Earlier this year, Google announced that it would extend its work-from-home policy to mid-2021. That was a radical change from the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, when the search-engine giant predicted that it would have 30 percent of its employees back in the office by autumn.
Now, it seems, Google is undergoing another shift—one that could impact employees long after the pandemic subsides. In a new video interview with Time magazine, Google CEO Sundar Pichai (who’s also CEO of Alphabet, Google’s parent company) suggested that Google employees could come back to work on a more flexible basis, depending on their preferences.
“We firmly believe that in-person, being together, having a sense of community is super important when you have to solve hard problems and create something new, so we don’t see that changing,” Pichai said in the interview (hat tip to CNBC for transcribing his quotes). “But we do think we need to create more flexibility and some more hybrid models.” (The whole interview segment is worth watching, but zoom to 17:52 if you just want to watch the part about Google’s flexible work plans.)
Pichai’s decision was no doubt influenced by Google’s internal surveys showing that a majority of Googlers only want to come into the office on “some days.” Very few (8 percent in the survey’s July 2020 iteration) want to come in every day, and only 10 percent want to never come back:
Most Googlers want to return to the office at some point, even if not every day.— Life at Google (@lifeatgoogle) September 22, 2020
#️⃣1️⃣ reason: to work face-to-face w/teammates
#️⃣2️⃣ reason: to socialize w/ teammates
#️⃣3️⃣ reason: collaboration 🙂 pic.twitter.com/YfRdEG43Lo
Google still plans on reconfiguring its office space to ensure that employees stay safe from any virus. For example, communal amenities such as cafeterias will remain closed, and employees will be spaced at least six feet apart. According to Pichai, the company is also reconfiguring the space to allow safe, on-site collaboration.
Competitive Work Schedule
Some of Google’s Silicon Valley rivals, most notably Facebook, have moved to allow their employees to work remotely full-time. In Facebook’s case, any employee who opts to move from the Bay Area to a place with a lower cost of living will need to take a pay cut. Twitter has also announced that the majority of its employees will now work from home post-COVID.
Given the fierce competition for talent among these tech giants, it was perhaps inevitable that Google would need to show some additional flexibility with regard to employee schedules; after all, it can’t afford to lose an excellent A.I. researcher or autonomous-driving specialist who only wants to come into the office once a week at most.
However, not all companies are willing to follow Google, Twitter, and Facebook down this path. Netflix CEO Reed Hastings, for example, has made no secret of the fact that he intensely dislikes the concept of his remote work. “I don’t see any positives,” he recently told The Wall Street Journal. “Not being able to get together in person, particularly internationally, is a pure negative. I’ve been super impressed at people’s sacrifices.”
And in a May interview with The New York Times, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella thought that full-time remote work would have negative consequences for employees. “What does mental health look like? What does that connectivity and the community building look like?” he asked. “One of the things I feel is, hey, maybe we are burning some of the social capital we built up in this phase where we are all working remote. What’s the measure for that?”
Given such sentiments, it seems unlikely that a substantial majority of tech companies will go all-remote—but there’s still a lot of opportunity for technologists everywhere to negotiate some additional flexibility for their schedules once offices re-open. Do you want to only come into the office two or three days a week? Your team leader could very well be amenable to such a discussion.