Tech giants let employees dance again

Tech giants let employees dance again

At Apple, Google and Twitter, the countdown is on for the opening of their offices. How the tech companies will implement hybrid Work in the future looks very different. […]

After the corona epidemic broke out worldwide two years ago and forced most companies to close their offices and prescribe home office to employees, it now seems that – despite the still widespread, but not quite so dangerous Omikron variant – there is a great willingness to return to normal. What kind of new normal this will be, there are different views from company to company.

After all, a direction is now emerging among the tech giants Apple, Google, Microsoft and Twitter. All had already postponed the reopening of their offices several times. In the meantime, however, the companies have revealed their respective plans for the future of work in their companies. The IT giants enjoy a high level of public attention and could be an example for other companies that also have to deal with the changed expectations of their employees for the workplace of the future.

It was Microsoft’s turn a tick earlier than the others: the Redmonders announced a few weeks ago that vaccinated employees would return to the headquarters in Washington State and other offices on February 28 via a multi-level model. All employees are expected to return to the office buildings by March 28. The employees negotiate the attendance times with their respective managers.

Microsoft has already refined concepts for hybrid work during the previous pandemic – certainly also because these activities are not insignificant for the software group’s own business development. After all, Microsoft earns a lot of money with hardware and software for hybrid work.

Although each company pursues its own approach to returning to the office and establishes rules for remote and face-to-face work, there is no case in which a comeback of the classic five-day week in the company office is sought. Apple had already said last year that employees should be present at the company office at least three days a week, but this was met with little enthusiasm. So there were petitions and public protests against this decision. Nevertheless, the company is still determined to bring its employees back to the company offices.

A few days ago, The Verge published an internal email from Apple management, in which CEO Tim Cook announced a “gradual” opening of offices. The starting point was April 11. In the beginning, Apple employees will go to the office one day a week. From the third week of this transition period, it should be two days a week. “We will then start on May 23 with a hybrid work pilot project, which provides for employees to come to the office three days a week – Monday, Tuesday and Thursday. If you wish, you can work flexibly on Wednesday and Friday,“ the e-mail says.

CEO Cook, of course, knows that the obligation to return to the office will not be welcomed everywhere. But in his opinion, many employees will also welcome the opportunity to meet their colleagues in person again.

“I want you to know that we are very committed to giving you the support and flexibility you need in this next phase,” Cook said in the memo. With the gradual introduction of the hybrid Work pilot project, the employees wanted to be accommodated, as well as with the granted possibility that Apple employees could work remotely for up to four weeks a year at a time, for example, if they wanted to change location for a longer period of time.

Google had actually planned to reopen its offices on January 10, but was then abruptly slowed down by the emergence of the COVID-19 variant Omikron. Now the Internet giant expects to call the employees back to the office from April 4. That’s according to an internal memo seen by Reuters. The decision applies to employees in some US offices, in the UK and in the Asia-Pacific region. Employees who are not yet ready to return to the company office can apply for an extension.

Google CEO Sundar Pichai would like most employees to be in the office for three days a week. But there are plenty of exceptions (c) alphabet

According to the Reuters report, Google employees who go to the office must be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 or have an exemption permit. Unvaccinated employees should first have the opportunity to continue working remotely.

As with Apple, Google also imagines that employees are in the office for about three days a week. However, this should be able to vary by team and function. However, only last year the company approved thousands of employee applications who wanted to work remotely exclusively and in the long term. According to reports, management rejected only 15 percent of these requests. CEO Sundar Pichai had previously issued a rule that employees – similar to Apple – are allowed to work outside their company office for up to four weeks a year.

Twitter’s approach differs from the others in that although the offices are scheduled to reopen from March 15, employees can decide for themselves where they work. “It has been almost two years since we closed our offices and suspended travel activities. I am pleased to announce that we are ready to make business travel possible again and to fully open our offices around the world!”, CEO Parag Agrawal shared in a tweet in early March.

Agrawal, who replaced Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey as CEO in November 2021, promised to enable remote work even after the pandemic. “Wherever you feel most productive and creative, you can work. This also includes the opportunity to work full-time from home forever,“ the CEO wrote. “Every day at the office? This is also possible. A few days at the office, a few days from home? Yes, of course.“

Agrawal acknowledged that a hybrid work model brings operational challenges. “Distributed work will be much, much more difficult, ” said the Twitter boss, “anyone who has ever attended a conference remotely while the others were present on site knows this pain.“ It is now important to deal with these challenges, to act consciously and to learn.

J. P. Gownder, vice president and principal analyst at Forrester Research, believes that Twitter’s flexible approach will be better received by employees. The company will have a “remarkable advantage” in the tense labor market as a result. The flexibility in terms of place of work could benefit the company in terms of employee retention and attracting talent. “Especially now, during the ongoing Great Resignation and the high employee turnover, enabling ‘Anywhere Work’ plays an important role in the competition for talent,” says Gownder.

A survey by Forrester shows that most companies (51 percent) are planning to pursue a hybrid strategy and 15 percent are aiming for a “remote-first regulation”. About a third (34 percent) rely on employees to be present in the office every day of the week.

Gartner analyst Adam Preset believes that the tech giants’ remote work strategies will have a greater impact on other companies. “When these companies signal that they want to reopen their offices, this stimulates discussions in various companies about how they want to proceed themselves,” says Preset. Some would follow the example of the tech companies overzealously, others would probably rather wait and see what success or failure stories Apple, Google, Microsoft and Twitter will tell in a few months.

The upcoming hybrid work models will have an impact in many ways, not least on the diversity and inclusion approaches of companies. Recent surveys show that women and people of color are more inclined to work from home. So the question arises as to whether these talents will not be drawn to Twitter rather than Google or Apple in the future.

Researchers also warn of a so-called proximity bias. Accordingly, supervisors could trust the spatially present employees rather than the remote workers. A creeping alienation from the company would be the result for people in the home office, which could affect the career.

*Matthew Finnegan lives in the UK and writes about collaboration and enterprise IT for our US sister publication Computerworld.

**Heinrich Vaske is Editorial Director of COMPUTERWOCHE, CIO and CSO as well as editor-in-chief of IDG’s European B2B brands. He takes care of the content orientation of the media brands – on the web and in the print titles.

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