Why return to work is putting more of a burden on managers

New York (CNN Business)A version of this article first appeared in the “Reliable Sources” newsletter. You can sign up for free right here.

Major tech and media companies have set their third attempt at returning to the office en masse in early 2022. But with no end to the pandemic in sight, and with the shadow of uncertainty cast by the Omicron variant, some of those plans might be changing. Google on Thursday told staffers that the company will not be fully returning to offices in early January, after all. It will wait until 2022 to assess when workers will head back to a “stable, long-term working environment.”
But many Googlers have been back for months, of course. Future-of-work is one of those subjects that initially generated a sense of pandemic unity — staffs working together to complete a sudden shift to remote production — but now stirs division. I think we’re starting to see divides between rival companies too, with some emphasizing an in-person work experience and others promoting more flexibility for staffers.

    Here’s what I feel confident saying: The Drudge Report’s Thursday banner, “RETURN TO OFFICE CANCELED,” was an overstatement.

      While it’s true that some companies may once again postpone plans for a return to office requirement, so that countless hours of planning aren’t wasted by the pandemic’s unpredictable turns, others are pushing ahead. Facebook for example, “is sticking with its previous January 2022 return date,” the SF Chronicle reported in a story about Google’s delay.

      Plus, a growing number of workers have settled into new at-the-office routines and don’t want to go backward. Just speaking personally, the production of the “Reliable Sources” TV show and podcast has reached what I would call its post-pandemic rhythm — back in the office, back to the face-to-face interaction that makes better segments, but with a lot more flexibility than we used to have.
      The big point: Banners like “RETURN TO OFFICE CANCELED” don’t reflect the reality that some media and tech workers have been in the office the whole time and many more have returned in recent months. As the Wall Street Journal reported on Thursday, nearly 40% of Google’s US employees “have come into the office in recent weeks.”

      The data is a reality check

      Data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that working remotely is not the “new normal” except in some specific industries like digital media. The data is an important reality check for white collar columnists who opine about the future of work. “In November,” the department reported Friday, “the share of employed persons who teleworked because of the coronavirus pandemic declined by 0.3 percentage point to 11.3 percent.” So about one in ten American workers are staying remote.
      But here’s something harder to quantify: Uncertainty and unpredictability. While the world waits for reliable info about Omicron, the unknowns remain the big story. I liked the way Amanda Mull described pandemic life in this new piece about Peloton’s ups and downs. She wrote, “The question that people are trying to sort out about Peloton is, at its most basic level, the biggest unanswered question of the past year and a half: Are things ever getting back to normal again, or what?”

        Further reading

        — Covid created something of a “time warp” as the pandemic distorted peoples’ sense of time in different ways, Alison Snyder reports… (Axios)
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