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Return to office or else, Google says, as other firms try softer approach

In its latest attempt to lure workers back to the office, Google plans to note employees' lack of in-person attendance on performance reviews.David Paul Morris/Bloomberg

The executives of corporate America are ramping up efforts to get workers back into the office, using a combination of threats and incentives to get employees to give up the work-from-home lifestyle they adopted in the first years of the COVID-19 pandemic.

For over a year, Google has asked workers to come in three days a week, luring them with free food and other perks. But now, the company is getting serious. On Wednesday, the company told workers that they must comply with the three-day requirement or their nonattendance could show up on their performance reviews, according to a memo sent to employees by Google Chief People Officer Fiona Cicconi obtained by The Washington Post.


At Farmers Insurance, many workers are being asked to return to offices three days a week starting in September, even after they were told last year that remote work was here to stay. In contrast, tech giant Salesforce said it will donate to local charities for each day workers come into the office later this month, an attempt to appeal to workers’ altruistic impulses.

Despite President Biden declaring the pandemic over, the tug-of-war over the office is still at a fever pitch. Workers are reluctant to give up the flexibility they gained during the pandemic, arguing it has benefited their mental health and work-life balance. But many executives are adamant the office is still a necessary nexus for innovation and collaboration, and local governments are eager to see workers return to revitalize struggling downtowns.

Perks — such as fancy coffee, free lunches, and commuter benefits — that employers once used to lure workers back have vanished in most workplaces. Big corporations like Disney, Starbucks, and AT&T have mandated in recent months that workers return to offices. Despite these efforts, office occupancy remains stubbornly stuck below 50 percent of pre-pandemic levels in major metropolitan areas around the country, according to data tracked by Kastle Systems.


Now, as a huge wave of layoffs continues in Silicon Valley and general economic unease persists across the country, companies are making a renewed push — and many of them aren’t playing nice anymore.

Google has long been famous for its colorful offices and perks, which have included all-you-can-eat food, laundry services, and free massages. Its executives boasted about being one of the first big US companies to send workers home in March 2020, as the pandemic began to spread. Google has pitched its video conferencing and cloud services to other companies as ways to enable remote work, recreation, and education. But it’s also been one of the biggest companies pushing for a return to the office.

The company began requiring workers to go into their offices three days a week in April 2022, but many have simply ignored the requirements, with attendance being enforced in a spotty way depending on a person’s manager and department. Many of Google’s gleaming offices, including its giant new building in Mountain View, Calif., have been operating well under capacity.

‘’We’ve heard from Googlers that those who spend at least three days a week in the office feel more connected to other Googlers, and that this effect is magnified when teammates work from the same location,’’ Cicconi said in the memo. ‘’Of course, not everyone believes in ‘magical hallway conversations,’ but there’s no question that working together in the same room makes a positive difference.’’


The new message from management, that not coming in could be noted on a person’s performance review, was seen as the most aggressive attempt yet to get people to come into an office, said one Google employee, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to avoid retaliation. It could lead to many more workers quitting or being fired, adding to the thousands Google laid off in January, they said.

‘’Our hybrid approach is designed to incorporate the best of being together in person with the benefits of working from home for part of the week. Now that we’re more than a year into this way of working, we’re formally integrating this approach into all of our workplace policies,’’ Google spokesperson Ryan Lamont said.

Meanwhile, Salesforce is trying an unusual tactic to get workers in the door: The company is planning to donate $10 to local charities for every day an employee comes into offices from June 12 to 23, an initiative that was first reported by Fortune. Salesforce will also donate to charity for each remote employee who attends a company event during this window.

‘’Giving back is deeply embedded in everything we do, and we’re proud to introduce Connect for Good to encourage employees to help raise $1 million for local nonprofits,’’ Annie Vincent, director of corporate communications at Salesforce, said in a statement to The Post.

With nearly 12,000 employees in San Francisco, Salesforce is the largest tech employer based in the city, where office vacancy has climbed to a record high of 29 percent. Salesforce is part of that retreat: As of March, the management software company has shed 1 million square feet of office space from its 61-story headquarters that towers over San Francisco as its tallest building.