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June 12, 2021, 4:46 p.m. EDT

How tech companies are bringing workers back to the office: Slowly and with ‘social’ incentives

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By Jon Swartz

As they return to work, employees of website platform Contentful Inc. are getting an eyeful of their new offices in Berlin and Denver and a realigned headquarters in San Francisco, which include hallmarks of the post-pandemic workplace — a theater in Berlin and group rooms in San Francisco that are devoted to interactive meetings, with kitchen space doubled.

“We think the office is a social place first,” Contentful Chief Executive Steve Sloan told MarketWatch. “The office is where the great ideas are hatched — especially in an idea-centric economy.”

Millions of tech workers are slowly making the migration back to offices as millions become fully vaccinated and states lift restrictions. At Contentful, all 550 employees, including Sloan, will continue to work from home most of the time, and occasionally venture into the office for socializing and collaboration.

But many of those returning may not recognize the new digs, which are largely being designed to foster a nexus of ideas shared in theater-like settings and socially-distanced conference rooms, with specialized break-out areas for brainstorming and socializing. Workers will need to get used to the new office lingo of dynamic spaces and hoteling.

“It’s about going into the tunnel, and coming out of the tunnel,” VMware Chief Operating Officer Sanjay Poonen told MarketWatch, about a conservative return to the office. “This is sort of like a traffic jam — you slow down, and then gradually regain speed. We will get back to normalcy.”

Tech companies — among the first to ask employees to work from home during the pandemic — are leading the return to the office by the fall. Their reopening plans offer a glimpse into office life of the next few years, with a heavy emphasis on a hybrid work model and three-day work weeks onsite, as well as no vaccine requirements. California’s COVID-19  state of emergency order  will remain in place beyond June 15, despite plans to fully reopen the state’s economy on that date, Gov. Gavin Newsom said Friday.

“Three days a week [in the office] is the new five,” Twilio Inc. /zigman2/quotes/205796518/composite TWLO -2.70% Chief People Officer Christy Lake told MarketWatch, noting that 77% of the company’s employees said they miss the office. “The claims that ‘the office is dead’ are over-hyped. The truth is that the reasons people come into the physical office are changing.”

Dynamic spaces will occupy a key part of Twilio’s plans. The San Francisco-based company has revamped offices with specific areas for open collaboration, community and socializing, heads-down work, and flexible multipurpose spaces, said Lake, who added that some employees will trickle back to Twilio’s Bay Area offices beginning July 14. Employees have the option of working from home throughout the year.

Pre-pandemic, many in Silicon Valley were already on the path to a hybrid situation. Advances in videoconferencing technology and bandwidth had given them the luxury of working from home several days a week to avoid car-choked freeways. And employers were OK with the arrangement to scoop up talent from across the country. What COVID did was accelerate a work trend that was already clearly in motion, said Heather Kernahan, global CEO at PR agency Hotwire.

“It’s not going ‘back to work.’ We’ve been working hard,” Kernahan said. “Thoughtful working is what you do, not where you go.”

An exodus back to the office is likely to occur by September, based on data collected by real-estate company Savills, which surveyed more than 120 tech companies in March. More than half said they expect to be back in the office by the third quarter of this calendar year.

Silicon Valley’s largest employers, sitting on millions of square feet of land they own, have been particularly aggressive in dictating when workers get back. How that pans out in an era when employees are increasingly outspoken about work conditions, including the option to work exclusively from home, bears watching, say labor experts.

While employees at smaller companies have overwhelmingly shown a preference to return, those at Apple and other behemoths aren’t so sure, given the large number of people congregating in one place.

Shortly after Apple Inc. /zigman2/quotes/202934861/composite AAPL -1.49% pronounced employees must work in the office at least three days a week (Monday, Tuesday and Thursday) beginning in early September — including at Apple Park, the futuristic “spaceship”-like headquarters in Cupertino, Calif., that the company spent an estimated $5 billion to design and build — some workers pushed back.

“We would like to take the opportunity to communicate a growing concern among our colleagues,” Apple employees said in a letter to Apple CEO Tim Cook. “That Apple’s remote/location-flexible work policy, and the communication around it, have already forced some of our colleagues to quit. Without the inclusivity that flexibility brings, many of us feel we have to choose between either a combination of our families, our well-being, and being empowered to do our best work,  or  being a part of Apple.”

Read more: Apple asks employees to return to offices in September

Google parent Alphabet Inc. /zigman2/quotes/202490156/composite GOOGL -1.59% /zigman2/quotes/205453964/composite GOOG -2.04% said  it expects about 20% of its workforce to remain fully remote this fall , while 60% will work a hybrid office/home mix.

Facebook Inc. /zigman2/quotes/205064656/composite FB -1.25% employees have returned to a 10% maximum capacity at corporate headquarters in Menlo Park, Calif., and other select San Francisco Bay Area offices. Facebook is likely to fully reopen most U.S. offices by October, and non-remote employees will work in offices at least half the time. The company and Twitter Inc. /zigman2/quotes/203180645/composite TWTR -0.52% have said employees will be allowed to permanently work from home if their jobs allow for it.

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$ 387.48
-10.77 -2.70%
Volume: 1.49M
July 27, 2021 4:00p
P/E Ratio
N/A
Dividend Yield
N/A
Market Cap
$68.78 billion
Rev. per Employee
$841,747
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/zigman2/quotes/202934861/composite
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$ 146.77
-2.22 -1.49%
Volume: 104.82M
July 27, 2021 4:00p
P/E Ratio
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0.60%
Market Cap
$2486.29 billion
Rev. per Employee
$1.86M
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/zigman2/quotes/202490156/composite
US : U.S.: Nasdaq
$ 2,638.00
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Volume: 2.74M
July 27, 2021 4:00p
P/E Ratio
35.12
Dividend Yield
N/A
Market Cap
$1832.81 billion
Rev. per Employee
$1.35M
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/zigman2/quotes/205453964/composite
US : U.S.: Nasdaq
$ 2,735.93
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P/E Ratio
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Dividend Yield
N/A
Market Cap
$1832.81 billion
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$1.35M
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/zigman2/quotes/205064656/composite
US : U.S.: Nasdaq
$ 367.81
-4.65 -1.25%
Volume: 15.71M
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P/E Ratio
31.46
Dividend Yield
N/A
Market Cap
$1056.10 billion
Rev. per Employee
$1.47M
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/zigman2/quotes/203180645/composite
US : U.S.: NYSE
$ 68.33
-0.36 -0.52%
Volume: 16.99M
July 27, 2021 4:03p
P/E Ratio
147.14
Dividend Yield
N/A
Market Cap
$54.82 billion
Rev. per Employee
$675,700
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