Chip manufacturer Broadcom wrote the latest chapter in the long story of return-to-office tensions between bosses and employees.
After completing its $69 billion acquisition of cloud computing company VMWare, Broadcom CEO Hock Tan issued a direct order to his new employees about where they must work. “If you live within 50 miles of an office, you get your butt in here,” he told the workers of previously remote-friendly VMWare.
The comments came during a meeting Tan hosted on Tuesday after the merger between the two companies officially closed, following approval from Chinese regulators. Like many other executives, Tan cited in-person work’s benefits to collaboration and company culture. “Collaboration is important and a key part of sustaining a culture with your peers, with your colleagues,” he said.
There was no word on what employees thought of the mandate specifically, but there had been reports of broader concerns regarding the merger with Broadcom, according to Business Insider. Broadcom has a history of chafing at remote work even during the pandemic, going as far as ordering some employees back to the office as early as April 2020, in defiance of California’s statewide stay-at-home orders.
In recent months, a growing amount of research has pointed to the benefits of in-person work, especially when it comes to on-the-job training and career advancement. Proponents of remote work say it can help close gaps in promotion rates for women, for example. And workers seem to prefer at least partial remote work flexibility to the point that some would even be willing to take a 20% pay cut in order to keep the perk. However, in contrast to Broadcom, some companies, such as Atlassian, Dropbox, and Airbnb, have remained committed to remote work.
Broadcom isn’t alone in its back-to-the-office mandate. Insurance company Farmers Group faced an outcry from employees when new CEO Raul Vargas reversed his predecessor’s remote work policy. In February, Amazon changed its pandemic-era remote work policy to require employees to be in the office at least three days a week. The ecommerce giant went as far as asking managers to consider office attendance alongside other factors like job performance when evaluating whether someone should get a promotion.
Many other CEOs have opted for the carrot instead of the stick when trying to curb remote work. In KPMG’s annual CEO survey, 90% of respondents said they’d reward employees who make an effort to come into the office with “favorable assignments, raises or promotions.” Others have tried to spin it as a necessary sacrifice for the greater good of the company. “You might be able to execute your work on time and to standard in a remote environment, but what about your colleagues?,” wrote Jake Wood, CEO of software company Groundswell, on LinkedIn this summer. “Absent your presence, leadership, mentorship—can they thrive?”
At Broadcom, Tan only permitted remote work in very limited cases, such as employees in the sales department who had to meet with clients regularly. Those who didn’t meet Tan’s requirements would need to clear an extraordinarily high bar. “Any other exception, you better learn how to walk on water if you want to work remote,” he told employees. “I’m serious.”
Throughout the meeting, Tan and VMWare employees discussed how the two corporate cultures would mesh now that they were part of the same company. Return-to-office, though, wasn’t the only point of contention between VMWare and its new parent. When a VMWare employee asked if Broadcom would support employee resource groups (ERG), Tan again offered a skeptical answer. “What is that? I’m just kidding. You want me to be direct? That’s an alien concept to me,” he said.
While Tan admitted ERGs, which provide support for groups of underrepresented employees, weren’t part of Broadcom’s culture, he said he was open to them. Broadcom did not respond to a request for comment from Fortune about whether it would allow VMWare employees to continue their existing ERGs.
Adding to the difficulties in integrating the two companies were the looming layoffs that are often a harsh reality of corporate mergers. Broadcom laid off approximately 1,300 VMWare employees after the deal was completed while VMWare president Sumit Dhawan left to become the CEO of cybersecurity firm Proofpoint.
Many of Broadcom’s employees will move into VMWare’s Palo Alto, Calif. headquarters, which ironically had been largely empty thanks to its longstanding remote work policy, according to the San Francisco Standard.