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

When Google employees returned to their nearly empty offices this month, they were told to relax. Office time should be “not only productive, but also fun”. Take a look around the place. Do not book consecutive appointments.

Also, don’t forget to attend the private show of Lizzo, one of the hottest pop stars in the country. If that’s not enough, the company is also planning “pop-ups” that will include “every Google employee’s favorite duo: food and junk.”

But Google employees in Boulder, Colorado, were still reminded of what they were giving up when the company gave them mouse pads depicting a cat with sad eyes. There was a request under the pet, “You’re not going to the RTO, are you?”

RTO, for return to service, is an acronym born of the pandemic. This is a tribute to how Covid-19 has forced many companies to abandon office buildings and empty booths. The pandemic proved that office presence does not necessarily mean greater productivity, and some companies have continued to thrive without meeting in person.

Now, after two years of video meetings and chats at Slack, many companies are seeking to bring employees back to their desks. However, employees may not be so eager to return to morning trips to work, shared bathrooms and daytime outfits that are not sportswear.

So technology companies that have money to burn and offices to fill are launching the fun car, although they make it clear that in many cases, returning to the office – at least a few days a week – is a must.

Lizzo will play for Google employees this month at an amphitheater near the company’s headquarters in Mountain View, California. When Microsoft reopened its offices in Redmond, Washington, in late February, employees were treated to music from local bands, beer and wine tastings, and even terrarium classes.

To mark its first official week in the office, chipmaker Qualcomm held happy hour with its CEO Cristiano Amon in his San Diego offices for several thousand employees with free food, drinks and T-shirts. The company has also started offering weekly events such as Take a Break Tuesday snack stalls and Wellness Wednesday group fitness classes.

“These celebrations and bonuses are a recognition from companies that they know employees don’t want to come back to the office, certainly not as often as before,” said Adam Galinski, a professor at Columbia University’s business school. At least for now, he added, companies are choosing carrots instead of sticks: they are rewarding workers for entering the office instead of punishing them for staying home.

Before Covid hit, the biggest technology companies spent billions of dollars building offices, which are marvels of architecture and trophies of financial success. These brilliant offices, full of conveniences and benefits, are a testament to the long-held belief that personal collaboration is still better at fostering creativity, inspiring innovation and instilling a common sense of purpose.

But for many employees who have enjoyed the freedom to work remotely, returning to the office – no matter how demanding – brings a touch of fear of late summer, back to school. Few seem to want to return five days a week.

On Memegen, an internal company site where Google employees share memes, one of the most popular posts was a photo of a company cafe with the caption: “RTOs just bump into each other and say ‘we need to have lunch soon'” until one of you leave Google . “

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

Just by eliminating commuting to the office, Mr Bloom said, the average worker will save an hour a day, so “you can understand why employees won’t start coming to work for free pretzels or playing ping pong.” “. The main attraction for going to the office, according to research, is that employees want to meet in person with colleagues.

After a series of delays, Google launched its hybrid work schedule on April 4, requiring most employees to show up at U.S. offices several days a week. Apple began facilitating the return of staff to the office on Monday, with workers expected to register at the office once a week.

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

For years, Google has provided employees with luxury buses equipped with Wi-Fi to make travel more productive and comfortable, but it goes one step further. A $ 49 monthly lease recovery program for electric scooters has been launched as part of staff transportation options. Google also plans to start experimenting with different office designs to adapt to changing work styles.

When Microsoft employees returned to their offices in February as part of a hybrid work schedule, they were greeted with “thank-you events” and lawn games such as cornhole and life-size chess. There were lessons in making spring baskets and painting canvas. The on-campus pub has become a garden for beer, wine and mocktail.

And, of course, there was free food and drinks: pizzas, sandwiches and specialty coffees. Microsoft paid for food trucks with offerings including fried chicken, tacos, gyroscopes, Korean food and barbecue.

Unlike other technology companies, Microsoft expects employees to pay for their own food in the office. One employee wondered how big the free food was.

The challenge for companies, Mr Bloom said, is how to balance flexibility by allowing workers to set their own schedule with a tougher approach, forcing them to come on certain days to maximize the usefulness of office time.

He said companies should focus on developing the right approach to hybrid work, instead of wasting time and effort showering employees with incentives such as private concerts.

“Employees will not come regularly just for unnecessary decorations,” Mr Bloom said. “What will you do next?” Take Justin Bieber and then Katy Perry?

Equipping Apple’s more restrained workplace, employees told him they did not expect – nor had they heard of – any celebrations for their return to the office. Apple initially asked employees to come once a week. By the end of May, Apple requires them to come on Mondays, Tuesdays and Thursdays.

When Apple announced its plan to return to the office last year before Covid’s next jump imposed a delay, more than 1,000 employees signed a letter urging management to be more open to flexible working arrangements. This was a rare manifestation of disagreement among the company’s regular employees, who have historically been less inclined to openly challenge managers in the workplace.

But as technology companies struggle to offer employees more flexibility in their work, companies are also reducing some office benefits.

Meta, formerly known as Facebook, told employees last month that it was cutting or eliminating free services such as laundry and dry cleaning. Google, like some other companies, has said it approves requests from thousands of employees to work remotely or relocate. But if employees move to a cheaper place, Google is reducing pay, saying it has always taken into account where the person is hired when determining compensation.

Clio, a legal software company in Burnaby, British Columbia, will not force its employees to return to the office. But last week he organized a party in his offices.

Cheerful music was heard. There was an asymmetrical balloon sculpture in the Clio’s characteristic bright blue, dark blue, coral and white – perfect for selfies. One of Clio’s most famous workers wore a safari suit to tour the facility. At 2 p.m., the company held a social cupcake.

To make their workspaces feel more at home, the company has moved offices around the perimeter, allowing Clions – as the company calls its employees – to look at the cherry blossoms of the office complex while sending emails. A Jacuzzi table has been upgraded to a workstation with chairs at both ends, “so you can have a meeting while playing table football with your laptop on it,” said Natalie Archibald, Clio’s vice president of human resources.

Clio’s 350-strong Burnaby office is only half open. Distant desks must be maintained, and employees receive red, yellow, and green ties to convey their comfort levels with a handshake.

Only about 60 people came this Monday. “So you can laugh at the IRL, not the emoji response,” Ms. Archibald said. “People are just excited about it.”

Karen way contributed to the reporting.

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