For Jonathan Pruiett, it just didn’t make sense.
A geospatial analyst who updates Google Maps for a living, Pruiett had been called back to his company’s offices in Bothell, Washington, five days a week, starting June 6.
Like many of his team, Pruiett had only worked remotely, having started work during the pandemic. He had adapted well to it, finding efficiencies such as multitasking in virtual meetings, using the time to process data.
And yet, he was now being told to report to the office. Anyone who does not report within three days of the return date will be deemed to have abandoned their employment.
“Nothing will change other than having a few snacks in our office and having an in-person meeting,” Pruiett said. “We’re kind of starting to think that this job isn’t worth it.”
Source of tension between workers and bosses
More than two years into a pandemic that has no clear end, the debate over remote work has only intensified. Working from home is not possible in many jobs. But for those who have the possibility, it is now obvious that it is feasible, even beneficial.
But how beneficial is a point of contention between workers and their bosses. Some bosses decide that too much is lost when people are out of the office and it’s time to come back.
Tesla boss Elon Musk is one of them. He recently sent an email to his employees with the subject “Remote work is no longer acceptable”. He felt that Tesla creates and manufactures “the most exciting and meaningful products of any company on Earth. It’s not going to happen by phoning him.”
Musk told them that anyone who wants to work remotely “must be in the office for a minimum (and I mean *minimum*) of 40 hours per week.”
Apple also wanted to bring people back to the office three days a week. But last month the company decided to postpone its plan after more than 1,000 current and former employees signed an open letter called the plan ineffective, inflexible and a waste of time.
“Stop treating us like school kids who have to be told when to be where and what homework to do,” they wrote.
It was yet further evidence of the shift in the balance of power between the leadership and the ranks, as the demand for workers has reached record highs over the past year. Companies find it difficult to enforce unpopular policies and mandates when they fear their employees will leave.
Google Maps employees get temporary reprieve
Google Maps employees, who are employed by technology company Cognizant, also decided to fight back. They connected with the Alphabet Workers Union and signed a petition citing COVID fears, transportation costs amid $5 gas, and the boost in productivity and morale employees have experienced while working. home.
Days away from the June 6 return-to-office deadline, Pruiett said he wasn’t sure he and others would show up in the office on June 6. Members of his team began to prepare for a strike vote.
Hours later, Cognizant did what other companies have done in recent weeks: granted a reprieve.
“Our first day back in the Bothell office full-time will now be September 6,” the company said in a statement on Thursday.
Pruiett called it a 90 day band-aid and vowed to keep fighting.
Conference rooms with fancy names like the Kennedy Center are empty
Even as some companies seek to bring back some semblance of office life, others are wondering: what is the office for anyway?
At management consulting firm Eagle Hill Consulting in Arlington, Virginia, offices have been open since fall 2021, but for the most part there are only a handful of employees on site — mostly from IT and human resources.
No one was fired full time or even close. Offices and conference rooms, named after Washington, DC landmarks such as the Kennedy Center and the Navy Yard, are empty.
It’s a dramatic contrast to pre-pandemic times, when every seat was full – despite the fact that flexible working was also on offer at the time.
“Would I have been able to work from home four days a week before the pandemic? I think I could have easily done that. It just wasn’t the environment,” says Jason Carrier, a senior associate who spent four days a week in the office and one day at a client.
Although he lives a few minutes walk from the office, he now only comes once a week, which is more than most of his colleagues, he says.
Working from the office, all day, every day is probably a ‘decisive factor’
Eagle Hill’s workforce is young, mostly in their 20s and 30s. Before the pandemic, people liked to be in the office together. They liked the energy. They stayed late for office happy hours at the end of the day.
Now, offsite happy hours are becoming commonplace alongside virtual bingo nights, thanks in part to Carrier leading the workplace entertainment team. So the idea of working from the office, all day, every day?
“Probably very close to a deal breaker at this point,” he says.
Eagle Hill Marketing Director Susan Nealon says she would like to see people in the office when it makes sense. She recently used an in-person event — a photoshoot her team had organized — to bring together a few members of her team for their first face-to-face meeting in over two years.
“I see the office changing,” Nealon said. “It will be less about doing individual work and more about doing group work.”
She believes workers can be happier and more productive by doing their individual work in the quiet of their homes and only coming to the office for team meetings at optimal times. Instead of battling rush-hour traffic to sit in the office from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., you could just skip 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., she says.
This is an idea that would have been unthinkable just a few years ago. But already, it’s proving to be a selling point for new recruits to Eagle Hill.
“It’s hard to even imagine going into the office 100%,” says Fara John-Williams, who started in human resources in May. “I don’t think I could do it again.”
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