As fall arrives, more North Carolina companies are asking workers — or mandating them — to return to the office.
“This is a time where a lot of employers want to start putting in some policies, because hopefully we’re going back to a little bit of a normalization,” said Kendall Strickland, a branch manager at the Robert Half staffing agency in Raleigh.
This includes two large Triangle tech employers, though not all their employees are pleased about being required to leave their home offices and the flexibility that comes with them.
Come early October, Citrix, the cloud computing provider, expects workers in non-remote roles to return to the office, according to an internal employee message obtained by The New & Observer. Citrix employs around 700 people at its Downtown Raleigh building. The company did not respond to multiple emails or phone calls from the N&O to explain its return-to-office policy.
And starting next month, Bandwidth, the Raleigh communications software provider, will mandate employees in the United States and Belgium go back in-person full-time.
Their approaches are a departure from many Triangle tech companies that are continuing to embrace hybrid work environments. Cisco, IBM and SAS Institute will continue allowing employees to choose where they work, while others like Red Hat and MetLife (which has its global technology campus in Cary) are only requiring select positions be in-person based on job function.
“Our focus remains on outcomes, not activities, because that is a more objective barometer of how employees are supporting the business,” said Michael Cable, a spokesperson for IBM, which owns the Raleigh-based open-source software company Red Hat, in an email.
Even as much of society has reopened from the pandemic, many North Carolina employees still look for remote options that cut down on commutes and facilitate more flexibility, especially when it comes to child care.
“Employers kind of have to understand that remote work is here to stay,” Strickland said. “People are going to want that option; they’ve already had a taste of it.”
An office believer
Since the pandemic began, perhaps no local tech company has promoted in-person work as strongly as Bandwidth.
In the summer of 2021, CEO David Morken announced employees, which the company calls “bandmates,” would be required to return full-time to the office — or find new jobs. “I do think that … there is a real decaying half-life to a vibrant company culture when you are remote,” Morken said in July 2021.
Yet the policy didn’t sit well with some employees.
“Everyone has wondered exactly what could motivate this fervent of an effort to return to office, however none of the responses seemed genuine or significant to justify it,” said Andy Feller, a software engineer who left Bandwidth in August 2021 after more than three years with the company.
Bandwidth backtracked on its in-person requirement as COVID cases rose in the fall and winter. But now, the phone and messaging software provider is trying again. Though Bandwidth has not required its employees to be vaccinated for COVID-19, it is telling about 800 Triangle-area employees to go into work without remote options.
“We believe that the power of presence is fundamental to developing people rich in talent and possibility,” Bandwidth spokesperson David Doolittle said in an email to The N&O. “If anything, the pandemic has reinforced how much we value the creativity and innovation that happens when we’re together.”
Bandwidth, has invested heavily in its office culture. It is constructing a 450,000-square-foot headquarters on Edwards Mill Road in west Raleigh, which it hopes to open next summer. The facility, which has a proposed 350,000-square-foot second phase, is set to include a school, amphitheater and athletic field.
The company’s current office is on North Carolina State University’s Centennial Campus.
Nationwide, companies have tried soft tactics to entice people back to the office, including special events and free food. And some of it appears to be working. According to a study cited in The Wall Street Journal, office use in 10 major American cities was 47.5% of its early 2020 levels, the highest rate since the pandemic began.
‘It doesn’t work for everyone’
In addition to Feller, The N&O spoke with one current Bandwidth employee and another former employee who each expressed frustrations with the return-to-office requirement.
“The problem with this requirement is that it doesn’t work for everyone across the board,” said the current employee, who has been with Bandwidth for more than four years. The employee requested his name not be used over concerns it would affect future employment opportunities. Though he praised Bandwidth for building “a damn good culture,” he noted colleagues may work better “at home, some from the office, some from Starbucks, and some work best with a hybrid approach.”
Bandwidth acknowledges that its policy may prompt some workers to look for remote or hybrid opportunities elsewhere.
“Now that we have asked the rest of our team to join us in the office in October, there will be some who make personal decisions about where they wish to live and work,” Doolittle said. “We understand that those individuals have a difficult decision to make, and we will be disappointed if they choose to leave Bandwidth instead of returning.”
This story was produced with financial support from a coalition of partners led by Innovate Raleigh as part of an independent journalism fellowship program. The N&O maintains full editorial control of the work.
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