Big Tech Has Big Offices to Fill


I am team office.

In fact, I am so much team office that I am a remote worker who works from a coworking space simply not to be at home. My late grandmother, who was a goldmine of mostly vulgar and inappropriate folk wisdom, used to say I was like horseshit; always on the road.

However, I am aware that in the tech industry I’m the minority. People mostly like the convenience of staying in their slippers all day, being close to their families, and avoiding lengthy and expensive commutes. Some companies are willing to accommodate them, while others, especially Big Tech, seem to be really hung up on bringing their troops back to the office.

The rule of three L’s but actually just one in real estate

If you ever talked to a real estate broker, you know the three rules for a good sale – location, location, location. It turns out it’s becoming true for the job market as well.

A survey conducted in August by The Conference Board among 2,400 US workers revealed that one-third of workers may leave their jobs within the next six months. The main reason? A desire for flexible work arrangements. As much as 80% of them say work arrangements are very important or important in their decision to leave their current job. In fact, respondents ranked a flexible work location as the most desired aspect of a new job, just above better pay and career advancements.

Team office vs. team remote

All summer long (when things were looking a lot more optimistic) we were following announcements from various companies regarding their return-to-work policies. Companies like Twitter, Pinterest, and Dropbox gave a lot of flexibility, while major players such as Apple and Google stuck to their guns regarding in-person work. The former made plenty of headlines starting a small-scale cold war with their employees.

Team office also includes Microsoft, Amazon, and interestingly, Uber.

It’s ironic that the largest disruptors, those who made us the digital tools that enable us to be connected at all times and do our jobs practically anywhere, are the ones taking the most traditional approach. In statements, their reasoning includes phrases like “collaboration”, “human contact”, and “company culture.” Their PR departments probably wouldn’t approve of mentioning the gazillions of dollars they invested in high-tech campuses intended to make the line between work and life very very thin, or the difficulties of managing such a large workforce from a distance.

Facebook turned out to be an exception here, allowing its workers to switch to remote permanently (maybe as a part of an elaborate marketing strategy to promote Horizon Workrooms), but it might come at a price. If the employees decide to move to a less-expensive area, their salaries may be adjusted accordingly. Microsoft, Google, and Twitter are also experimenting with employee pay structures, even though their work location requirements vary.

One team is best team

We might not be a match for these players, but I should note that we’ve been flexible about office work even before the pandemic. During the last year and a half, we’ve definitely learned even more about flexibility. Some people realized they just love the feel of an office and keep on working there, others have moved back to their hometowns and come in when a project requires it.

If the pandemic taught us anything, it’s that so many jobs can be performed outside the traditional workplace, especially those in tech. The employees have realized it, too, and for some, work location is becoming a dealbreaker.

The Delta surge in the US currently paused all these return-to-office plans, as well as many others. Even Apple delayed the workers’ return until January. However, by no means is the debate over. Substantial recent real estate investments by Google and Apple show that they don’t intend on letting go very soon.

When the cases drop, the talk will resume. I guess we’ll have to wait and see what disruptions will the disruptors’ attitudes bring.

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