Welcome back to the office. Isn’t that funny?

When Google employees returned to their mostly empty offices this month, they were told to relax. Office time should be “not only productive but also fun.” Explore the site a bit. Do not book consecutive meetings.

Also, don’t forget to attend the private show by Lizzo, one of the most popular pop stars in the country. If that’s not enough, the company is also planning “upcoming events” that will include “every Googlers’ favorite duet: food and clothing.”

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

RTO, to return to office, is an abbreviation born of the pandemic. It is a recognition of how Covid-19 forced many companies to abandon empty office buildings and cubicles. The pandemic proved that being in the office does not necessarily mean higher productivity, and some companies continued to thrive without meeting in person.

Now, after two years of video meetings and Slack chats, many companies are looking forward to returning employees to their desktops. Employees, however, may not be so eager to return to morning commutes, community restrooms, and non-sports daywear.

Thus, technology companies with money to burn and offices to fill are deploying the fun wagon, although they make it clear that in many cases returning to the office, at least a few days a week, is mandatory.

Lizzo will perform 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 received music from local bands, beer and wine tasting, and even terrarium classes.

To mark its first official week back in the office, chip maker Qualcomm celebrated a happy hour with its CEO, Cristiano Amon, at its San Diego offices for several thousand employees with free food, drink and T-shirts. The company also began offering weekly events such as pop-up snacks at “Take a Break Tuesday” and group fitness classes for “Wellness Wednesday.”

“These celebrations and benefits are a recognition by companies that know that employees do not want to return to the office, certainly not as often as before,” said Adam Galinsky, a professor at the business school. Columbia University. At least for now, he added, companies opt for the carrot on the stick – rewarding workers for entering the office instead of punishing them for staying home.

Prior to the Covid attack, the largest technology companies pledged billions of dollars to build offices that are architectural marvels and financially successful trophies. These bright offices, full of amenities and benefits, are a testament to the long-held belief that in-person collaboration is even better for fostering creativity, inspiring innovation, and instilling a common sense of purpose.

But for many employees who enjoyed the freedom to work remotely, going back to the office, no matter how elegant, brings a touch of fear of late summer and back to school. It seems like few are willing to go back five days a week.

In Memegen, an internal company site where Google employees share memes, one of the most popular posts was a picture of a company cafeteria with the caption: “RTO is only playing one with the other saying ‘we’ll have lunch soon’ until one of you leaves Google “.

Nick Bloom, a professor of economics at Stanford University who surveys 5,000 workers each month, said most wanted 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.

Only with the elimination of travel to the office, said Mr. Bloom, the average worker will save an hour a day, so “you can see why employees won’t start coming to work to buy free bagels or play ping pong.” The main attraction of going to the office, according to surveys, is that employees want to see colleagues in person.

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

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

For years, Google has provided employees with Wi-Fi-enabled luxury buses to make commuting more productive and comfortable, but it goes a step further. He is starting a program to reimburse $ 49 monthly rent for an electric scooter as part of his 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 “appreciation events” and turf games such as life-size chess and cornhole. There were spring basket making and canvas painting classes. The campus pub was transformed into a beer, wine and mocktail garden.

And of course there was free food and drink: pizzas, sandwiches and special coffees. Microsoft paid for food trucks with deals that included 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 marveled at the great appeal of free food.

The challenge for companies, said Mr. Bloom, is like balancing flexibility to let workers set their own schedule with a tougher approach of forcing them to come on specific days to maximize the usefulness of office time.

He said companies should focus on developing the right approach to hybrid work rather than wasting time and effort providing employees with incentives such as private concerts.

“Employees won’t come regularly just for the extension,” Mr. Bloom. “What do you do next? Will you get Justin Bieber and then Katy Perry?

Adapted to Apple’s most restricted workplace, its employees said they didn’t expect, or had heard of, any celebration to return to the office. At first, Apple asks employees to come once a week. At the end of May, Apple asks them to come on Monday, Tuesday and Thursday.

When Apple announced its plan to return to office last year before another Covid increase forced it to be delayed, more than 1,000 employees signed a letter asking management to be more open to flexible employment arrangements. . It was a rare show of dissent from the company base, which has historically been less willing to openly challenge executives on labor issues.

But as technology companies struggle to offer employees greater job flexibility, companies are also downsizing 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, said it approved applications from thousands of employees to work remotely or move to a different office. But if employees move to a less expensive place, Google is lowering their pay, arguing that it has always taken into account where a person was hired to set up compensation.

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

There was cheerful music. There was an asymmetrical balloon sculpture with Clio’s signature bright blue, dark blue, coral and white, perfect for selfies. One of Clio’s best-known workers wore a safari suit to visit the facility. At 2 p.m., the company held a social cupcake.

To make their workspaces feel more at home, the company moved desks around the perimeter, allowing Clions, as the company calls its employees, to contemplate the cherry blossoms in the office complex while sending emails. . A table football was updated on a workstation with chairs at both ends, “so you can have a meeting while you play table football with your laptop,” said Natalie Archibald, Clio’s vice president of people.

Clio’s office in Burnaby, which employs 350 people, is only half full. Spaced desks should be reserved and employees have red, yellow and green laces to convey their comfort levels with handshakes.

Only about 60 people came that Monday. “Being able to have an IRL laugh instead of an emoji response,” Ms. Archibald said. “People are excited about it.”

Karen way provide reports.

New Technology Era

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