Marching bands and pets at work? How some companies try to get people into the office.
STATEN ISLAND, NY – When American companies began calling back full-time office workers in March after working remotely for two years amid a global pandemic, the majority of American workers gave up a traditional work schedule. five days a week and demanded a hybrid or flexible alternative instead. They huddled together for wearing yoga pants and taking 30-minute mental health breaks, and asked who would walk the newly acquired quarantine pup and pick up the kids from the bus stop. That’s when many big tech companies, eager to fill empty cubicles and refill an office building, reluctantly introduced absurd perks for working in the office.
“Employees have become used to being at home, so the transition back to work is not as easy as companies thought,” noted Linda Baran, president and CEO of the chamber of commerce of Staten Island, which recently returned to its New Springville headquarters as the city began to emerge from the coronavirus (COVID-19) health crisis. “Staten Island is a little different – those who work here in the borough might not object as much, because they don’t have that commute to Manhattan. But after being home for two years, I’ve definitely heard of many employees changing roles or seeking employment where remote working is the norm.
Some offers were more generous than others.
According to the New York Times, Google employees received tickets to a private concert by Lizzo and a $49-a-month Unagi scooter allowance to ease the transition. Microsoft held a beer and wine tasting and a series of “appreciation events” that featured company-wide outdoor cornhole and chess rounds. All elaborate gestures that begged the question: why do workers need to be brought back into the traditional work environment?
According to Baran, there have been no reported incidents of Staten Island workplace marching bands (Google made this move in Austin, TX) and no free Korean fried chicken/gyro/BBQ festivals (Microsoft, Redmond, Washington). Maybe a few incidents of homemade cupcakes or a free lunch voucher – nothing more.
“Those kinds of benefits are really not about the retail or small business culture that we have here in the borough,” Baran said. “Staten Island is full of insurance companies, law firms, etc. These types of organizations got back to work months ago, and there was no major incentive to celebrate their return.
What Baran saw here was downsizing: Many Staten Island businesses moved during the pandemic, she noted, opting for smaller workplaces and more affordable rents, as a Much of the Borough’s workers appreciated the work-from-home option and proved to be more productive with a more flexible schedule.
“It depends on the role – some employees need to be in the office, some don’t,” Baran explained. “The Chamber is a community-oriented organization, so we need to be here. Of course, there’s a lot more flexibility here now – we’re all ready and able to work from home if there’s a sick child or the plumber comes along. We also don’t kill ourselves to get into the office in bad weather. But we need that office culture, and people want to talk to a real person on the spot when the phone rings. It may not be what all employees want, but a return to work is good for business.
A recent Gallup poll confirmed Baran’s theory: 37% of workers surveyed said they wanted to continue working entirely from home, while 54% preferred a hybrid model and only 9% wanted to return to full-time work. And for those who have never worked from home, but whose work can be done remotely, 48% want to try.
And for decades, tech companies have tried to create an environment that’s both work-friendly and fun, wooing their employees with ping-pong tables, on-site gyms and cold draft beer. Etsy and Amazon even allowed employees to bring their pets to work, while Facebook paid for dry cleaning and laundry services, the Times said. And now other big companies are following their lead. It might not be home, but the workplace can be a little piece of zen.
Banking giant JPMorgan Chase, which is currently designing its new headquarters at 270 Park Ave. in Manhattan, is building its offices around some of the lessons learned during the pandemic. According to an article on FastCompany.com, employee spaces designed by renowned wellness expert Deepak Chopra – with fitness spaces, yoga and cycling rooms, physiotherapy and medical spaces, rooms for mothers and spaces for prayer and meditation – will be a main feature of the building.
“Employees have a whole new set of wants and priorities in this post-pandemic environment,” Baran concluded. “It’s entirely up to the individual company whether or not it’s worth granting them.”