Big Tech’s struggle to bring its workers back to the office

The news: Big Tech companies are struggling to implement post-pandemic return-to-work strategies as growing numbers of employees demand greater flexibility for staying remote.

More on this: Though firms have differed on their specific strategies, many have been forced to backtrack recently to appease worker opposition to returning to the office.

  • Google revealed a revised return-to-work strategy in which 20% of employees will be full-time remote, 20% working from an office other than where they were assigned, and 60% returning to their original office several days per week—a departure from Google’s previous stance, which would’ve required all employees to be in-office three days per week.
  • Facebook announced it would expand its remote work eligibility to all levels of employees ahead of the planned September reopening of its offices at half capacity. Facebook has previously said employees relocating to more affordable areas may be forced to take a salary cut.
  • Apple employees are pushing back against a recent memo from CEO Tim Cook informing staff they’d be required to return to the office three days per week starting in early September.
  • Amazon walked back initial plans to return to an “office-centric culture” by the fall, in favor of giving corporate employees the option to work remotely up to two days per week.
  • Meanwhile, others like Spotify, Twitter, and Dropbox have either adopted Work From Anywhere strategies or have promised employees they can work remotely “forever.”

The bigger picture: Efforts to return to physical offices are in tension with tech workers’ growing preference for remote work—a trend that’s playing out across the US workforce generally. In many cases, workers would rather quit than go back to the office: 39% of US adults said they would consider quitting their jobs if their employers weren’t flexible about remote work, according to a May Morning Consult/Bloomberg poll. In April 2021 alone, the Labor Department reported that a record 4 million US workers quit their jobs, per NPR.

At the same time, significant portions of tech’s workforce have already abandoned the industry’s major geographical hubs and flocked to more affordable cities like Austin, Nashville, and Charlotte.

The dilemma: Growing preferences for remote work and hiring surges during the pandemic have left Big Tech companies in a tricky position. Tech giants have already collectively spent billions in recent years on lavish new campuses to accommodate a rapidly growing workforce. On the other hand, a refusal to accommodate workers’ desire for flexibility in where they live and work could leave Big Tech vulnerable to losing top talent to rivals less committed to the need for a physical office.

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