On Wednesday last week, Google’s Fiona Cicconi wrote to company employees.
She announced that Google was bringing forward its timetable of moving people back to the office.
As of 1 September, she said, employees wishing to figure from home for quite 14 days would need to apply to do so.
Employees were also expected to “live within commuting distance” of offices. No cocktails by the beach with a laptop, then.
The intention was very clear. Sure, you’ll do more flexible working than you probably did before – but most of the people will still need to inherit the office.
That thinking appeared to fly within the face of much of what we heard from Silicon Valley executives last year, once they championed the virtues of remote working.
For example, Twitter’s Jack Dorsey made headlines across the planet last May, when he said “Twitter employees can now work from home forever”.
It was speculated that after Covid, the “new normal” for Silicon Valley could be a workforce heavily geared around remote working, with tech companies needing only minimal staff on-site.
It’s increasingly looking like that’s not getting to happen.
And if you check out the statements made by tech bosses; a number of the nuances were skirted over by the press.
For example, when Mr. Dorsey said employees could work on home “forever”, he added, ” if our employees are during a role and situation that permits them to figure from home.”
That was a reasonably important “if”.
And actually, Twitter has clarified that it expects a majority of its staff to spend a while performing from home and a little time within the office.
Pretty much every Silicon Valley tech firm has said that it’s now committed to “flexible” or “hybrid” working.
The problem is those terms can mean almost anything.
Is that Friday off? Or a different working relationship with a brick-and-mortar office?
Microsoft envisages “‘working from home a part of the time (less than 50%) as standard for many roles” within the future.
There are tons of room for maneuver within the words “less than 50%”.
Amazon also issued a press release to employees last week saying: “We plan to return to an office-centric culture as our baseline. We believe it enables us to create, collaborate, and learn together most effectively.”
Not exactly a ringing endorsement of the new work-from-home age, then.
Part of the hesitancy is that although many employees want more flexibility, it’s still not in the least clear what quiet model works for the businesses.
“None folks have this all found out,” said Carolyn Everson, vice-president of Facebook’s global business group, when talking about current work-from-home arrangements.
“We are making this abreast of the fly.”
Working from home while there’s no official open is one thing. But remote working’s biggest test goes to be when the office starts opening up – for instance at 50% capacity.
When meetings are being held partially face to face and partially on Zoom, is that the dynamic getting to work quite so well?
And when some team members develop face-to-face, in-person relationships with managers, will remote workers feel disadvantaged?
Last week, IBM announced its proposed system of remote working, with 80% of the workforce performing at least three days every week within the office.
“When people are remote, I worry about what their career trajectory goes to be,” said IBM chief executive Arvind Krishna.
“If they need to become nation manager, if they need to urge increasing responsibilities, or if they need to create a culture within their teams, how are we getting to do this remotely?” he asked.
Tantalizingly, we are close to determining what works and what doesn’t, because numerous different approaches are being taken by tech companies.
And like such a lot of recent daily life, other businesses are looking over at the West Coast of America to ascertain what’s working here – and what isn’t.