Another week, another company orders its employees back to work. This time around, it is another one of the companies that was supposedly building the replacement of the office, the metaverse. You might not have heard of Roblox, but your kids or nieces/nephews certainly have. The “ultimate virtual universe” platform allows users to create their own games; it boasts over 65 million daily users (over half of which are under the age of 13) and 2,100 full-time employees. But after it told employees last May that it was giving them the option of working in the office a few days a week or just coming in for “quarterly get-togethers,” the CEO has now announced that it will require workers to come into the office 3 days a week or accept a severance package.
The reason for the decision was the inability of remote working tools to replicate an in-person experience. “For many of us, ‘Zoom fatigue’ is real,” the CEO David Bazucki said. “A three-hour Group Review in person is much less exhausting than over video, and brainstorming sessions are more fluid and creative. While I’m confident we will get to a point where virtual workspaces are as engaging, collaborative, and productive as physical spaces, we aren’t there yet.”
Roblox employees have until January to make the decision; after that, they will be expected to be in the office on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays. Three-day in-office hybrid work schedules are becoming the norm, but that hasn’t stopped remote working advocates from railing against the five-day work week. Stanford Professor Nicholas Bloom recently wrote an opinion piece for the New York Times that uses his recent work-from-home data to proclaim that the 5 day work week is dead. Bloom explains that the “return-to-office maximalist” have lost, and now the 3-day work week is going to be the norm.
As informed as the piece was, it isn’t clear to me exactly who he is preaching to. Most companies that have gone back to the five-day work week (most notably JPMorgan Chase and Goldman Sachs) are companies whose business model is to overload junior employees with work to weed out the least committed. These companies have many different reasons for having people come into the office than the majority of firms. A recent survey from ZipRecruiter found that the number one reason cited is the downside of remote work employees. That becomes much less of an issue if a worker comes into the office the majority of the week.
But what about the landlords? Surely, they are rooting for a five-day workweek, right? Well, not really. The landlords I have talked to were less worried about daily occupancy and more concerned about shrinking office footprints. The worry was that the two-day workweek would be adopted, which would allow companies to cut their offices in half (workers could be put into two groups that could alternate days at the office). But that does not seem to be happening. Most companies are adopting the three-day model, and since Mondays and Fridays are the clear favorites when it comes to staying home, that means that an occupier still needs the exact same amount of space to make sure they have enough chairs for people on peak days (usually Wednesdays).
Let’s not confuse the issue. The argument is not how many days a week someone should come into the office. The more important issue for the corporate world and the landlords they rent space from is how to get the most out of an office. For some companies, the office could be a way to find out who is willing to sacrifice for their work; for others, it might be a way to observe and monitor workers. Others still will position the office as a perk for employees and a way to entice and retain talent. What matters is that we all see some use for an office and admit, like the CEO of Roblox, that offices are (at least so far) better than the remote working tools that we currently have.