Corporations Changing their Minds on Remote Work

I can not tell you I worked remotely. It was always required I be in the building governing the operations of the facility. One of those 7AM to 7PM positions which also entailed calls from the other side of the globe at night. And then a trip back to the facility. The fun part were the trips globally to check out our associate facilities. I can understand the reasoning for working remotely. More gets done with less interruption.

Google has officially changed its mind about remote work,, Gabriela Riccardi

Google Chief people officer Fiona Cicconi in an internal memo obtained by news outlets this week.

“For those who are remote and who live near an office, we hope you’ll consider switching to a hybrid work schedule. Our offices are where you’ll be most connected to Google’s community. Going forward, we’ll consider new remote work requests by exception only.”

According to the note, employees not already designated as remote will now have their badge swipes tracked to ensure they’re appearing in the office three days per week; managers can factor their absences into performance reviews.

But then, absences were always a feature of reviews.

Big tech is the one sector with all the resources and tools to make remote work effective. Instead, it is now giving in to the inertia of conventional in-person policy. What is striking is the same companies taking back fully remote staffs are also the ones who create the core tools for remote workers across all industries. The companies enabled efficient remote work around the globe. It now seems, they no longer believe in it themselves.

Google began mandating its workers return to the office in April of last year. It is unclear how much the policy was enforced among its rank and file. By cracking down on in-person attendance now, Google joins other major tech companies recently taking firm stances on formerly soft hybrid policies. and reversing policy on remote work.

At home work came after the cushy in-office perks such as catered cafeterias and campus commuter shuttles. In-house pluses were put in place so as to compete with other companies and attract talent. These companies were also some of the first to close down in favor of work-from-home when the pandemic hit in the US. During the pandemic, tech companies became aggressive recruiters of remote workers. Over the last year or so, this changed and major companies such as AppleAmazon, and Meta began to roll back their remote policies.

Google’s memo calls to mind a similar missive issued by Meta, which last week told workers that they’ll need to return to the office three days per week starting this September. And Salesforce—a particularly early adopter of remote work—is now aiming to bribe employees back into the office by pledging to donate to nonprofits for each day they work in-person during a two-week window this month.

These same companies support remote work and distributed teams around the world, offering up the software allowing employees to jump on a remote video call, leave comments on a working draft, or send off a quick group DM. Between its docs, sheets, and slides, Google pioneered cloud-based tools that allowed teammates to work side-by-side from anywhere. (And beyond revolutionizing our office work, the products have also catalyzed all kinds of cloud-centric collaboration, from social note-passing to grassroots organizing).

Those tools power our professional lives, whether it’s in person or apart. And they didn’t just support the remote-work revolution: They made it possible. When the pandemic sent waves of workers home in 2020, Google Meet became a leading space for virtual meetings. Gmail dominates the internet’s email, with more than 1.5 billion global active users. And in 2019, the company marked a milestone of 5 million businesses paying to work on G Suite, Google’s full collection of work tools for productivity and collaboration.

Meanwhile, Salesforce owns Slack, which next to Microsoft Teams, it is one of the most widely-adopted messaging and managing tools for work. And Meta rebranded itself on a big bet people would rather gather—and work—in virtual spaces over IRL ones. While the promise of the metaverse has declined, the appellation still stands (although maybe not on legs).

So why then, are wide-ranging reversals on remote work, brought to you by these teams enabling it? Perhaps even big tech doesn’t believe in its own vision or, at the least, its own products.

If memos are to be believed, tech companies are calling workers back because they think more in-office time is key for relationships on the job. According to recent reporting from the Pew Research Center, more than half of Americans who work from home at least some of the time say it hinders their ability to feel connected with co-workers. At least Google and Meta notes lean on thit sentiment.

Google’s Fiona Cicconi in a memo . . .

“We’ve heard from Googlers that those who spend at least three days a week in the office feel more connected to other Googlers, and the effect is magnified when teammates work from the same location. Of course, not everyone believes in ‘magical hallway conversations,’ but there’s no question that working together in the same room makes a positive difference.”

Meta’s memo also points to connection as one of the core reasons the company is compelling its staff to come back to the office, with CEO Mark Zuckerberg saying that IRL time is key to cross-team connection. Zuckerberg wrote in a March blog post . . .

“[O]ur hypothesis is that it is still easier to build trust in person and that those relationships help us work more effectively. I encourage all of you to find more opportunities to work with your colleagues in person.”

Do those theories square with what their workers actually want? Most hybrid employees, according to Pew, would prefer to spend even more time working from home than they do now. It begs the question, then, what do the bosses actually believe in?

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