of technology, politics, and national affairs. She also oversees Protocol's fellowship program. Previously, she was a senior writer at Wired, where she covered the 2016 election and the Facebook beat in its aftermath. Prior to that, Issie worked as a staff writer for Inc. magazine, writing about small business and entrepreneurship. She has also worked as an on-air contributor for CBS News and taught a graduate-level course at New York University's Center for Publishing on how tech giants have affected publishing.


These two AWS vets think they can finally solve enterprise blockchain

Vendia, founded by Tim Wagner and Shruthi Rao, wants to help companies build real-time, decentralized data applications. Its product allows enterprises to more easily share code and data across clouds, regions, companies, accounts, and technology stacks.

“We have this thesis here: Cloud was always the missing ingredient in blockchain, and Vendia added it in,” Wagner (right) told Protocol of his and Shruthi Rao's company.

Photo: Vendia

The promise of an enterprise blockchain was not lost on CIOs — the idea that a database or an API could keep corporate data consistent with their business partners, be it their upstream supply chains, downstream logistics, or financial partners.

But while it was one of the most anticipated and hyped technologies in recent memory, blockchain also has been one of the most failed technologies in terms of enterprise pilots and implementations, according to Vendia CEO Tim Wagner.

Keep Reading Show less
Donna Goodison

Donna Goodison (@dgoodison) is Protocol's senior reporter focusing on enterprise infrastructure technology, from the 'Big 3' cloud computing providers to data centers. She previously covered the public cloud at CRN after 15 years as a business reporter for the Boston Herald. Based in Massachusetts, she also has worked as a Boston Globe freelancer, business reporter at the Boston Business Journal and real estate reporter at Banker & Tradesman after toiling at weekly newspapers.


Kraken's CEO got tired of being in finance

Jesse Powell tells Protocol the bureaucratic obligations of running a financial services business contributed to his decision to step back from his role as CEO of one of the world’s largest crypto exchanges.

Photo: David Paul Morris/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Kraken is going through a major leadership change after what has been a tough year for the crypto powerhouse, and for departing CEO Jesse Powell.

The crypto market is still struggling to recover from a major crash, although Kraken appears to have navigated the crisis better than other rivals. Despite his exchange’s apparent success, Powell found himself in the hot seat over allegations published in The New York Times that he made insensitive comments on gender and race that sparked heated conversations within the company.

Keep Reading Show less
Benjamin Pimentel

Benjamin Pimentel ( @benpimentel) covers crypto and fintech from San Francisco. He has reported on many of the biggest tech stories over the past 20 years for the San Francisco Chronicle, Dow Jones MarketWatch and Business Insider, from the dot-com crash, the rise of cloud computing, social networking and AI to the impact of the Great Recession and the COVID crisis on Silicon Valley and beyond. He can be reached at or via Google Voice at (925) 307-9342.

Latest Stories