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How tech companies are trying woo

How tech companies: are trying woo

This month, Google employees went back to their mostly empty offices and were told to take it easy. “Not only should office time be useful, but it should also be fun.” Check out the place a bit. Don’t book meetings right after each other.

Also, don’t forget to go to the private show by one of the country’s most popular pop stars, Lizzo. If that isn’t enough, the company is also planning “pop-up events” that will have “every Googler’s favorite pair: food and swag.”

But when Google employees in Boulder, Colorado, were given mouse pads with a sad-eyed cat on them, they were reminded of what they were giving up. “You’re not going to RTO, right?” it said under the pet.

R.T.O. is an abbreviation for “return to the office.” It came about because of the pandemic. It’s a way to remember how COVID-19 caused a lot of companies to leave empty office buildings and cubicles. The pandemic showed that being in the office doesn’t always mean you’re more productive. Some businesses did well even though they couldn’t meet in person.

How tech companies are trying woo

After two years of video meetings and Slack chats, many companies are eager to get their employees back to their desks. The employees, on the other hand, might not be so excited to go back to morning commutes, shared bathrooms, and clothes that aren’t athletic wear during the day.

So tech companies with lots of money and empty offices are putting out the fun wagon while making it clear that most people have to go back to work at least a few days a week.

This month, Lizzo will play for Google employees at an amphitheater near the company’s Mountain View, California, headquarters. When Microsoft’s Redmond, Washington, offices reopened at the end of February, employees were treated to live music from local bands, tastings of beer and wine, and even classes on how to make terrariums.

How tech companies: are trying woo

To celebrate the first full week back at work, the chip company Qualcomm held a happy hour in San Diego with its CEO, Cristiano Amon. Free food, drinks, and T-shirts were given out to several thousand employees. The company also started having weekly events like pop-up snack stands on “Take a Break Tuesday” and group fitness classes on “Wellness Wednesday.”

“These parties and perks show that companies know employees don’t want to come back to work as often as they used to,” said Adam Galinsky, a business school professor at Columbia University. He also said that, at least for now, companies are choosing to reward workers for coming to work instead of punishing them for staying home.

Before COVID happened, the biggest tech companies spent billions of dollars building offices that are architectural marvels and symbols of their financial success. Those shiny, full-of-perks offices are proof of the long-held belief that working together in person is still better for fostering creativity, inspiring innovation, and giving people a shared sense of purpose.

But for many employees who liked being able to work from home, going back to the office, no matter how nice it is, is like going back to school at the end of summer. It seems that few people are interested in going back five days a week.

How tech companies: are trying woo

On Memegen, an internal Google site where employees share memes, one of the most popular posts was a picture of a company cafeteria with the caption, “RTO is just bumping into each other and saying, “We should get lunch soon,” until one of you quits Google.”

Nick Bloom, an economics professor at Stanford University who interviews 5,000 workers every month, found that most wanted to go back to work two or three times a week. One-third of them never want to go back to the office and would rather stay away.

Mr. Bloom said that the average worker would save one hour a day if they didn’t have to drive to work. “You can see why employees aren’t going to start coming to work for free bagels or to play Ping-Pong,” he said. Surveys show that the main reason people go to work is that they want to see their coworkers in person.

After a few delays, Google’s hybrid work schedule started on April 4. Most employees now have to come to U.S. offices a few days a week. Monday was the first day that Apple employees slowly went back to work. At first, they were only expected to come in once a week.

On March 31, Google’s vice president of real estate and workplace services, David Radcliffe, sent an email to employees in the San Francisco Bay Area saying that the company wanted to make the return to work “truly special.”

Google has been giving its employees luxury buses with Wi-Fi for years to help them be more productive and comfortable on their way to and from work. Now, the company is going one step further. As a way to help employees get around, it is starting a program that will reimburse the $49 a month it costs to rent an electric scooter. Google also wants to try out different office designs to keep up with changing ways of working.

As part of a hybrid work schedule, when Microsoft employees went back to the office in February, they were met with “appreciation events” and lawn games like cornhole and life-size chess. There were classes on how to make spring baskets and paint on canvases. The campus pub turned into a garden with places to drink beer, wine, and “mocktails.”

Pizzas, sandwiches, and specialty coffees were all free, as drank. Microsoft paid for food trucks that served things like barbecue, fried chicken, tacos, gyros, and Korean food.

Microsoft is different from other tech companies in that employees are expected to pay for their own food at the office. One worker was amazed at how many people came because the food was free.

How tech companies: are trying woo

Mr. Bloom said that companies have to figure out how to find a good balance between letting workers set their own schedules and making them come in on certain days to get the most out of their office time.

He said that companies should focus on finding the best way to handle hybrid work instead of wasting time and energy on things like giving employees private concerts as rewards.

Mr. Bloom said, “Employees won’t come in every day just for the perks.” “What do you plan on doing next?” “Get Justin Bieber, then Katy Perry?”

Apple’s employees said that, since the office is quieter, they did not expect or know of any celebrations for coming back to work. At first, Apple is only asking employees to come in once a week. By the end of May, Apple will only let them work Monday, Tuesday, and Thursday.

When Apple announced its “return to office plan last year, more than 1,000 employees signed a letter asking management to be more open to flexible work arrangements. This was before another COVID surge caused the plan to be put on hold. It was a rare sign of disagreement from regular employees of the company, who have usually been less willing to openly disagree with executives about workplace issues.

But as tech companies try to give their workers more freedom at work, they are also cutting back on some office perks.

Meta, which used to be called Facebook, told employees last month that free services like laundry and dry cleaning would be cut back or stopped. Google, like some other companies, stated that it allowed thousands of employees to work from home or relocate to a different office if they requested it. But if an employee moves to a cheaper place, Google will cut their pay, saying that it has always taken into account where a person was hired when figuring out pay.

Clio, which makes software for lawyers and is based in Burnaby, British Columbia, won’t make its employees go back to work. But it had a party at its office last week.

There was music that was happy. There was an asymmetrical balloon sculpture in bright blue, dark blue, coral, and white, which was perfect for selfies. One of Clio’s most well-known employees put on a safari outfit so they could give tours of the building. The company had a cupcake social at 2:00.

To make its workspaces feel more like home, the company moved desks outside so that its employees, who are called Clients, could look out at the cherry blossoms while sending emails. Clio’s vice president of people, Natalie Archibald, said that a foosball table was turned into a workstation with chairs on both ends “so you could have a meeting while playing foosball with your laptop on it.”

350 people work at Clio’s office in Burnaby, but the office is only half full. Desks that are far apart must be reserved, and employees were given red, yellow, and green lanyards to show with a handshake how comfortable they were with their desks.

On that Monday, only about 60 people came in. “To be able to laugh in real life instead of sending an emoji,” Ms. Archibald said. “Everyone is really excited about that.

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