Tech workers could soon find themselves back in the office as bosses threaten to axe remote work.
Companies seeing if they can mandate in-person work as part of their new era of efficiency.
Tech CEOs are backtracking on remote working as they face pressure to improve performance.
Here's a question tech bosses will have mulled over in recent months: in a year of efficiency, just how far can they go before their workers plot a rebellion?
Companies in Silicon Valley and beyond have let go of workers – 350,000-plus workers have been laid off since 2022, per Layoffs.fyi – while dropping the perks employees became accustomed to in order to save costs.
Sure, workers can live without the free dried mangoes, but the more serious changes that have taken place in a few months are a lot to process for a sector that was consistently riding high during the low-interest-rate years.
Unfortunately for tech workers, the changes might not end there. Speaking at an event by payments giant Stripe on Wednesday, OpenAI CEO Sam Altman, a key enabler of tech's efficiency era, suggested that "remote work is over" and workers need to get back to the office.
Altman is not alone, of course, as the very companies that introduced the world to remote work are increasingly changing their tone to exercise even more control over their companies amid the turmoil. The backtracking is at their peril.
A shift that could backfire
Many companies in tech have been exploring the idea of shifting away from full remote work for several months. Last August, Apple started to ask workers to return to the office three days per week, for example.
But with the downturn squeezing companies, there is an apparent change in attitude that has changed the polite nudge for workers to get back into the office into an ultimatum, as was the case when Elon Musk scoffed at remote work after taking charge of Twitter.
The suggestion from Altman at the Stripe event was that this tougher approach was important for startups, as "the more unclear and early the product is, the more in-person time the team needs to grind together."
Tech giants, meanwhile, may see in-person work as an easy means of staying on top of worker productivity, particularly as measures of performance such as revenue per employee — a means of understanding exactly how much revenue each employee contributes — come back in vogue.
An Insider analysis of tech giants over the past five years did find that many had become bloated and unproductive. Meta's revenue per employee has fallen 14% over the past five years, for example, as its headcount grew 143% in that time.
It goes some way towards explaining why Zuckerberg suggested in March that revisions to Meta's work-from-home work policy would be coming this summer after analyzing performance data. He said, for example, that early-career engineers tended to perform better when in the office.
But mandates to force workers to return to the office are unlikely to sit well with everyone.
Many workers have found that the option of working from home has given them a degree of freedom that supports their health but allows them to perform at the standard expected of them.
Research seems to support this. Last year, a survey by startup Buffer of 2,000 workers found that 97% said they would like to work remotely at least some of the time for the rest of their careers.
Tech firms taking away this option could face backlash. Stories about worker morale plummeting as bosses force employees back into the office, whether full-time or part-time, are becoming increasingly commonplace.
One worker at a large US insurance firm with more than 40,000 workers recently told Insider that plans to make people work in the office at least two days a week would "boost morale."
On the contrary, worker morale will suffer if managers are seen to U-turn on promises, or at least suggestions, that remote work could be permanent, as was the case at this insurance firm.
Tech firms that championed remote work, but are now back-tracking, may soon have to face a furious reckoning from their beleaguered employees.
Read the original article on Business Insider