When Google employees returned to their mostly empty offices this month, they were told to relax. Office time should be “not only productive but also fun.” Explore the place a little. Don’t book back-to-back meetings.
Also, don’t forget to attend the private show by Lizzo, one of the hottest pop stars in the country. If that’s not enough, the company is also planning “pop-up events” that will feature “every Googler’s favorite duo: food and swag.”
But Google employees in Boulder, Colo., were still reminded of what they were giving up when the company gave them mouse pads with the image of a sad-eyed cat. Underneath the pet was a plea: “You’re not going to RTO, right?”
R.T.O., for return to office, is an abbreviation born of the pandemic. It is a recognition of how Covid-19 forced many companies to abandon office buildings and empty cubicles. The pandemic proved that being in the office does not necessarily equal greater productivity, and some firms continued to thrive without meeting in person.
a happy hour with its chief executive, Cristiano Amon, at its San Diego offices for several thousand employees with free food, drink and T-shirts. The company also started offering weekly events such as pop-up snack stands on “Take a Break Tuesday” and group fitness classes for “Wellness Wednesday.”
the surveys, is that employees want to see colleagues in person.
After a number of postponements, Google kicked off its hybrid work schedule on April 4, requiring most employees to show up at U.S. offices a few days a week. Apple started easing staff back to the office on Monday, with workers expected to check in at the office once a week at first.
reimburse $49 monthly leases for an electric scooter as part of its transportation options for staff. Google also plans to also start experimenting with different office designs to adapt to changing work styles.
When Microsoft employees returned to their offices in February as part of a hybrid work schedule, they were greeted with “appreciation events” and lawn games such as cornhole and life-size chess. There were classes for spring basket making and canvas painting. The campus pub transformed into a beer, wine and “mocktail” garden.
And, of course, there was free food and drink: pizzas, sandwiches and specialty coffees. Microsoft paid for food trucks with offerings including fried chicken, tacos, gyros, Korean food and barbecue.
Unlike other technology companies, Microsoft expects employees to pay for their own food at the office. One employee marveled at how big a draw the free food was.
signed a letter urging management to be more open to flexible work arrangements. It was a rare show of dissent from the company’s rank-and-file, who historically have been less willing to openly challenge executives on workplace matters.
But as tech companies grapple with offering employees greater work flexibility, the firms are also scaling back some office perks.
cutting back or eliminating free services like laundry and dry cleaning. Google, like some other companies, has said it approved requests from thousands of employees to work remotely or transfer to a different office. But if employees move to a less expensive location, Google is cutting pay, arguing that it has always factored in where a person was hired in setting compensation.
Clio, a legal software company in Burnaby, British Columbia, won’t force its employees back to the office. But last week, it gave a party at its offices.
There was upbeat music. There was an asymmetrical balloon sculpture in Clio’s signature bright blue, dark blue, coral and white — perfect for selfies. One of Clio’s best-known workers donned a safari costume to give tours of the facility. At 2 p.m., the company held a cupcake social.
To make its work spaces feel more like home, the company moved desks to the perimeter, allowing Clions — what the company calls its employees — to gaze out at the office complex’s cherry blossoms while banging out emails. A foosball table was upgraded to a workstation with chairs on either end, “so you could have a meeting while playing foosball with your laptop on it,” said Natalie Archibald, Clio’s vice president of people.
Clio’s Burnaby office, which employs 350, is open at only half capacity. Spaced-out desks must be reserved, and employees got red, yellow and green lanyards to convey their comfort levels with handshakes.
Only around 60 people came in that Monday. “To be able to have an IRL laugh rather than an emoji response,” Ms. Archibald said. “People are just excited for that.”
When Tom Naratil arrived on Wall Street in the 1980s, work-life balance didn’t really exist. For most bankers of his generation, working long hours while missing out on family time wasn’t just necessary to get ahead, it was necessary to not be left behind.
But Mr. Naratil, now president of the Swiss bank UBS in the Americas, doesn’t see why the employees of today should have to make the same trade-offs — at the cost of their personal happiness and the company’s bottom line.
Employees with the flexibility to skip “horrible commutes” and work from home more often are simply happier and more productive, Mr. Naratil said. “They feel better, they feel like we trust them more, they’ve got a better work-life balance, and they’re producing more for us — that’s a win-win for everybody.”
