Jun 13, 2023 - Economy

Companies get aggressive on return-to-office

Illustration of a large hand pushing a reluctant smaller businessman forward.

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

The push to get employees into the office on a hybrid schedule is getting more aggressive.

Why it matters: As the labor market softens, especially in tech, employers are pushing harder on in-person attendance.

The big picture: Tech companies were once outspoken remote work boosters. That changed after layoffs rocked the industry — swinging the balance of power in favor of management.

  • There's less fear of upsetting employees, and as more companies announce official hybrid schedules, they need ways to enforce the policies.

What's happening: In a company-wide email last week, Google chief people officer Fiona Cicconi told staff that office attendance will be considered in their performance reviews, the WSJ first reported.

State of play: Google, a unit of tech giant Alphabet, had already asked employees to come in three days a week back in April. Many ignored the request, according to the Washington Post.

  • Now, Google will send reminders to workers with frequent long-term absences.
  • The company isn't micromanaging daily attendance, a spokesman told Axios, but is looking for folks who are missing from the office for weeks or months at a time, so managers can have a conversation about impact on performance.

Zoom in: The law firm Davis Polk and banking giant JPMorgan also consider in-office attendance as a component of performance reviews.

  • Facebook parent company Meta ordered workers already assigned to an office to return for three days a week, the Journal reported.
  • Ridesharing company Lyft has also started requiring employees to go in more often. "Things just move faster when you're face to face," CEO David Risher told the New York Times in April.
  • Not all employers are using sticks to force workers in line. Salesforce is dangling a carrot — telling workers it will donate $10 to a local charity for each day they come to work from June 12 to June 23.

Yes, but: The push by tech companies to get employees into offices has been driven by Silicon Valley giants. Smaller tech firms have been more likely to stick with remote work policies.

What to watch: How workers react. Recall, hundreds of Amazon employees walked out of the job over return-to-office mandates last month.

  • And Google's union pushed back on the policy quickly after the email went out:
  • "Overnight, workers' professionalism has been disregarded in favor of ambiguous attendance tracking practices tied to our performance evaluations," Chris Schmidt, a software engineer, and union member wrote in a statement. "We deserve a voice in shaping the policies that impact our lives."
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