At the start of the pandemic, Big Tech led the way in embracing remote work. Now, it’s also serving as a bellwether of how companies are planning to safely return to the office. But it doesn’t look like everyone is on the same page. While Google and Facebook announced today they will require all staffers to be vaccinated before returning to the office, Apple CEO Tim Cook said the company is considering whether mandatory vaccinations are “the right answer or not.”
In an email sent to staffers, Google CEO Sundar Pichai wrote that anyone working on Google campuses will need to be vaccinated. The policy will begin rolling out in the U.S. in the next few weeks and to other regions in the coming months. The mandate will only apply in areas where vaccines are widely available and will vary depending on local regulations. Google also noted that it would make exceptions for those who can’t be vaccinated due to “medical or other protected reasons.” Pichai also explained that Google will also extend its voluntary work-from-home policy through Oct. 18, promising at least 30 days’ notice before transitioning to “full return to office plans.”
“We are very excited that we’ve started to reopen our campuses and encourage Googlers who feel safe coming to sites that have already opened to continue doing so,” Pichai wrote. “At the same time, we recognise that many Googlers are seeing spikes in their communities caused by the Delta variant and are concerned about returning to the office.”
Hours after Pichai’s comments, Facebook also said it would require U.S. workers to get vaccinated. “As our offices reopen, we will be requiring anyone coming to work at any of our U.S. campuses to be vaccinated,” Facebook VP of People Lori Goler said in a statement to CNBC. “How we implement this policy will depend on local conditions and regulations.”
In comments to CNBC’s Josh Lipton, Tim Cook demurred as to whether Apple would do the same. Instead, Cook said the company was focusing on “when to come back,” noting that last week it pushed back its timeline from early September to at least October. That uncertainty also extends to its retail stores. Bloomberg reports that Apple plans to require masks at its physical stores starting July 29, but the company isn’t requiring retail workers to get vaccinated.
In general, Big Tech has been rather accommodating of a hybrid work model post-pandemic. In May, Pichai wrote in a blog that the “future of work is flexibility,” and that Google would allow some workers to apply for completely remote work within the company or make arrangements to move to other offices. Facebook also said it expected to ramp up remote hires, and CEO Mark Zuckerberg said the company expects half of its workforce to work remotely in the next 5-10 years. Microsoft also hopped on board with the hybrid work model with the option for permanent remote work, as did Twitter and Spotify.
However, it’s also clear that many Big Tech companies are keen to return to the office in at least some capacity. Earlier in June, Cook emailed staff requesting some to return to the office at least three days a week, while others would be required to return full-time. The news sparked some backlash from Apple staffers, who wrote a letter to Cook asking for more flexible working conditions. Amazon is also apparently pushing for a return to “office-centric” life.
Regardless of what Big Tech may want, the Delta variant is clearly forcing companies — and their workers — to reevaluate and adapt their plans. For now, Google and Facebook are the first to require vaccinations as a requirement, but it may not be long before others follow.