Welcome to a kinder, gentler Wall Street.
Much of the banking industry, long a bellwether for corporate America, dismissed remote working as a pandemic blip, even leaning on workers to keep coming in when closings turned Midtown Manhattan into a ghost town. But with many Wall Street workers resisting a return to the office two years later and the competition for banking talent heating up, many managers are coming around on work-from-home — or at least acknowledging it’s not a fight they can win.
rolled out its plan last month to allow 10 percent of its 20,500 U.S. employees to work remotely all the time and offer hybrid schedules for three-quarters of its workers.
“Talent will move, and it’s not only about a paycheck,” he said.
said. Wells Fargo started bringing back most of its 249,000-person work force in mid-March with what it calls a “hybrid flexible model” — for many corporate employees, that entails a minimum of three days a week in the office, while groups that cater to the bank’s technology needs will be able to come in less often.
BNY Mellon, which has nearly 50,000 employees, is allowing teams to determine their own mix of in-person and remote work. And it introduced a two-week “work from anywhere” policy for people in certain roles and locations. “The energy around the office has been palpable” as employees eagerly map out their plans, said Garrett Marquis, a BNY Mellon spokesman.
Moelis & Company, a boutique investment bank, has strongly encouraged its almost 1,000 staff members to come to the office Monday through Thursday, but with added “intraday flexibility” over their hours, said Elizabeth Crain, the company’s chief operating officer. That might mean dropping children off at school in the morning, or taking the train during daylight hours for safety reasons, she said. The new approach fosters teamwork and enables employees to learn from one another in person, while also giving them more control over their schedules.
Ms. Crain said everyone was much more flexible. “We all know we can deliver,” she said.
Ms. Crain, who has worked in the financial industry for more than three decades, recently committed to something that would have been unthinkable before the pandemic: a weekly 9 a.m. session with a personal trainer near her office. She said she hoped that breaking out of the confines of the traditional workday sent a message to employees that they were trusted to get the job done while making time for their personal priorities.
said last month.
But he and Goldman’s David Solomon have welcomed efforts to get workers back into Manhattan offices. Mr. Solomon echoed Mayor Eric Adams at a talk at Goldman’s headquarters in March, saying it was “time to come back.”
Andrea Williams, a spokeswoman for Goldman Sachs, said returning to the office “is core to our apprenticeship culture” and client-focused business. “We are better together than apart, especially as an employer of choice for those in the beginning stage of their career,” she said.
For months, Mr. Dimon has made a similar argument at JPMorgan — and continued to even as he said about half its employees would work from home at least some of the time.
“Most professionals learn their job through an apprenticeship model, which is almost impossible to replicate in the Zoom world,” he wrote. JPMorgan has hired more than 80,000 workers during the pandemic, he said, and it strives to train them properly.
building a new headquarters in Midtown that will be the home base for up to 14,000 workers, will move to a more “open seating” arrangement.
Banks outside New York are also adapting: KeyCorp, which is based in Cleveland, hasn’t set a specific return-to-office date, but expects half its staff to eventually show up four or five days a week. Another 30 percent will probably come in for one to three days, with the ability to work from different offices. And 20 percent will work from home, albeit with in-person training and team-building events.
The new setup is “uncharted territory” that is necessary to keep the work force engaged, said Key’s chief executive, Chris Gorman. While he comes in every day and is a big believer in face-to-face meetings, Mr. Gorman said he had avoided a heavy-handed approach that could alienate employees and prompt them to look elsewhere.
Mr. Naratil, the UBS president, is also a believer in in-person gatherings — he still spends most of his week at UBS’s office in Weehawken, N.J. — but he said the great remote-work experiment of the last two years had debunked the myth that employees were less productive at home. In fact, he said, they are more productive.
The increasingly hybrid workplace has forced leaders to connect with their teams in new ways, like virtual happy hours, Mr. Naratil said. The rank and file have shown that they can rise to the occasion, and the onus is on bosses to attract workers back to physical spaces to generate new ideas and strengthen relationships.
Managers, he said, need to have a good answer when their employees ask the simple question: “Why should I be in the office?”
“It’s not ‘Because I told you to,’” he said. “That’s not the answer.”
