October 3, 2022 | In the News
Here’s How Bay Area Residents Really Feel About Returning to the Office
The sudden switch to working from home was an unexpected change for millions of people during the early days of the pandemic. But after years of working remotely, the push to bring workers back to their offices has been full of stops and starts, marked by the threat of new virus variants and employee outcry. Now, as more companies than ever blow the proverbial return-to-office conch, many are taking a harder line on time spent back in the office, upending the routines people have built during the last two-plus years.
Some are finding everything from child care to dog walking has to be overhauled as they return to the office. Workers nudged back to desks and meeting rooms are finding that commutes can be as harrowing as ever. And others just don’t feel safe in the work environment and want to choose for themselves.
Yet, some love the return to form, saying the time away helps them focus more on their family when they come home or that they can focus better in an office setting, their heads cleared by a morning train ride.
Caitlin Kamm, the head of people growth at workplace software company Envoy, really likes being back in her SoMa office three days a week. She took the job instead of other remote options in part because of the company’s in-person requirement. She started in March coming in twice a week and now shows up Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays.
“I had many conversations with my husband about how I had felt mental health-wise throughout the pandemic,” Kamm said. A self-described introvert with a 1-year-old son, she said her previous job working remotely, “just became very isolating; it just snuck up on me.” Being able to chat or get lunch with co-workers and share parenting tips with other mothers has given her a social outlet, and a daily structure that she said was missing working from home.
That doesn’t mean it’s always easy to juggle family and a commute from San Carlos by car and Caltrain. Kamm’s husband takes their son to day care on the days when she commutes into the city and she picks him up on her way back home at the end of the day. She said if she were still working from home, she’d likely do both.
“The first three weeks where I was doing it was an adjustment and it was exhausting,” Kamm said. She doesn’t mind it now but marvels that so many people used to do those kinds of trips five days a week, and that many still do. “That sounds utterly exhausting.”
Kamm said she tries her best to schedule her son’s pediatrician appointments with their doctor in San Carlos on Mondays and Fridays, when she is home. But that doesn’t always work out.
“Today the pediatrician is in demand, so Tuesday it is,” she said, speaking last Tuesday over Zoom from the company’s San Francisco headquarters. She planned to leave early and meet her husband at the doctor’s office, then sign on to work again later that evening.
“The challenge of working at home is that it does tend to bleed into that family time. I can be less present with him when I’m working from home,” she said of spending time with her son. “When I come home from the office, there’s a natural end to the day.”
Not everyone in tech or other office-based industries has been as excited to return. Companies including Apple, Google, Tesla and Credit Karma have begun calling their U.S. workers back to their desks part time or full time. And there has been pushback.
More than 1,700 people have signed a petition circulated by the group Apple Together demanding employees be allowed to work remotely if they choose, pointing to worker productivity during the more than two years of the pandemic.
Apple did not respond to an emailed request for comment.
As of June, around 15% of full-time workers in the U.S. are fully remote, 55% are in person all the time, and roughly 30% do some of both, according to an ongoing series of surveys by researchers Jose Maria Barrero, Nicholas Bloom and Steven J. Davis.
That research also found that the average plans for companies’ work-from-home arrangements after the pandemic are between 2.3 and 2.4 days per week.
Google worker Grace Deehl, also a member of the Alphabet Workers Union that advocates for company employees and contractors, isn’t entirely sold on the company’s in-office policies.
She likes her commute into the downtown Google office from her home in Dogpatch. “I was shocked at how much better my mental health felt,” after a brisk walk to hop on an inbound Muni train, Deehl said.
But the switchover from full-on remote work in April, just after she got hired, has meant less time spent with her two dogs — pitbull mixes Lily and Minnie. “It’s been really nice to be able to work from home to have that flexibility,” she said. “One gets too anxious, the other dog is far too hyper. Being at home makes my life a lot easier so I can take care of the girls.”
Although Google encourages employees to bring their canine companions into their offices, Deehl said she was hesitant to bring two 70-pound dogs into work.
Deehl said she feels the company has unevenly enforced people working in the office, which can make it harder to know when, or why, to go. “It’s manager by manager,” she said, adding that she applied for an extension to work remotely until mid-October and goes in only a day or two a week to the San Francisco office. “With Google it doesn’t seem to be about what the workers need.”
That has made for a sometimes awkward mix during meetings when someone pops up on a video feed instead of in the room.
“Some departments are judgmental and people ask, ‘Oh, you’re not coming into the office?’” Deehl said. “It can make you feel like there’s an unspoken status quo or ambiguous expectation.”
Most of Google’s offices started hybrid work in April, Google spokesperson Ryan Lamont said in an email. Lamont said most employees will spend about three days a week in the office, with the decision based on feedback from employees and “designed to maximize flexibility for Googlers while still facilitating the innovation, collaboration and camaraderie of our in-office experiences.”
Different teams have leeway on determining which days and how often people have to come in, and the company will also offer a “work from anywhere week,” allow employees to request location transfers and ask for work-from-home extensions, Lamont said.
He did not address a question about concerns that managers will reward employees who come to the office more regularly, something that shows up in survey data.
About 96% of leaders notice their employees’ contributions more frequently when they come into the office versus when they work remotely, according to an Envoy survey of 1,000 U.S. office workers and 250 executives working in a physical workplace at least one day each week.
Employees working hybrid schedules, or who were previously remote, don’t feel the same way. About 42% said they don’t feel their work gets any more kudos when they are on site than elsewhere, the survey found.
A recent shooting that left one person dead in front of Oakland City Hall is an example of how a hard push for workers to show up again can lead to friction.
The seemingly random act of violence took place near Credit Karma’s Oakland headquarters after the personal finance company began requiring people to show up two and three days per week.
“I just feel like they are forcing us into a dangerous situation. They’re making us go into the office and there’s shooting right in front of the building,” said one employee who asked not to be named for fear of retaliation for speaking out.
The employee also pointed to the shooting last week at an Oakland school that left six people injured as more proof that in-office plans should be up to workers. That shooting took place roughly 10 miles from Credit Karma’s office.
“These days it feels like you could get shot anytime, anywhere you’re at,” the employee said. “I’m not saying I would never want to go into the office, I would just want it to be my choice and not to be forced into it.”
The company has told employees since March 2020 that a return to office would happen as soon as it was safe, a Credit Karma spokesperson said in an email. All 1,700 of the company’s global employees are required to be vaccinated and boosted against the coronavirus.
The spokesperson said workers have returned using a “flexible model” with employees expected to come in most of the time, “but they now work with their teams and managers to determine what their schedule looks like for being in the office vs. working from home since February.”
The email did not directly address questions about how employees have responded and whether there has been pushback, saying, “Our attrition is at an all-time low while our recruiting acceptance rate is at an all-time high.” The statement also did not address whether Credit Karma has received requests for accommodations to work from home and whether the shooting near its headquarters caused it to rethink its return-to-office plan.
“We immediately contacted the Oakland Police Department and had physical security in the lobby to escort employees outside if they felt unsafe,” the spokesperson said. “At the end of the day, we are an at-will employer without non-competes and any employees who want to work permanently from home are free to work elsewhere.”
For the employee worried about shootings, it’s not so simple.
“I don’t really want to leave because I like the job, I do,” they said. “I’m sure I could find another job but I feel like this is where I want to be. All the stars align for me at this job.”
Except for the in-office requirement.
Source: San Francisco Chronicle
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