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Back to the office. Or are we?

There is a curious piece in the Mercury News this week about rumblings that most of Silicon Valley - Google, Meta, Snap and more- the big banks - Citigroup, JPM- plus media companies like Disney and Newscorp are getting ready to nudge everyone back to full time work.

The announcements, of course, are relatively timid, just asking for 3-4 onsite days a week with 1-2 WFH (work from home) days. But the trend is unmistakable.

JPM is already sticking its neck out and mandating that managing directors report back fully onsite all working days. The same should be true eventually of all major leadership elsewhere.

In Silicon Valley, the general trend is that if Apple or Google do it, it follows throughout (with some fashionable rebel holdouts) - and so the battle is on for who has more leverage. Right now, it is tilting in favor of the employers.

In the past 3-5 years, millennial and Gen Z workers have had their pickings of options so the companies had to keep everyone pleased, and with the federal COVID funding through 2021-2022 there was no reason to rock the boat.

But with that money drying up and with the drop in the stock market, cost cutting has become a real problem. Anecdotally I have heard that there is both a real convenience from WFH but also a real abuse where people might have multiple jobs and so not committed to their primary employer during company time. And I'm not here to judge anyone on this - you do you! - but you can imagine the companies have ways to figure all this out and they wouldn't be terribly pleased.

Regardless of the ethics of this practice, it does come down to dollars and cents. Shareholders - especially the large institutional investors like Vanguard and BlackRock - are demanding more profit margin in the bear market and there's the old wisdom from Jack Welch that there's almost always 10% excess headcount.

Hence this sudden push for a careful headcount "pruning".

Some other pieces in the media insinuate that companies are avoiding big layoffs to avoid triggering alerts in the federal government's labor department.

So the the question is, what should employees do?

It's not to say that there aren't decent WFH jobs still out there - multiple sites are still dedicated to this practice. And there is definitely a cost cutting case to be made for fledgling software companies to have everyone working remotely (and on 1099!) and save on the office space.

Larger companies, however, are trending back to the pre Covid era. If they are retaining some WFH roles it is more the exception than the norm, and also because of the team being spread out geographically, be it domestic or internationally.

So the best thing to do is establish and re-establish your trust, closeness and value with your people leader and employer. The organization should truly know, recognize and value your efforts and want to invest in you for advancement.

While people should certainly speak up for themselves, in any negotiation the party with more leverage wins.

Right now - sorry to break it to you - that's your employer.

So for the time being as the world economy recovers, it's a good time to stay the course especially if you have a "good thing going".

The hope is that as companies consolidate their operations and workforce, the people that remain are truly seen for the value they bring, and that opens up opportunities for them to truly shine and rebuild the company towards better times.


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