Last month, Urs Hölzle, a senior vice president at Google, said he would work remotely from New Zealand following the pandemic. What followed was a backlash from workers in and outside of the company calling out the inconsistency of a move that stood in contrast with a company that was requiring most of its employees to go into the office at least three days a week starting in September.
According to Protocol's recent survey of tech workers, in partnership with Morning Consult, 39% of workers strongly agree it's important for their company to let them work remotely indefinitely. The survey also found that high earners are more supportive of returning to the traditional office setting than low earners. Workers have flocked to a number of online forums and social media outlets to express their frustration with companies that are discouraging fully remote work while some executives are afforded more flexibility.
For some, this means the possibility of leaving for companies with more flexible remote policies. According to a recent survey by Glassdoor, 17% of employees said they would consider quitting their jobs if told they needed to return to the office for the work week.
Rebecca Ryan APF, an economist and futurist who has looked at the future of work, told Protocol that the inequity fashioned by leadership in the conversation of who gets to work from home full time strikes her as "tone deaf," and has been detrimental to the trust some companies have been working to build with their workers.
"That takes years to develop and minutes to destroy," she said. "So I think there's just a little bit of chaos right now in the minds of business leaders because they haven't had to sit down and have a good think about the entire employee experience, and if they have broken trust with people, if they haven't given people a reason to be loyal to them, they're gonna have a harder time of it."
Research from McKinsey also revealed an incongruence between what employers and employees want following the pandemic. According to McKinsey, over 52% of executives plan to return to the physical office alongside their employees at least four days a week. But as leaders are gearing up to go back to the office, the organization found 40% of workers do not prefer a full return and some are even prepared to leave if such becomes the case.
A former Amazon corporate employee who asked to remain anonymous said the company's return-to-work policy was the final straw in convincing them it was time to move on to a new company that was fully remote. At the time, Amazon had told employees that they were expected back in the office at the end of June. The former employee told Protocol that a week after they left, Amazon announced its intentions for a more hybrid strategy.
Amazon updated its return-to-the-office policy in June, announcing employees would be in the office at least three days a week with the opportunity to apply to work from home more days if they saw fit.
Another employee who has spent over 15 years working in the digital and technology space in user experience and user interface design told Protocol that they are now actively looking for a role at a company that offers full-time remote work. They also asked to remain anonymous because they are looking for a new job. The client-facing agency where they work recently updated their return-to-work policy to encourage employees to come into the office two days a week. Though it is an improvement from a prior policy, the employee said they will continue to look for a new role because they don't believe the changes will be permanent.
Some employees at the agency said they feel their trust was broken following unclear and inconsistent messaging.
Indra Sofian, the co-founder of an online high school, said employers should remember workers are not a monolith. As a young founder himself, he has pushed back on the idea that young workers want to be in an office. Sofian and his co-founders have chosen to let their employees work fully from home.
"We decided early on that if we could build a world-class high school online we could build an online company working remotely," he told Protocol. The company has been remote since 2019 and he said it has allowed employees to do their best work.
"This is not a genie that gets put back in the bottle," said Ryan. "We have to stop using our energy to figure out what's the right balance of how many days we should have people in the office. If you're still having that conversation you're missing the future."