“We decided as a leadership team, ‘what was magical about these dates?’” Ms. Anas said. “It was extremely liberating saying, ‘We’re going to see how this nets out and we’re not solving for a date.’”
She is unsettled by the possibility that they will still be working from home in March, two years since they first packed up their desks. But with coronavirus infections spiking, Ms. Anas is relieved that the company doesn’t have to weigh the merits of an early 2022 return, leaving workers to wait worriedly for updates.
“If we had kicked the can to January, they’d be fixated on that,” she said. “We keep focused on the work. This is just a distraction.”
For many organizational leaders, addressing the anxieties of their work force has been the only constant in the R.T.O. process.
With the spread of Delta, Jessica Saranich, who runs U.S. operations at the productivity software company Monday.com, got a flurry of notes from colleagues: Will we really go back to the office in August? Last month brought the news of Omicron, with a fresh set of questions: What does this mean for the January off-site gathering, with its promise of free food, partying and a Miami D.J.? Ms. Saranich’s team has delayed its return to office date three times, which has left some employees pleading for more permanence in the company’s policies.
“Sometimes our team will say please just make a decision, pick something, make us come back to the office or make us be remote,” Ms. Saranich said. “But it’s not something that we want to rush. To be able to lean into the discomfort and say we don’t know is a great gift that we can give to our team.”
Still, plenty of organizations aiming for an early 2022 return haven’t budged.
Express Employment Professionals, a staffing provider in Oklahoma City, aims to bring half of its 300 workers back to their newly remodeled headquarters on Jan. 15. The company had originally reopened its office in July in a phased re-entry plan, which was temporarily scaled back in September. Keith McFall, chief operating officer, feels that clear R.T.O. dates serve as a force of stability for workers navigating months of tumult.
HICKORY, N.C. — Six months into the coronavirus pandemic, as millions of workers lost their jobs and companies fretted about their economic future, something unexpected happened at Hancock & Moore, a purveyor of custom-upholstered leather couches and chairs in this small North Carolina town.
Orders began pouring in.
Families stuck at home had decided to upgrade their sectionals. Singles tired of looking at their sad futons wanted new and nicer living room furniture. And they were willing to pay up — which turned out to be good, because the cost of every part of producing furniture, from fabric to wood to shipping, was beginning to swiftly increase.
More than a year later, the furniture companies that dot Hickory, N.C., in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, have been presented with an unforeseen opportunity: The pandemic and its ensuing supply chain disruptions have dealt a setback to the factories in China and Southeast Asia that decimated American manufacturing in the 1980s and 1990s with cheaper imports. At the same time, demand for furniture is very strong.
In theory, that means they have a shot at building back some of the business that they lost to globalization. Local furniture companies had shed jobs and reinvented themselves in the wake of offshoring, shifting to custom upholstery and handcrafted wood furniture to survive. Now, firms like Hancock & Moore have a backlog of orders. The company is scrambling to hire workers.
12 percent nationally through October. Furniture and bedding make up a small slice of the basket of goods and services that the inflation measure tracks — right around 1 percent — so that increase has not been enough to drive overall prices to uncomfortable levels on its own. But the rise has come alongside a bump in car, fuel, food and rent costs that have driven inflation to 6.2 percent, the highest level in 31 years.
What to Know About Inflation in the U.S.
The question for policymakers and consumers alike is how long the surge in demand and the limitations in supply will last. A key part of the answer lies in how quickly shipping routes can clear up and whether producers like the craftsmen in Hickory can ramp up output to meet booming demand. But at least domestically, that is proving to be a more challenging task than one might imagine.
container ships cannot clear ports quickly enough, and when imported goods get to dry land, there are not enough trucks around to deliver everything. All of that is compounded by foreign factory shutdowns tied to the virus.
With foreign-made parts failing to reach domestic producers and warehouses, prices for finished goods, parts and raw materials have shot higher. American factories and retailers are raising their own prices. And workers have come into short supply, prompting companies to lift their wages and further fueling inflation as they increase prices to cover those costs.
Chad Ballard, 31, has gone from making $15 per hour building furniture in Hickory at the start of the pandemic to $20 as he moved into a more specialized role.
according to data from Zillow.
toilet paper to new cars. The disruptions go back to the beginning of the pandemic, when factories in Asia and Europe were forced to shut down and shipping companies cut their schedules.
