Return to the office? No way, say some tech companies that are letting workers stay remote despite rival firms imposing mandates

Amidst the trend of many large tech companies urging employees to return to the office, Atlassian remains a staunch supporter of remote work. Annie Dean, Atlassian's vice president of "team anywhere," stated that the company is committed to a workplace model that does not require mandatory office attendance. With over 11,000 employees, Atlassian is the largest company globally to embrace distributed work at this scale. Dean highlighted that remote collaboration with occasional in-person gatherings enhances productivity and enables Atlassian to attract top talent. Notably, more than half of the individuals hired by the company in the past year reside over two hours away from an office.

Airbnb is another company that is bucking the return-to-office movement. The company has announced that its approximately 6,000 employees can work from anywhere, with regular meet-ups organized around product releases. Twilio Inc. also does not have any rules mandating employees to return to the office. In a recent interview, Twilio's CEO Jeff Lawson mentioned that around 60% of their workforce is located in areas where the company historically did not have offices. Autodesk, Dropbox, Okta, and GitLab are additional tech employers that have refrained from implementing mandatory office attendance. Rebecca Pearce, Chief People Officer at Autodesk, stated in a blog post that the company has no plans to impose corporate return-to-office mandates for hybrid and remote-based employees.

While Atlassian and its counterparts embrace remote work, other notable companies have taken a different approach. Meta Platforms Inc., previously known as Facebook, will implement a three-day-a-week office requirement starting in September. Inc. is even requiring certain corporate workers to relocate to comply with new office rules. International Business Machines Corp.'s CEO, Arvind Krishna, announced in May that promotions will be limited for employees who prefer not to be on-site. Various non-tech companies, ranging from Chipotle Mexican Grill Inc. to BlackRock Inc., have also increased their expected in-office time to four days a week.

However, despite these high-profile decisions, the return-to-office trend doesn't seem to be translating into increased office attendance. According to Kastle Systems data, attendance in 10 major US business districts remains at less than half of pre-COVID levels, a statistic that has remained fairly consistent since the beginning of 2023. Notably, the San Jose area, which houses several technology companies, had the lowest office attendance at 37.5% of pre-pandemic levels during the same period.

Annie Dean of Atlassian expressed doubt that companies will uniformly adopt more restrictive office policies, noting that many of these decisions lack a solid foundation in data. Dean believes that real productivity issues include problems such as back-to-back meetings, lack of clarity regarding goals, overflowing inboxes, and vague processes, which are not automatically resolved by a simple return to the office.  

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