Is Google's Investment in Office Space a Bet on a Post-Pandemic Return To Work?
The world has been in a perpetual game of “wait and see” as many employees continued working from home once 2020 came to an end. Now we are left wondering, what does that mean moving forward? How do companies adapt as times continue to change? With some companies opting to bring employees back to the office, others seem more reluctant, labeling an office environment as somewhat unnecessary. Some recent activity in this realm has many organizations wondering if it signals a new trend for modern workplaces. Read on to find out how these new trends may affect you and your organization.
* This article has been updated to reflect the recent changes to Google's return-to-the-office plans as announced on Dec. 2, 2021.
How Do Larger Organizations Affect The Post-Pandemic Work Environment Trends?
Google has recently initiated a “back to office” movement with their recent purchase of the St. John’s Terminal building in New York City. The building was purchased for $2.1 billion. This signals the intent to build a strong campus presence and culture. Google also expressed their intention to build on their racial diversity plan by growing google amidst a diverse city like New York. Google has expressly stated that they will be moving to a hybrid schedule, but nonetheless, this certainly signals that times are changing. It appears that offices could soon be filling up once more, even if only on a hybrid schedule.
Google has recently announced that despite their initial plans to return to the office on January 10, 2022, they will now be halting those plans until further notice. This is likely due to the arrival of the Omicron variant. Google has stated that it will re-evaluate its official return protocol in the new year.
Alphabet has also announced that it will be building toward a massive company-town project they have dubbed as “Middlefield Park Master Plan.” Alphabet is the parent company of Google, which was first created through a restructuring effort of Google back in 2015. This project would entail nearly 1.3 million square feet of office space and include everything from local housing to retail shopping. This sort of plan is revolutionary to an extent beyond a workplace schedule.
Another corporation looking to expand on office space is Amazon. They plan to spend a total of $2.5 billion on a new outdoorsy office and retail space in northern Virginia. This new space would accommodate nearly 25,000 employees. It would boast three 22-story office buildings with retail spaces as well. They plan to incorporate extensive outdoor theming including walking paths, an amphitheater, and woodlands. They claim it will be bike-friendly with ample parking options for cyclists.
Companies like Amazon and Google are challenging the remote-work movement by relying on the desire for community and strong company culture within the workplace. They believe remote employees will want to spend some time in the office and are willing to lay large foundations for making this a successful reality.
With the push from these major corporations, will small and mid-sized companies begin to follow suit? Is the overhead worth the time spent in the office as opposed to say, a Zoom call? It seems more and more companies will be evaluating the worth of remote work and whether they feel the work needed requires community and communication beyond that of a Zoom call.
Is The Push To Embrace Remote-Work a Generational Trend?
It appears that while many older employees and managers are less phased by a return to the office place, many younger employees are more apprehensive. According to The New York Times, David Gross, who is an executive with a New York advertising agency, has had an interesting experience when considering a return to the workplace. After hosting a meeting over Zoom explaining the measures to move back into the office, the 40-year-old Gross waited to gauge the reactions of what were employees primarily in their 20’s and 30’s. The initial reaction was utter silence. A rather bleak start to what was to be a lengthy conversation moving forward.
The industry itself also contributes to remote work or office place bias. Finance and banking tend to lean more heavily on the concept that an office is a valuable resource for all employees to be a part of, as opposed to industries like technology and media who are more lenient in that same regard. The reality is that many younger employees find more freedom in a space where they feel comfortable and free from stress.
A recent survey, presented by the Conference Board, noted that 55 percent of Millennials questioned the necessity of returning to the office. Those born in Generation X saw 45 percent agree with this notion, while Baby Boomers only saw about 36 percent agree.
The data does show a bit of divergence of thought when it comes to age and generational differences. Many younger employees have not yet built an attachment to working in an office environment. A large portion are newly entering the workforce and have never had a chance to work in an office at all. For these employees work from home is all they have known.
Rebecca L. Ray, Executive vice president of Human Capital at the Conference Board says that “Among the generations, millennials are the most concerned about their health and psychological well-being.” And “companies would be well served to be as flexible as possible.”
What Does This Mean for Your Organization?
There are a number of factors playing a large role in the conflicting questions of whether it is time to return to the office or not. Many larger corporations are doing so but on a newly devised hybrid-styled schedule. Many companies will need to ask whether or not it behooves them to spend more on overhead to provide a space for employees to gather for work.
Organizations need to consider their industry, their size, and ultimately, the need for in-person communication. Perhaps you need several hours a week to spend time in a group face to face and wish to consider a hybrid schedule. Or maybe your organization relies on office assignments and is counting the minutes until you can return. One thing organizations will need to prepare for is the potential for turnover should they choose to return to a traditional workplace environment. Many companies remain in a remote status, which could very well entice employees who are being pushed back into the office space.
If your organization is looking to fight the potential turnover from returning to the office, then it is crucial you are able to find ways to express to your employees the importance of doing so. Lay out the intentions of the organization and the positive company culture that they have been missing. The key here is to plan ahead. Be strategic and follow through with what is best for you and your company.
The most important thing for any organization is to understand what the options are, and how each one can impact your business. Do what is best for your organization and then create a strategy and a plan of action to tackle any potential issues that may arise amidst a change in policy.
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