Tech firms stay out of the office while Google starts work shuttle buses

Silicon Valley tech firms face a dilemma -- allow staff to work remotely or force staff back into the office and risk losing them.

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The office is not going anywhere -- tech firms are trying to figure out the right work policies.

Photo: Tom Foremski

Google said it would restart its bus network that shuttles staff from their homes as far away as San Francisco to its Mountain View headquarters as it starts to reopen its offices. However, other Silicon Valley tech firms are taking a more cautious approach in the wake of high levels of vaccinations for COVID-19.

Google says that staff can start returning to the office on a volunteer basis from July 12, ahead of a broad reopening of its offices in September. Employees boarding the buses don't have to be vaccinated, but those that are vaccinated won't have to wear a mask.

Other large tech firms such as Adobe have announced a hybrid plan for staff in which only half their time will be required in the office. Adobe recently finished building a new office tower in downtown San Jose. 

Facebook recently said that all workers could be located remotely if their work can be done that way. The choice could come with a salary cut; Facebook warned if staff move to a less expensive region.

Facebook plans a partial reopening of its offices in September and a full opening in October.

Google has been making massive multi-billion investments in office space over the past few years, a surprising trend for such a forward-looking organization. It has a suite of well established cloud-based apps that make telecommuting easy. And Google has said that the productivity of remote teams is the same as those in the office -- yet it chooses to bus workers more than 100 miles a day to its business campuses.

The high number of vaccinated people in the San Francisco Bay Area has enabled many companies to open up their offices. But there is still concern over the variants to COVID and if employers can mandate that all staff be vaccinated. 

Tech trade conferences are also making a comeback in San Francisco with hybrid models that include traditional and virtual options. But the real test will be if people are willing to travel and what the health risks will be later in the year.