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Five Companies Returning to the Office (and Five That Aren’t)

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The announcement that every American will be eligible to receive a vaccine by May 1st has a return to normalcy just around the corner. Offices, businesses, and employees are pressing their pantsuits, shining their shoes, and getting back into the routine of work in preparation for the return to the office. While some of the nation’s largest companies have permanently shifted to work from home policies, many titans of industry are eager to get back to business as usual. We rounded up some of the nation’s largest enterprises planning to welcome back their full workforce later this year. 

Goldman Sachs

DJ D-Sol, better known as Goldman Sachs CEO David Solomon, told roughly 40,00 employees that it’s time to get back to the office. “I do think for a business like ours, which is an innovative, collaborative apprenticeship culture, this is not ideal for us. And it’s not a new normal. It’s an aberration that we’re going to correct as soon as possible,” Solomon said. Workers at Goldman have been receiving the return-to-work command. Throughout 2020, less than 10 percent of Goldman’s staff was physically present. The Wall Street investment firm expects its full staff to be back at the office by the end of the year, staggering return-to-work orders to phase-in normalcy as seamlessly as possible. Constructed less than 15 years ago at a cost of over $2 billion, Goldman is intent on getting the most out of its global HQ at 200 West Street in Lower Manhattan. 

Amazon

Much of Amazon’s 1 million person workforce has been working overtime during the pandemic, while workers on the corporate and technical side have been working from home for months. Amazon officially expects all employees back at the office starting July 1st, 2021. In addition to its high-profile ‘HQ2’ projects in Queens and Arlington, Amazon will invest roughly $1.4 billion in offices for nearly 3,500 new jobs in Dallas, Detroit, Denver, New York City, Phoenix, and San Diego. “The ability to connect with people, the ability for teams to work together in an ad hoc fashion—you can do it virtually, but it isn’t as spontaneous,” Ardine Williams, vice president of workforce development at Amazon, told the WSJ. “We are looking forward to returning to the office.” No word yet on if former CEO Jeff Bezos, now executive chairman, is expected to report. 

Apple

Like Amazon, Apple will soon welcome workers back to a new home as construction on its $5 billion global HQ, dubbed Apple Park, in Cupertino, California, begins to wrap up. Housing more than 12,00 employees in a 2.8 million square foot curricular building, it’s no stretch to say Apple’s new office is likely the finest office in the world. Designed around Steve Jobs’ vision of creating an office within a nature refuge, roughly 80 percent of the site is green space. Seven cafes, a 30-acre central park, a 100,000 square-foot wellness center, a 300,00 square foot research center, and on-site care clinics for employee health make Apple Park seem more like a sci-fi utopia than an office park. “Innovation isn’t always a planned activity,” Apple CEO Tim Cook told People.  “It’s bumping into each other over the course of the day and advancing an idea that you just had. And you really need to be together to do that.” With office spaces like Apple’s world-class facilities, the return will be easier than others. 

Ernst & Young

As one of the largest professional services networks in the world, Ernst & Young, known simply as EY, a standard-bearer in the corporate consulting world, expects all of its employees back in the office this April. The original plan was for employees to return at the start of the year, but the pandemic’s severity at the time pushed back the timeline. Optimism towards the vaccine is growing. At the same time, we are experiencing surges across the country as we enter the winter months,” EY Americas VP of Risk Management Jay Persaud told employees.  “On balance, we have a few tough months ahead but the vaccine is the light starting to shine brighter at the end of the tunnel,”  For EY, returning to the office doesn’t just mean returning to their office, it also includes returning to clients’ offices. For now, EY’s employees can still use their own discretion for client site visits. 

Facebook

Facebook sent shockwaves at the start of the pandemic as one of the first tech companies to shut its U.S. offices nationwide. Facebook is taking a more measured approach to reopen offices, phasing in the workforce. Voluntary work from home is scheduled to continue globally until July 2021. Never far from controversy these days, Facebook made headlines when it was reported CEO Mark Zuckerberg told the company’s more than 50,000 employees that they would not be required to receive a vaccination before returning to the office during an all-hands meeting. Some Facebook moderators, who often are employed as contractors, say they’ve been pressured to return to work for months. Last year 200 Moderators penned a letter to Facebook executives expressing their concern. Facebook is giving employees the option to become fully remote workers, but that decision is likely to come with a decrease in pay or benefits, depending on where the remote worker lives.

These companies simply want to get back to normal. For them, a return to the office is a return to normalcy, proven effective by the work they produce in the office. The pandemic has taught managers and HR departments a great deal, but for these big companies neither has lost sight of the importance of the office in day-to-day operations. 

And five that aren’t returning…

Other companies see the pandemic as a key turning point in their corporate office culture. The time away from the office has been fruitful enough to make them consider a life without an office. For these organizations, the old normal is dead and the new one will not include a steady office presence. 

