Just a couple of years ago, Jesse Ditson, then a software engineering architect at Quip, a subsidiary of Salesforce, was living in San Francisco. Every day he came into the office, where he’d enjoy spontaneous interactions with his colleagues and, sometimes, their adorable pets. He used to attend holiday parties at Foreign Cinema and participate in team-building pottery classes and happy hours. Now, with many tech companies making their first steps to return to in-person work, Ditson, who relocated to Joshua Tree during the pandemic and now works remotely for marketing chatbot company Qualified, won’t be among them. In fact, he’s never coming back to the office. “I miss elements of that life,” he said, “but it’s not a worthy trade at all.”
Questioning the worth of office life is on many tech workers’ minds these days. There’s an uneasy vibe in the air as companies tiptoe into year three of the pandemic, some issuing strict back-to-office mandates, others announcing hybrid work policies that let employees choose between remote work and showing up in person, and still others doubling down on remote-first or distributed work philosophies that allow employees to live wherever they want and never commute again.
No matter what option companies choose, CEOs and their deputies—vice presidents of human resources, chief people officers, operations managers, recruiters and others—have to decide whether to coax workers back by making the workplace “fun” and “welcoming,” planning off-sites and food truck parties, wine-tasting evenings and officewide health challenges, all while navigating a new labor reality of talent shortages and changed worker priorities. All of these leaders have to determine how much “company culture” their company can really take.