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The party at Tech is over. You need to come in a few days a week.

Cheer up, at least it's not 5 days/a week. Plus, you can hit on that cute babe in data analytics. Oops, I think it's a she. Hope I didn't offend anyone.


Tech, an Early Booster of Remote Work, Wants People Back in the Office

Reversal is creating tension for workers who adjusted to flexibility gained during pandemic

By Katherine Bindley, WSJ

June 11, 2023 10:00 am ET


Meta has told employees assigned to an office they must come in three days a week starting in September.


Tech companies that led the way in embracing remote work early in the pandemic are increasingly leading their workers right back to the office—whether they like it or not.


Alphabet GOOG 0.16%increase; green up pointing triangle-owned Google, Lyft LYFT -1.42%decrease; red down pointing triangle, Facebook parent Meta Platforms META 0.14%increase; green up pointing triangle and Salesforce CRM 2.76%increase; green up pointing triangle have all recently walked back remote-work policies they originally set forth, or gotten serious about enforcing existing policies, after deciding that working in the office is more efficient and cost-effective.


As recently as early 2022, tech companies still had to worry that pushing too hard on office requirements could mean losing employees to competitors offering a remote-first model. This year, the number of layoffs in the industry has grown to more than 200,000, according to layoffs.fyi, a site that crowdsources lists of laid-off workers.


While surveys show workers still give priority to flexibility, their job prospects aren’t what they once were, tipping the scale back to employers and emboldening them to start pressing for facetime.


“Technology is where in the past 12 months there’s been the starkest change from remote-friendly to not-so-remote-friendly,” said Jacob Rowden, a research manager at commercial real-estate services firm JLL.


Shifts in the labor market have changed the landscape of remote work, Rowden added. “A year ago, it was easier to say, ‘I’d rather quit than return to the office.’ ”


Last month, 600,000 U.S. workers faced newly effective return-to-office mandates, according to JLL. The tech industry accounted for about one-third of those and another 85,000 will join them by September. In some cases, the return dates for mandates that were announced last year have finally arrived. Other directives are about-faces as companies struggle with an economic downturn, multiple rounds of layoffs, and internal research about how their workers perform in different settings.


Some companies are trying incentives but many are telling, not asking, workers to return—and adding punitive measures if they don’t show up. The reversal is creating tension for some who have adjusted to the flexibility they gained during the pandemic and arranged their lives accordingly.


Some people prefer working from an office, being alongside their colleagues and having more of a separation between work and home. Others prefer remote work arrangements. They cite a range of reasons, from long commutes and caregiver responsibilities to an aversion to open floor plans that can make it harder to concentrate.


And tech workers aren’t the only ones facing stricter rules surrounding time in the office. At insurance company Farmers Group, some employees bought houses in areas outside commuting distance because they were originally told they could be remote. Their new CEO recently reversed that decision, prompting more than 2,000 comments on the company’s internal social-media platform.


The debate about the optimal amount of in-office work, while playing out across industries, is particularly acute in tech because the sector was an early booster of the remote-work trend and then ended up under greater pressure than many to right-size workforces.


Google, which requires most workers to be in the office three days a week, sent a companywide email last week telling workers that office attendance would begin to factor into performance reviews. The company also told employees that teams would be sending emails to those who are consistently absent and it would encourage remote employees who live near an office to consider switching to a hybrid schedule. “Our offices are where you’ll be most connected to Google’s community,” the email said. “Going forward, we’ll consider new remote work requests by exception only.”


The Alphabet Workers Union, which represents a relatively small number of Google workers, objected to the policy, saying that Google employees have maintained quality performance while working in flexible arrangements and that in some offices, such as New York City, they don’t have enough desks or conference rooms.


“Overnight, workers’ professionalism has been disregarded in favor of ambiguous attendance-tracking practices tied to our performance evaluations,” said Chris Schmidt, a software engineer and member of the union. “The practical application of this new policy will be needless confusion amongst workers and a disregard for our various life circumstances,” he said.


Google said its hybrid approach incorporates the best of in-person time with the benefits of working from home part of the week.


“Now that we’re more than a year into this way of working, we’re formally integrating this,” Ryan Lamont, a Google spokesman, said in a statement.


In the pandemic’s early days, tech companies weren’t facing concerns about productivity. Some posted record profits and kept bringing on more workers to keep up with demand, as well as edge out their competitors in the talent wars. Meta Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg said in the summer of 2021 that working remotely made him more productive.


Meta’s careers website still quotes Zuckerberg as saying, “We are going to be the most forward-leaning company on remote work at our scale, and we’re going to do this over time in a way that is measured, thoughtful and responsible.”


But in March, Zuckerberg said engineers who joined the company in person and then went remote or remained in person performed better on average than those who joined the company remotely. He went on to encourage employees to find more time to work together in person. Earlier this month, Meta went a step further, telling employees assigned to an office that they would need to start coming in three days a week in September.


Meta said it isn’t walking back its stance: Existing employees can still apply to be remote, and those already designated as remote would remain so.


“We’re committed to distributed work, and we’re confident people can make a meaningful impact both from the office and at home,” said Meta spokesman Tracy Clayton. “We’re also committed to continuously refining our model to foster the collaboration, relationships and culture necessary for employees to do their best work.”


Salesforce originally said at least 65% of its employees would come into the office one to three days a week. It updated its policy earlier this year to say those in customer-facing roles would need to be in-person with each other or their customers four days a week.


“We want them to come together, learn together and sell together,” said Relina Bulchandani, head of real estate at the enterprise software firm. “That fundamentally is better in person.”


Bulchandani said employee surveys over the past 18 months showed that workers wanted more connection with their colleagues. There is currently no enforcement of office attendance or set days of the week people have to come in.


Ride-sharing platform Lyft reversed the policy it initially set for office work. In spring 2022, it said employees could work from anywhere indefinitely. But at the end of April, Lyft laid off more than 1,000 employees and its new chief executive, David Risher, said everyone except employees who had been designated as remote would be required to come in three days a week.


“Humans are deeply social: we live longer and are happier when we connect with one another,” Risher said in a statement. “Lyft helps get people out and about to work, play, and have fun together. We’ve got to walk the walk.”


The news was still unwelcome to some employees. At a companywide meeting, some workers questioned why they should stay and one asked if the new mandate was the company making a deliberate attempt to force out more people.


Preetika Rana contributed to this article.


Write to Katherine Bindley at katie.bindley@wsj.com


Copyright ©2023 Dow Jones & Company, Inc. All Rights Reserved. 87990cbe856818d5eddac44c7b1cdeb8


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