The year of the pandemic has undoubtedly been the year of teleworking. It’s been more than a year since most of us refurbished our homes and improvised a home office to avoid exposing ourselves to the virus that roamed outside. Before confinement, few of us in Spain knew what it was like to work remotely. And we could say that we have gotten used to it. In fact, many surveys indicate that if it were up to employees, we would continue to telecommute when all this happens.
But the reality is somewhat different. With the vaccine just around the corner and an increasingly slow rate of contagion, many companies are already considering going back to the office, including the largest in the world.
Tech companies change their minds. While Silicon Valley giants like Google, Facebook, Twitter and Square offered their employees the option of working from home indefinitely if they wanted to, they have now changed their minds. The search giant announced a few days ago its plans to reopen its offices in April for those who volunteer before the deadline, which is in September. Those who want to continue working remotely for more than 14 days a year must formally apply, requesting up to 12 months in “the most exceptional circumstances.”
Amazon also does not give its arm to twist and has already communicated to its employees that its ideology after the pandemic will be “a culture centered on the office as our baseline”, and will begin calling its corporate employees in June.
They have it prepared. Nor is it so surprising to us knowing that both companies have taken advantage of the pandemic and the drop in real estate prices to take over an empire in offices. Seattle-based Amazon signed a lease for a 180-meter-high tower in Washington last August, and in February unveiled its second futuristic propeller-shaped headquarters, to be built in Virginia by 2025. In March, Google revealed that it would invest € 6 billion in offices and data centers around the world during 2021.
Why go back? It is paradigmatic that it was many of these technology companies that built the platforms that allow teleworking. Thus, one would think that they would be the ambassadors of the anti-office movement. But no, it is not the case. First, they believe that a company’s culture of innovation cannot be built from people’s homes, but from a place where people congregate. And that’s because the people who run these tech companies know very well that their products have limitations. Technology can provide mobility, flexibility, independence, and a better quality of life, but it has its downsides.
Despite the fact that their software, hardware and e-commerce platforms have enabled millions of entrepreneurs to operate their businesses even when they were not in the office, they believe that an office, a workspace, a shared environment where humans interact face to face is a crucial part of any business. One of the opinions is that people who telecommute do not connect, innovate, share ideas, debate, discuss or exchange ideas as they do when they are together. And it’s a trend among business elites. Suffice it to say that David Solomon, the CEO of Goldman Sachs, called remote work “an aberration that we are going to correct as quickly as possible.”
A hybrid model. Yet another tech titan, IBM, is taking a different tack. The company’s CEO said in a Bloomberg report that 80% of employees will likely remain in hybrid roles, with most spending about three days a week in the office after the pandemic. And like him, many other well-known companies. Microsoft, for example, allows employees to work remotely for part of the week. They even published a detailed report praising this system and why it was going to be the short term future. Spotify employees can also choose whether they prefer to work full-time from home, from the office, or a combination of both.
For now, Facebook allows certain employees to remotely work full time as part of its new policy. And Twitter communicated to employees that they can continue working from home “forever” if they want to. But both companies are heading toward the new hybrid model approach. Basically, the idea is to mix the benefits of both: remote work has created new job opportunities for some, has offered more family time and has provided options to save transportation to the workplace. But there are also challenges ahead: teams have become more isolated this year, and digital exhaustion is a real and unsustainable threat.
What people really want. When Microsoft surveyed its employees about their preferences, 73% of workers said they wanted flexible remote options. The study also suggested that remote job postings on LinkedIn had increased by five during the pandemic. In Spain, the polls say the same. A study carried out by Grupo Adecco in eight countries, including Spain, It stated that 77% of the Spanish consulted consider that the ideal model is one that combines teleworking with work in the office.
It will be very different. Of course, what is clear is that face-to-face work will not be the same again. The digitization of everyday life is a legacy of the pandemic and this is how many companies are adopting applications and platforms to monitor the movement and work of people in times of Covid. In fact, real estate company CBRE, a client of Microsoft’s pandemic services, is already preparing for that with an app called Host, built in the cloud. People can use the tool to tell bosses if they plan to go to the office, take a quick symptom survey and set up meetings, know capacity, and cope with social distancing at work.
Knowing that big tech companies are investing in the development of these platforms and taking over more office buildings, we have a pretty clear clue that the return to face-to-face work is only a matter of time. If the virus does not allow them, of course.