OAKLAND, California – With the pandemic still in full swing and the first doses of a coronavirus vaccine being shipped in the US, Google has postponed its planned return to the office for a few months through September 2021.
But while Google is extending remote working hours for most of its employees, it is making a number of proposed changes that could significantly change the way its employees and employees in other technology companies work.
In an email to employees on Sunday evening, Sundar Pichai, CEO of Google's parent company Alphabet, said the company was testing the idea of a "flexible working week" as soon as it is safe to return to the office. As part of the pilot plan, employees are expected to work in the office on “collaboration days” at least three days a week, while working from home on the other days.
"We are testing a hypothesis that a flexible work model will lead to greater productivity, collaboration and wellbeing," Pichai wrote in an email to the New York Times. "No company our size has ever developed a fully hybrid workforce model – although some are starting to test it – so it will be interesting to try."
One thing not mentioned in Mr. Pichai's email is whether the company requires employees to take the coronavirus vaccine before returning to the office. Google has recommended that employees get the vaccine if their health care provider or local health authority has told them it's available to them, said Gina Scigliano, a Google spokeswoman. Google has announced that it will look for ways to make Covid-19 vaccines available to its employees in mid to late 2021, but only after high-risk, high-priority people around the world have received the vaccines.
Due to the different state of the coronavirus in different countries, the timing of Google's plan to introduce flexible work schedules is still in the air. The new schedules may not apply to some Google employees; B. Employees who spend a lot of time with customers or employees in their data centers or laboratories.
In March, Google was one of the first companies to tell employees to work from home before other companies realized the risks of working in closed offices. It has repeatedly postponed when employees are expected to return to the office from January 2021 through July and now through September.
After such a long period of remote working, companies are grappling with how best to get workers back into offices.
Last month, ViacomCBS announced to employees that most employees should split their time between work at home and in the office. The company said a hybrid model would give employees more flexibility while reducing real estate needs and keeping costs down.
Reed Hastings, CEO of Netflix, said he hadn't seen any "positives" at work at home and that it was "purely negative" not to come together to discuss ideas in person. However, he reckoned the five-day work week would be four days in the office and a day away after the pandemic.
Other companies may be looking to Google, a pioneer in many aspects of working life, especially tech companies. Google's open and casual offices designed for a generation of startups as office benefits such as free snacks and free services have spread across the corporate world.
As part of its more flexible workspaces, Google planned to introduce new office designs in areas with lower coronavirus risk. It is planned to offer employees options such as booking collaboration spaces for up to a dozen people and securing outdoor areas for larger gatherings. For employees who need a quiet space outside the home, Google offers desks that can be reserved in its offices.
Google has also announced that it will continue to develop new ways to help employees bridge the gap between the office experience and working from home, especially for employees who may not live in locations that work remotely are well suited. The company said it is creating presentation stands in the office to deliver professional-quality shows to groups online.