Even tech giants aren’t rushing back to the office

Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey told staff they could work from home permanently – we're a long way from bean bags and foosball tables.
19 May 2020

Twitter has made work-from-home a permanent option for employees. Source: AFP

  • Apple plans for the gradual return of employees to main offices 
  • The majority of Facebook and Google’s workforces are still working remotely
  • Twitter’s CEO said remote working could become a permanent option

As countries look to reopen their economies, many businesses – from family run outfits to globe-straddling giants – are now looking at how to bring employees back into offices in efforts to return to some level of pre-Covid normality. 

Some, like Elon Musk’s Tesla, are racing back against the advice of authorities, but others are taking a more measured approach. Take Apple: the Californian tech titan unveiled plans for employees to return to their major global offices, including their main Apple Park campus in Silicon Valley.

The company’s plan will take place in ‘phases’ with staff members who are unable to work remotely, or those facing the most challenges working from home, to return first. This will then be followed by a second phase, where the company will see even more employees returning to work back in offices starting July.

The return-to-work timelines are flexible, and take into consideration the state and national movement restriction orders in each region, as reported in Bloomberg

Let’s work from home a bit longer

That said, Apple’s eagerness to return to the office is not quite in line with other big tech leaders – of course, it’s owed to their major hardware divisions. Other tech companies are taking a slightly different approach.

While individual cities may have started to ease quarantine measures, Facebook has extended its remote working arrangements until the end of 2020. Offices will reopen on July 6, but only for staff members who need to come in.

Google also plans for a majority of its workforce to remain remote for the rest of the year. CEO Sundar Pichai indicated that the company has a controlled plan for reopening to be “slow, deliberate and incremental,” with 10 to 15 percent of employees heading back to offices first.

Interestingly, Google is no stranger to remote working. The company has about 100,000 Googlers stationed in more than 150 cities across over 50 countries — some whom have already been working from home productively for years. 

Last year, Veronica Gilrane, manager of Google’s People Innovation Lab, revealed a glimpse into the life of remote Googlers, and presented several pointers for companies interested in adopting flexible working styles. 

Gilrane observed that “teams who work virtually find ways to prioritize a steady work-life balance by prioritizing important rituals like a healthy night’s sleep and exercise just as non-distributed team members do.”

Many of the leading tech giants have extended their work-from-home deadlines, with some offering the flexibility to return to offices or work from home for a longer period. But none have gone as far as to follow the footsteps of microblogging site Twitter.

The social media giant has added a new work policy — employees are able to work from home permanently, if they so wish.

CEO Jack Dorsey informed employees of the new policy via an office-wide email, with some roles like maintenance requiring employees to come in as needed, as reported by BuzzFeed News.

Soon after the announcement, Dorsey extended the policy to his mobile payment company Square. The policy will also see Square employees having the option to work from home permanently, with security and maintenance personnel still required to step into offices.

“Opening offices will be our decision, when and if our employees come back, will be theirs,” a Twitter spokesperson said in a statement to The Verge.

The much-touted concept of remote working becoming the new normal is clearly not an understatement when the tech giants who once sold and prized their offices as ‘a playground for innovation’ are offering this new kind of flexibility. 

These companies (like they tend to be) could be well ahead of the curve here. A report by Okta today revealed that just one in four UK workers – from a sample of 2,000 – want to go back into the office full-time, with less than one-third (31 percent) stating productivity levels had taken a hit.

Instead, employers that adopt this new approach may enjoy the benefits of their staff striking a better work-life balance. Forty percent of respondents said that they were working the same hours as normal, while making better use of the free time gained from not commuting.

For companies in limbo on when to open up their offices once again, it may be worth considering not just government recommendations, but also giving employees the chance to choose what suits them.