Now, ports are struggling to keep up. In North America and Europe, where containers are arriving, the heavy influx of ships is overwhelming ports. With warehouses full, containers are piling up. The chaos in global shipping is likely to persist as a result of the massive traffic jam.
“We have a labor market that is tight and getting tighter,” said Jared Bernstein, a White House economic adviser. Mr. Bernstein said the administration was predicting that solid wage growth would outlast rapid inflation, improving worker leverage.
domestic manufacturing. This moment could help that agenda as it exposes the fragility of far-flung supply networks.
But pandemic employee shortages, which are happening across the United States in part because many people have chosen to retire early, could also serve as a preview of the demographic shift that is coming as the country’s labor force ages. The worker shortages are one reason that ambitions to bring production and jobs back from overseas could prove complicated.
Hickory’s furniture industry was struggling to hire even before the coronavirus struck. It has a particularly old labor force because a generation of talent eschewed an industry plagued by layoffs tied to offshoring. Now, too few young people are entering it to replace those who are retiring.
Local companies have been automating — Hancock & Moore uses a new digital leather cutting machine to save on labor — and they have been working to train employees more proactively.
Several of the larger firms sponsor a local community college’s furniture academy. On a recent Thursday night, employers set up booths at a jobs fair there, forming a hopeful ring around the doorway of the school’s warehouse, welcoming potential candidates with branded lanyards and informational material. It was the first furniture-specific event of its kind.
But progress is slow, as companies try to assure a new — and smaller — generation of young people that the field is worth pursuing. Corporate representatives far outnumbered job seekers for much of the night.
“It’s such a tough market to find people,” said Bill McBrayer, human resources manager at Lexington Home Brands. Companies are turning to short-term workers, but even firms specializing in temporary help cannot find people.
“I’ve been in this business 35 years,” he said, “and it’s never been like this.”
The suits are returning to the office. In chinos. And sneakers. And ballet flats.
As Wall Street workers trickle back into their Manhattan offices this summer, they are noticeable for their casual attire. Men are reporting for duty in polo shirts. Women have stepped down from the high heels once considered de rigueur. Ties are nowhere to be found. Even the Lululemon logo has been spotted.
The changes are superficial, but they hint at a bigger cultural shift in an industry where well-cut suits and wingtips once symbolized swagger, memorialized in popular culture by Gordon Gekko in the movie “Wall Street” and Patrick Bateman in the film adaptation of Bret Easton Ellis’s novel “American Psycho.” Even as many corporate workplaces around the country relaxed their dress codes in recent years, Wall Street remained mostly buttoned up.
relax dress codes — including in 2019, when Goldman made suits and ties optional — banking had been one of the last bastions of formal work wear, alongside law firms. And in some quarters of Wall Street, such as hedge funds, the code has typically been more permissive.
But in banking, the strict hierarchies were embedded in unwritten fashion rules. Colleagues would ridicule those wearing outfits considered too flashy or too shabby for the wearer’s place in the corporate food chain. Superiors were style guides, but wearing something swankier than one’s boss was considered a faux pas. An expensive watch could be seen as a mark of success, an obnoxious flex, or both.
TV interview; Goldman’s boss, David Solomon, D.J.s in T-shirts on weekends; and Rich Handler, the head of Jefferies, posted a photo of himself sporting a henley tee on Twitter. At an event welcoming employees back to the office in July, Citigroup’s Jane Fraser — the only female boss of a major Wall Street bank — kept her signature look: a jewel-toned dress.
known for its leather-soled dress shoes for men and boys. “It’s going to continue to get more comfortable and casual, but people are still going to want to look nice.”
Now, 80 percent of the shoes his company designs are casual styles, Mr. Florsheim said, compared with 50 percent before the pandemic.
compete for recruits with technology companies — which are friendlier both to remote work and casual clothing — they are seeking to present a less stuffy image. Many banks are also trying to hire a more diverse cohort.
John C. Williams, president of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York and an avowed sneakerhead, said the Fed wanted people to bring their “authentic self” to work because personal style was an important part of valuing all forms of individuality and diversity.