Ford 

A titan of American automaking is implementing one of the countries most progressive hybrid work models. Ford announced to its 30,000 white-collar office workers that they can continue working from home indefinitely as long as their managers approve flexible hours. Ford exempts the office to become a palace where people gather for meetings and group projects. The nature of the work we do really is going to be a guiding element. If there’s one thing we’ve learned over the last 12 months, it is that a lot of our assumptions around work and what employees need has shifted,” Ford Chief People Office Kiersten Robinson told CNBC. Robinson said Ford sees this as the evolution of work. Alongside the announcement, Ford said it would be redesigning its corporate office interiors, retrofitting spaces to be versatile and adaptable, adding technology to enable video calls and enhance connectivity. Ford’s big change in office culture came after the company’s internal survey found 95% of office workers preferred having the option to deice the manner in which they work themselves. Ford’s blue-collar workers won’t have that luxury, which the company admits may cause some negative perception. 

Twitter 

Twitter made headlines when it became the first major company to announce its intends to work from home forever. Just a couple of months into the pandemic, Twitter told staff they can work from home for as long they see fit. The policy is an evolution of the work-from-home model Twitter pioneered long before the pandemic outbreak. Twitter’s offices remain open to those who prefer an office setting, but density has been low for months. The company is taking special care to make remote employees feel as involved as those on-site. “We want to ensure our remote folks feel a part of conversations naturally happening in the office, and we want them to have equal access to things like training and support,” Twitter’s Tracy Hawkins, vice president of real estate & workplace and remote experience told SF Chronicle. Yes, a VP of remote experience. Hawkins gained the additional title in January 2020. Twitter is even examining the term ‘remote’, pointing out that “calling them ‘remote’ doesn’t play into that feeling of equality.”

Slack

Despite Slack’s entire business being the place for remote work, for years the company has had an ‘office-centric culture.’  The company is finally turning its vision into reality, announcing its 2,000 person workforce “is going to become a much more distributed company,” Robby Kwok, Slack’s senior vice president of people, explained in a blog post. Kwok wrote an Op-Ed for Fast Company, where he explained Slack is using the moment “as an opportunity to try new things and question long-held assumptions about nearly everything.” Along with the shift to remote work, Slack is changing its hiring practices, opening roles to remote candidates. This new style of workflow creates an ‘asynchronous world’ that comes with its own set of challenges, like an increase in written communication, often more taxing than informal conversations. Kwok said Slack is already seeing the benefits, with employees spending less time in meetings and more time working, leveraging its own product to keep teams connected. Employees outside the Slack HQ in San Franciso reported feeling more connecting and employees who are shy in large meetings are feeling more empowered to contribute ideas. “Over the longer term, we’re rethinking what it means to deliver a culture of belonging and inclusion in a remote-first world,” Kwok said. 

Salesforce

CRM giant Salesforce (which now owns Slack) is joining its Silicon Valley brethren in declaring the death of the traditional workday. Salesforce told employees it will allow employees to classify themselves as one of three categories, dictating how often they come into the office, if at all.” An immersive workspace is no longer limited to a desk in our Towers; the 9-to-5 workday is dead; and the employee experience is about more than ping-pong tables and snacks,” Salesforce Chief People Officer Brent Hyder wrote in the company’s announcement. Internal surveys show 80% of workers wanted some connection to a physical space, so Salesforce is giving employees three options; flex, fully-remote, or office-based. Salesforce hopes the new policy will allow for greater talent diversity amongst its ranks by removing barriers from the talent pool, like location. Salesforce is still fully committed to its real estate, its namesake global HQ is the tallest tower west of the Mississippi. Salesforce said overtime it will be redesigning its offices, transforming them into community hubs to accommodate hybrid work styles by taking away seas of single desks and replacing them with spaces for collaboration and breakout sessions. “This isn’t just the future of work, this is the next evolution of our culture” 

Target

Outside the tech world, Target has taken a softer approach, postponing employees’ return to its Twin Cities HQ in downtown Minneapolis to the fall, instead of June. The move has been closely watched by local officials and business leaders. Nearly 9,000 people work at Target’s HQ, making it a sizable portion of Downtown’s workforce and a local leader in the workplace policy. Minneapolis’ Downtown Council has been watching Target closely, concerned for the businesses that rely on healthy downtown foot traffic from office workers. “The things that really make downtown a vibrant and inviting place are at a low ebb,” Downtown Council CEO Steve Cramer said. When things do get back to normal they won’t be the same. Target announced nearly 3,500 employees at its City Center building in downtown Minneapolis will find alternative offices. Flexibility is Target’s aim. “In the future, headquarters team members will flex for their day, working part-time in the office and part-time at home to allow for flexibility and collaboration,” the company said. Target’s new work policy will seek to build on a historic year of sales. While many retailers have suffered, 2020 was a banner year for Target, racking up $15 billion in sales, more than the previous decade combined. 

It’s not often we get forced to try something new. In the fast-paced world of American corporate culture, 2020 was a year where almost every business in the world was forced to try a distributed workforce. This period of discovery was also one of reflection. Companies had to understand where work can and should be done, workers had to learn how to balance work and work when they both take place in the same room. There are a lot of predictions about the future of the office but the truth is that the future will be different for every company creating it.

Associate Editor
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