The Return to Office – What Will That look Like for Tech Companies?

It’s been about a year since tech companies sent their employees home for remote work as a mysterious flu-like disease made its way through the world.

It marked the beginning of a radically altered how and where people do their jobs. As some tech companies have embraced this change and other employees can’t wait to return to an office setting with physically present co-workers, employers are wrestling with when and how they will return.

Big-Tech companies are taking varying approaches. Amazon is monitoring the situation as the vaccine continues to roll-out and is keeping an eye on case-numbers. The tech-giant told employees they can choose to do remote work until the end of June.

Meanwhile, Facebook is taking a measured strategy and opening offices with a limited capacity (10%) to provide an alternative to workers struggling with remote work. Voluntary work from home is scheduled to continue globally until July 2.

Google’s 132,121 full-time employees will work from home until September. CEO Sundar Pichai said that Google and Alphabet will require employees to return to the office at least three days a week, starting this fall.

In the fall of last year, Microsoft unveiled a “hybrid workplace” model laying out how employees can have a more flexible remote work schedule and even relocate elsewhere in the country.

In addition, Microsoft launched a research initiative, ‘The New Future of Work,’ at the start of the pandemic – a cross-company initiative to coordinate their efforts to better understand the impact of remote work and identify opportunities to support new work practice. Here are some of the key findings.

Remote Meetings

The idea of meeting fatigue rose to prominence during the pandemic. The research supports the assumption that video conferencing technology constraints, combined with an increased cadence in meetings, contribute to fatigue perceptions.

The lack of physical cues, body language, and ability to gauge emotions was significant hurdles to productive disagreement and decision making. At the same time, some found online meetings more inclusive. Another challenge, ‘reading the room’ – knowing what people are attending to, what activities are taking place, and perceiving non-verbal interaction – is difficult in remote sessions, especially as group size increases.


Workers with little prior experience with remote work, a shorter tenure at the company, and fewer pre-pandemic collaborations reported a decrease in productivity. At the same time, the average workday started earlier and ran later.

Physical Environments

The sudden shift to remote work left little to no time to consider the implications of home workspaces. Two key factors deeply impacted a person’s ability to be productive: the size and layout of their living space and their living situation’s social makeup.

Remote work provided flexibility during the pandemic while also blurring the work-life boundary in problematic ways.

There is still a lot we do not yet know about what this last year will have on society. Yet, companies have to decide now about their work practices, workforces, and workspaces that will have implications for years to come. There is work to be done to develop a complete picture of how things have changed and find the best ways to help create meaningful positive outcomes regardless of what ‘return to the office’ approach is adopted.