He said he was looking forward to wearing new pairs from his sneaker collection in the office. “When people can be themselves, they do their best work,” he said.
bring staff back to offices. Most of the industry was targeting Labor Day for a full-scale return, although that may be complicated by surging coronavirus cases. Some Wall Street employees have been working out of their offices for months, but many returned only recently for the first time since the outbreak began.
It felt like the first day of school, some bankers said. They wanted to look good in front of colleagues, yet couldn’t bear the thought of wearing dress shoes or heels. Before going in, some checked with friends to see if their choices were in line with the crowd.
One item that has been popular among Wall Street men is Lululemon’s ABC pant, which the athleisure company markets as a wrinkle-resistant, stretchy polyester garment suitable for “all-day comfort.” (The company put its highly recognizable logo on a tab near the pocket to make the pants look less like workout gear.)
Untuckit, the maker of short-hemmed button-downs, saw a jump in sales as vaccination rates across the United States rose in April and May, said Chris Riccobono, the company’s founder. Customers have flocked to its two stores in Manhattan, seeking still-sharp shirts made from breathable fabric.
“What’s amazing is these guys were wearing suits in the middle of summer, walking the streets of New York, coming off the train” before the pandemic, Mr. Riccobono said. “It took corona for the guys who never wore anything but suits to realize, ‘Wait a second.’”
Last spring, as the pandemic raged through New York, Alexandria Taylor, who runs human resources for the banking and markets divisions, held a call with some trading floor managers and suggested they cajole their team members back to the office, said three people with knowledge of the calls. Other senior executives placed similar calls, but Ms. Taylor’s message carried weight because of her role as a representative of employee welfare and her rapport with Mr. Montag, current and recently departed employees said.
Ms. Taylor does not report to Mr. Montag. But the rapport between them has been a source of consternation for years, said current and former employees, because it meant one of the people best situated to correct the problems in Mr. Montag’s culture was also unusually close with him in ways that drew notice.
The two collaborated frequently on employee matters, and Ms. Taylor eventually moved her desk to a spot right outside Mr. Montag’s office. At one point, the executives even embarked on a low-carbohydrate, high-fat keto diet together, according to two people who discussed it with Ms. Taylor at the time. They were so at ease around each other that at one point last November she openly scratched or rubbed Mr. Montag’s back on the trading floor, according to three people who witnessed the interaction. Ms. Taylor said in a statement that “these items are inaccurate.”
During the pandemic, the productivity spreadsheet, titled “Tom/Dashboard,” according to an image of it, allowed Mr. Montag to track individual profits and losses of employees working at home versus those still in the office, according to that and other images and two people with knowledge of the spreadsheets. In the office, said one of those employees, Mr. Montag would sometimes pop by individual desks and say, “I knew you’d be here.”
Last summer, after news reports about their work-from-home policies, the bank took a more accommodating stance, current and former employees said. By fall, the spreadsheet had vanished from circulation, two of those people said.
“I do believe, long term, that it’s better culturally to know people and see them and be around them some,” Mr. Montag said in February. “Physical presence is good.”
It’s unclear how long Mr. Montag will be present himself. In February, he said that given his age, at some point “they’re going to kick me out of here.” And in a note to some employees last July, he appeared sanguine about his career. “I came to New York to make a few dollars, go back to Oregon, and buy a house,” he wrote. “Everything else has been gravy.”
Before the pandemic, Google’s sprawling campus of airy, open offices and whimsical common spaces set a standard for what an innovative workplace was supposed to look like.
Now, the company is creating a workplace for the Covid era, with a concept perhaps best described as Ikea meets Lego.
Instead of rows of desks next to cookie-cutter meeting rooms, Google is designing “Team Pods.” Chairs, desks, whiteboards and storage units on casters can be wheeled into various arrangements, and in some cases rearranged in a matter of hours. It is building outdoor work areas to respond to concerns about the coronavirus.
At its Silicon Valley headquarters, it has converted a parking lot and lawn area into a “camp,” with clusters of tables and chairs under open-air tents. The area is a fenced-in mix of grass and wooden deck flooring about the size of four tennis courts with Wi-Fi throughout.
David Radcliffe, Google’s vice president for real estate and workplace services, said that while moving more than 100,000 employees to virtual work last year was daunting, “now it seems even more daunting to figure out how to bring them back safely.”