Just a few years ago, Jesse Ditson, then a software engineering architect at Quip, a subsidiary of Salesforce, was living in San Francisco. Every day he came to the office, where he enjoyed spontaneous interactions with his colleagues and, sometimes, their adorable pets. He used to attend foreign cinema end-of-year parties and participate in team pottery classes and happy hours. Now, as many tech companies take their first steps to returning to in-person work, Ditson, who moved to Joshua Tree during the pandemic and now works remotely for marketing chatbot company Qualified, won’t be among them. In fact, he will never return to the office. “I miss elements of this life,” he said, “but it’s not a dignified profession at all.”
Questioning the value of office life is on the minds of many tech workers these days. There’s a worried vibe in the air as companies tiptoe into the third year of the pandemic, with some issuing strict back-to-office mandates, others announcing hybrid work policies that allow employees to choose between working remotely and showing up in person, and still others are doubling down on remote or distributed work philosophies that allow employees to live where they want and never commute again.
Whichever option companies choose, CEOs and their deputies (VPs of HR, HR directors, COOs, recruiters and others) have to decide whether or not to entice workers back. making the workplace “fun” and “welcoming,” planning off-site parties and food trucks, wine-tasting nights, and office-wide health challenges, all while navigating a new reality shortage of talent and altered priorities of workers. All of these leaders need to figure out what “corporate culture” their company can actually support.