Fiona Cicconi, Google’s head of human resources, wrote a few days ago to the company’s employees to announce that her calendar was being advanced to return to the office.
Starting September 1, he told them, those wishing to work from home for more than 14 days will have to submit a formal application.
Employees are also expected to «live at a distance that allows them to move daily» to the offices. So no cocktails on the beach with a laptop.
The message became clear: there may be more flexibility than before, but most of theworkers you’ll have tor to the office.
That idea seems to go against much of what we heard from Silicon Valley executives last year, when they defended the virtues of remote work.
For example, Jack Dorsey, co-founder of Twitter, made headlines around the world last May, when he said social media employees could then «work from home forever.»
It was speculated that after the covid-19 pandemic, the «new normal» for Silicon Valley companies would be a strongly remote workforce, with only a minimum of staff in the office.
It’s getting more and more Of course that’s not going to happen.
And if you look at the statements of the heads of technology, there are nuances that the press had overlooked.
For example, when Dorsey said Twitter employees could work at home «forever,» he added, «If our employees play a role they can play from home and are in a situation that allows them to do so.»
It’s a pretty important condition.
And, in fact, Twitter clarified that it expects most of its staff to spend some time working from home and some time in the office.
Almost all Silicon Valley technology companies said they are now committed to «flexible» or «hybrid» work.
The problem is that those terms can mean almost anything.
Friday off? Or a completely different working relationship with a physical office?
Microsoft anticipates that «working from home part of the time (less than 50%) will be the standard for most positions» in the future.
There’s a lot of room for manoeuvre in the words «less than 50%.»
Amazon also told its employees: «Our plan is to return to an office-centric culture as standard. We believe that allows us to invent, collaborate and learn together more effectively.»
It’s not exactly a resounding backing to the new era of work from home.
Part of the doubt is that while many employees want more flexibility, it is not yet entirely clear what kind of model works for companies.
«None of us have been able to solve it,» said Carolyn Everson, Facebook’s global vice president of sales, when talking about current arrangements for working from home.
«We’re making it up on the fly.»
The appeal of remote work
Prithwiraj Choudhury, a professor at Harvard Business School and advocate for remote work, says technology companies have long been at the forefront of this model.
«The former who adopted it and the companies that are following this remote working model and build the organization around it will have a great advantage for attract talent«, he says.
That’s certainly the hope.
No technology company wants to lose capable employees to rivals that allow them to work more flexibly.
Companies like Spotify are the ones that now offer the most «flexible» work practices to their staff.
«Our employees will be able to work full-time from home, from the office or combine both modalities,» the company said in a recent statement.
«The exact combination of the way you work at home and in the office is a decision every employee and their manager makes together.»
But he also added: «Some adjustments are likely to need to be made along the way.»
So Spotify’s definition of flexible work is very different from Google’s, which in turn is very different from Amazon’s.
Working from home when there is no office open is one thing. But remote work will really be tested when offices start opening up, say, at 50% of their capacity.
When meetings are held in part in persona and partly by Zoom, will the dynamics work so well?
And when some team members deal with managers face-to-face, will remote workers feel at a disadvantage?
A few weeks ago IBM announced its proposal for a remote work system, with 80% of the workforce working for at least three days a week in the office.
«When people work remotely, I worry about what their Career«, said IBM CEO Arvind Krishna.
«If you want to become managers, if you want to have more and more responsibilities or if you want to build a culture within your teams, how are we going to do it remotely?» he asked.
Interestingly, we’re about to find out what works and what doesn’t, because tech companies are adopting many different approaches.
And like much of modern life, other companies are looking to the west coast of the United States to see what works here and what doesn’t.