As the pandemic unfolded, technology companies have faced a new challenge. How, when and whether to bring long-isolated workers back into offices designed for teamwork.

Brent Hyder, chief people officer at Salesforce, a business software company with approximately 65,000 employees, stated that “I believed this period of remote working would be the most difficult year-and-a-half of my professional career.” It’s becoming more difficult to get everything back to the point it should be.

The rapid spread of the delta variant has complicated the transition and has scuppered many tech companies’ plans to bring back their most workers after Labor Day weekend. Microsoft has moved those dates back to October, while Apple, Google and Facebook have already decided to wait until next year.

Tech companies’ return to work policies are likely to have ripple effects in other industries, given how they set the standard for remote work. According to Laura Boudreau (an assistant professor of economics at Columbia University who studies workplace issues), the next steps for employers could change how and where people work.

Boudreau states that “we have moved beyond remote work being temporary.” She says that the longer the pandemic continues, the more difficult it has been to get employees back into the office, especially full-time, she said.

Most tech jobs can be done remotely because they are primarily focused on digital and online products. However, most tech companies insist on employees being available to work in the office for two to three days per week once the pandemic has passed.

This is the main reason. Tech companies believe that people who are grouped together in a physical space can exchange ideas and invent new ways of doing things that wouldn’t happen in isolation. Tech titans have invested billions in corporate campuses, interspersed with attractive common areas to lure employees out their cubicles into “casual collisions” which turn into brainstorming sessions.

Christy Lake, chief people officers at Twilio, a business software company, believes that the idea of “water cooler innovation” may be exaggerated.

Lake states that there is no evidence that this happens in real-life, but that we all believe it. “You cannot put the genie back into the bottle and tell people “Oh, you have to be back at the office or innovation will not happen.”

Twilio won’t be bringing most of its 6,300 employees back into its offices until the early part of next year. It plans to let most of them decide how often they should visit.