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Friday, September 17, 2021

It turns out getting people back to work isn’t all that easy for Silicon Valley

After all, for the longest time, tech companies promoted the idea that innovation was significantly accelerated by informal interactions in professional settings.

By: Editorial |
Updated: September 11, 2021 9:40:32 am
The new normal has indeed become normal.

It seems like yesterday when, as most working people suffered salary losses and professional precarity, and tried to thread the needle of “work-life balance” while being trapped at home, tech companies across the world were celebrating “the new normal”. Now, the biggest IT giants in the world — who saw their profits soar in the last two years as the demand for digital products and services soared — are facing a bit of an HR problem. It turns out that there is no normal any more when it comes to workplaces. And since Silicon Valley set the template for work-from-home during the early days of the Covid-19 pandemic, how it deals with return-to-office will be closely watched.

While many companies have decided to postpone return to office until next year, others — including Zoom — are trying to come up with some sort of hybrid model. After all, for the longest time, tech companies promoted the idea that innovation was significantly accelerated by informal interactions in professional settings. This is why the offices of Google and Facebook provide recreational activities for their employees. Unfortunately, two years on, most workers have gotten used to the rhythm of working from home and the old theory of “office breeds innovation” has fewer and fewer takers.

The problem, really, is this: The new normal has indeed become normal. Struggling through domesticity while trying to be professional certainly took a toll and now that the challenge has been overcome, the long commutes to work don’t look all that inviting. In fact, even for the bottom line, it’s likely cheaper to pass on the overheads of running workspaces — electricity, canteens, etc — to the worker. Why, then, many are asking, should they return to work, especially given the fear around the Delta variant? Some sociologists have a cynical answer: It’s the managers who need workers, not the other way around. After all, if the office is empty, what’s the point of being the boss?

This editorial first appeared in the print edition on September 11, 2021 under the title ‘Home sweet home’.

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