Welcome back to the office. Isn’t this fun?

When Google employees returned to their mostly empty offices this month, they were told to relax. Office time should be “not only productive but also fun”. Explore a small place. Do not schedule consecutive meetings.

Also, don’t forget to attend the private show of Lizzo, one of the most handsome pop stars in the country. If that’s not enough, the company is also planning “pop-up events” that will feature “every Google’s favorite duo: food and swag”.

But Google employees in Boulder, Colo., Were still reminded of what they were giving up when the company gave them mouse pads with a sad-eyed cat image. Under the pet was a request: “You’re not going to the RTO, are you?”

RTO, to return to office, is an acronym for pandemic. It is a recognition of how Covid-19 has forced many companies to abandon office buildings and vacant spaces. The pandemic showed that staying in the office does not necessarily mean higher productivity, and some companies continued to thrive without a face-to-face meeting.

Now, after two years of video meetings and slack chats, many companies are eager to get employees back to their desks. Employees, however, may not be so eager to return to morning trips to work, shared bathrooms, and non-sportswear.

So, technology companies that have money to burn and offices that need to be filled start a party, although they clearly state that in many cases, returning to the office – at least a few days a week – is mandatory.

Lizzo will perform for Google employees this month at an amphitheater near the company’s headquarters in Mountain View, California. When Microsoft reopened its offices in Redmond, Washington, in late February, employees were treated to music by local bands, beer and wine tastings, and even terrarium classes.

To mark its first official week in the office, chipmaker Qualcomm held happy hour with its CEO, Cristiano Amon, in its San Diego offices for several thousand employees with free food, drinks and T-shirts. The company has also started offering weekly events such as pop-up snack stands on Take a Break Tuesday and group fitness classes for Wellness Wednesday.

“These celebrations and benefits are a recognition of companies knowing that employees do not want to return to the office, certainly not as often as before,” said Adam Galinsky, a professor at Columbia University Business School. At least for now, he added, companies are opting for carrots instead of sticks: rewarding workers who come to the office, instead of punishing them for staying at home.

Before Covid hit, the biggest technology companies dedicated billions of dollars to building offices that are marvels of architecture and trophies of financial success. These brilliant offices, full of conveniences and conveniences, are proof of a long-held belief that personal collaboration is even better for fostering creativity, inspiring innovation and instilling common sense for a purpose.

But for many employees who have enjoyed the freedom to work remotely, returning to the office – no matter how fancy – brings a dose of fear from the end of the summer, back to school. Few seem to want to return five days a week.

On Memegen, the company’s internal website where Google employees share memes, one of the most popular posts was a picture of the company’s cafeteria with the caption: “RTO just collides and says ‘we have lunch soon’ until one of you leave Google.”

Nick Bloom, a professor of economics at Stanford University who interviews 5,000 workers each month, says most want to return to the office two or three times a week. One third never wants to return to the office and prefer to stay away.

By abolishing office travel to work, Mr Bloom said, the average worker will save one hour a day, so “you can see why employees won’t start coming to work for free pastries or playing ping-pong.” The main reason for going to the office, according to surveys, is that employees want to see colleagues in person.

After numerous delays, Google began its hybrid work schedule on April 4, requiring most employees to show up at U.S. offices a few days a week. Apple began returning staff to the office on Monday, and workers are expected to initially report once a week.

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

For years, Google has provided employees with luxury buses equipped with a Wi-Fi network to make travel to work more productive and comfortable, but it goes a step further. It is launching a $ 49 monthly reimbursement program for an electric scooter as part of its staff transportation options. Google also plans to start experimenting with different office designs to adapt to changing work styles.

When Microsoft employees returned to their offices in February as part of a hybrid work schedule, they were greeted by “appreciation events” and lawn games such as corn and life-size chess. Classes on making spring baskets and painting on canvas were held. The pub on campus has been turned into a garden of beer, wine and “moktela”.

And, of course, there were free food and drinks: pizzas, sandwiches and coffee specialties. Microsoft paid for the food trucks on offer including fried chicken, tacos, gyros, Korean food and barbecue.

Unlike other technology companies, Microsoft expects employees to pay for food in the office themselves. One employee was amazed at how big the free food offer was.

The challenge for companies, Mr Bloom said, is how to balance the flexibility in allowing workers to set their own schedule with a harder approach of forcing them to come on certain days to make the most of working hours.

He said companies should focus on developing the right approach to hybrid work instead of wasting time and effort on showering employees with incentives like private concerts.

“Employees will not come regularly just for the little things,” Mr Bloom said. “What are you going to do next?” Get Justin Bieber and then Katy Perry? ”

Arranging Apple’s more restrained workplace, its employees said they did not expect – nor had they heard of – any celebration to return to the office. Apple first asks employees to come once a week. By the end of May, Apple requires them to come on Monday, Tuesday and Thursday.

When Apple announced its plan to return to the office last year before another increase in Covid led to a delay, more than 1,000 employees signed a letter urging management to be more open to flexible work arrangements. It was a rare expression of disagreement with the company’s ranks, which throughout history have been less willing to openly challenge executives on job issues.

But as technology companies struggle to offer employees more flexibility in their work, companies are also reducing some office benefits.

Meta, formerly known as Facebook, told employees last month that she was reducing or canceling free services such as laundry and dry cleaning. Google, like some other companies, said it had approved requests from thousands of employees to work remotely or move to another office. But if employees move to a cheaper location, Google reduces salaries, claiming that it has always taken into account where the person is employed when determining compensation.

Clio, a legal software company in Burnaby, British Columbia, will not force its employees to return to the office. But last week he hosted a party in his offices.

Cheerful music was heard. There was an asymmetrical balloon sculpture in Clio’s signature light blue, navy blue, coral and white – perfect for selfies. One of Clio’s most famous workers wore a safari costume to tour the facility. At 2 p.m., the society held a cupcake social.

To make her workspace more at home, the company has moved desks to the perimeter, allowing Clions – as the company calls its employees – to look at a cherry blossom in the office complex while sending emails. The football table has been upgraded to a workstation with chairs at both ends, “so you can have a meeting while playing table football with your laptop on it,” said Natalie Archibald, vice president of Clia for People.

Clio’s Burnaby office, which employs 350, is only half open. Spaced tables must be reserved, and employees have been given red, yellow and green stripes to convey a level of comfort by handling.

Only about 60 people came that Monday. “Being able to make IDPs laugh, not emoji’s response,” Ms. Archibald said. “People are just excited about it.”

Karen way contributed to reporting.

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