How technology companies are trying to persuade employees to return to work

When Google employees return to their mostly vacant office this month, they are asked to relax. Office hours should be “not only productive but also fun.” Take a look around. Do not book back-to-back meetings.

Also, don’t forget to take part in the private show of Lizo, one of the hottest pop stars in the country. If that’s not enough, the company is also planning a “pop-up event” that will feature “Every Googler’s Favorite Pair: Food and Swag.”

But Google employees at Boulder in Colorado were still reminded of what they were giving up when the company gave them a mouse pad with a picture of a sad-eyed cat. Below the pet was a request: “You’re not going to the RTO, are you?”

RTO, to return to office, is an acronym born out of the epidemic. A recognition of how Covid-19 has forced many companies to abandon office buildings and empty cubicles. The epidemic has proven that being in the office does not necessarily equate to greater productivity, and some organizations continue to improve without being seen in person.

Now, after two years of video meetings and slack chats, many company employees are eager to get back to their desks. Employees, however, may not be so keen on returning to morning commutes, communal bathrooms and daytime outfits that are not athletic wear.

So tech companies are launching fun wagons to burn money and fill offices, even making it clear that in many cases returning to the office – at least a few days a week – is mandatory.

Lizo will perform for Google employees this month in an amphitheater near the company’s headquarters in Mountain View, California. When Microsoft reopened its offices in Redmond, Wash., In late February, staff took classes for local band music, beer and wine tasting, and even terrarium making.

To mark its first official week in office, chip maker Qualcomm has been held A happy hour Its chief executive, Cristiano Aman, provides free food, drinks and T-shirts for thousands of employees at its San Diego office. The company has also started offering weekly events such as “Take a Break Tuesday” pop-up snack stand and group fitness classes for “Wellness Wednesday”.

“These celebrations and benefits are a recognition by companies that they know employees don’t want to return to office, certainly not as often as before,” said Adam Galinski, a professor at Columbia University’s School of Business. At least for now, he adds, companies are choosing carrots over sticks: rewarding employees for coming to the office instead of punishing them for staying home.

Before the Covid hit, the biggest technology companies had pledged billions of dollars to set up offices, a trophy of architectural wonder and financial success. Those bright offices, full of amenities and facilities, are a testament to the long-standing belief that personal collaboration is still better for creativity, inspiring innovation, and building a common sense of purpose.

But for many employees who have enjoyed the freedom to work from a distance, returning to the office – no matter how fancy – in the late summer, returning from school carries a touch of fear. Rarely, it seems, is interested in going back five days a week.

Memegen, an internal company site where Google employees share memes, one of the most popular posts was a picture of a company cafeteria with a caption: . “

Nick Bloom, a professor of economics at Stanford University who surveys 5,000 workers each month, says most want to return to office two or three times a week. One-third never want to return to the office and prefer to stay away.

Excluding just office commuting, Mr. Bloom says the average worker will save an hour a day, so “you can see why workers aren’t coming to work to play free bagel or ping-pong.” The main draw to the office, according to the survey, is that employees want to see colleagues in person.

After several suspensions, Google began its hybrid work schedule on April 4, requiring most employees to report to the U.S. office a few days a week. Apple has begun making it easier for employees to return to the office on Monday, with employees expected to first check into the office once a week.

On March 31, David Radcliffe, Google’s vice president of real estate and workplace services, sent an email to San Francisco Bay Area workers saying the company wanted to make the return to office “really special.”

Over the years, Google has provided staff with Wi-Fi-equipped luxury buses to make commuting more productive and comfortable, but it goes one step further. It is launching a program to pay a $ 49 monthly lease for an electric scooter as part of transportation options for workers. Google also plans to start experimenting with different office designs to adapt to the changing work style.

When Microsoft employees return to their offices in February as part of a hybrid work schedule, they are greeted with “applause ceremonies” and lawn games such as cornholes and life-size chess. There were classes on spring basket making and canvas painting. The campus pub has been transformed into a beer, wine and “mocktail” garden.

And, of course, there were free meals and drinks: pizza, sandwiches and specialty coffee. Microsoft has paid for food trucks with offers including fried chicken, tacos, gyros, Korean food and barbecue.

Unlike other technology companies, Microsoft expects employees to pay for their own meals in the office. One employee was amazed at how big the free meal was.

The challenge for the company, Mr. Bloom said, is how to balance flexibility in allowing employees to set their own schedules so that they are forced to come on specific days to maximize office hours.

He said companies should focus on developing the right approach to hybrid work instead of wasting time and labor on showering employees with temptations like private concerts.

Mr. Bloom said, “Only employees don’t come regularly.” What are you going to do next? Get Justin Bieber and then Katy Perry?

Consistent with Apple’s more restrained workplace, its employees say they didn’t expect a celebration to return to the office – or they didn’t. At first Apple is asking employees to come once a week. Towards the end of May, Apple is forcing them to come on Monday, Tuesday and Thursday.

When Apple announced plans to return to office last year before another coveted increase was delayed, more than 1,000 employees signed a letter urging management to be more open to flexible work arrangements. It was a rare display of dissent from the company’s rank-and-file, who have historically been less willing to openly challenge executives about the workplace.

But as technology companies struggle to give employees more work flexibility, companies are also giving back some office benefits.

Meta, formerly known as Facebook, told employees last month that it was reducing or eliminating free services such as laundry and dry cleaning. Google, like some other companies, says it has approved requests from thousands of employees to work remotely or move to another office. But if employees move to less expensive locations, Google is slashing salaries, arguing that it always factors in where a person was hired to determine compensation.

Cleo, a legal software company in Burnaby, British Columbia, will not force its employees to return to the office. But last week, it gave their office a party.

There was exuberant music. Cleo’s signature was an asymmetrical balloon sculpture in bright blue, dark blue, coral and white – perfect for taking selfies. One of Cleo’s well-known staff members wore a safari outfit to take advantage of the tour. At 2 p.m., the company held a cupcake social.

To make her workplaces feel like home, the company has fenced off desks, allowing Clions – whom the company calls its employees – to look at the office complex’s cherry blossoms as they extract emails. A foosball table was upgraded to a workstation with chairs on either end, “so you can have a meeting while playing football with your laptop on it,” said Natalie Archibald, vice president of Cleor People’s.

The Claire Burnaby office, which employs 350 people, is only half open. Space-out desks must be reserved, and employees have received red, yellow, and green lanyards to indicate their level of comfort through handshakes.

Only 70 people came that Monday. “To be able to smile an IRL instead of an emoji response,” said Mrs. Archibald. “People are just excited about it.”

Karen way Contributing Reporting.

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