Major US tech firms keep pushing back their return-to-office deadlines. Maybe it's time to admit defeat.

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  • Google, Lyft, and Meta have all pushed their mandatory office return in the last two weeks.

  • This has happened before, and it's a sign that setting a hard deadline isn't working logistically.

  • Plus, requiring workers to come back to the office has many of them frustrated and mystified.

When it comes to a mandatory return to the office, it may be time for employers to admit defeat.

In the last two weeks alone, some of the biggest tech companies in the US have pushed back their return-to-office deadlines as virus cases surge once again and concerns over the Omicron variant make the future less than certain.

First it was Google, which told portions of its global workforce — the US, Europe, Africa, and the Middle East — that they won't have to start working a hybrid schedule beginning January 10, Insider's Hugh Langley reported.

Then Facebook parent company Meta told employees that while it will fully reopen its US offices January 31, they'll have the option to delay coming back in by three-to-five months, according to CNBC.

And in a major reversal, Lyft said on Wednesday that its employees could keep working from home for the entirety of 2022, pushing its February 2021 deadline by nearly a year, Bloomberg reported.

The announcements come after nearly two years of shifting goalposts. Large companies have moved their return-to-office deadlines time and again as cases climbed back up, new variants made headlines, or secondary factors like still-closed schools made it difficult for working parents to commute into the office.

These decisions have, quite frankly, made employees mad. When Amazon announced in March that it planned to return to an "office-centric culture" after many months of successful remote work, employees told Insider's Ashley Stewart and Eugene Kim that they felt the company was making a "huge mistake," one that would make it difficult to recruit top talent.

At Google, some employees have previously threatened to quit if they're required to return to the office — one worker told Insider that their colleagues had moved from within commuting distance and had "no real intention of coming back."

An Apple manager told Insider's Diamond Naga Su last month that the tech giant's strict requirements about working in the office were a main factor in him quitting his job and taking a 50% pay cut. He's not the only frustrated Apple employee, either: In June, a group of workers wrote a letter to CEO Tim Cook over the company's mandated return date (which has reportedly since been pushed to at least January) who said they felt "not just unheard, but at times actively ignored."

"Without the inclusivity that flexibility brings, many of us feel we have to choose between either a combination of our families, our well-being, and being empowered to do our best work, or being a part of Apple," the letter said.

In fact, a large contingent of office workers cite feeling generally worse working in an office. According to an August survey from software firm BambooHR, 37% of US workers are feeling worse in the office now than they did at their lowest point in the pandemic, citing a lack of perks leading to higher spending, a lack of in-person collaboration, and stagnated company culture.

The pandemic shattered the 'elaborate performance' of office culture

This makes sense, according to Anne Helen Petersen and Charlie Warzel, journalists and authors of the new book "Out of Office: The Big Problems and Bigger Promise of Working From Home."

Petersen and Warzel surveyed 700 workers for the book and came away with some key findings about office life and its future. Petersen told Esquire's Adrienne Westenfeld in a recent interview that much of how we worked before was an "elaborate performance of office language," and that most workers say they actually only need 20 or 30 hours each week to get their work done.

The pandemic, Warzel told Esquire, has shattered the illusion that the office is "what's holding together the productive fabric of America."

"That's the thing that's broken in a lot of workers' minds. They think, 'I don't trust you at all, based on how you made me live my life, and what I had to sacrifice for you.' That's profound," he said. "That will last, even if we're all back in the office, chained to our desks."

And chained to our desks again we may end up being. Remote workers may start to feel less-than compared to their in-office colleagues, as Zillow CEO Rich Barton warned earlier this year, or companies may start tightening the screws on their remote employees.

Or not — firms including Zillow, Twitter, Microsoft, and Dropbox have nixed a mandatory return in favor of allowing employees to work remotely forever. And there are other solutions: Google has plans to open "hub" offices in different parts of the country to give employees more flexibility around where they live.

What's clear, whether companies require workers to trek back to the office or decide to bring the office to them, is that mandates to come back by a certain date aren't really working logistically, and they're frustrating to a significant subset of US workers.

Read the original article on Business Insider