Google’s coming back to work

Last month, Alphabet and Google CEO Sundar Pichai sent an email to employees extending work from home to September 2021. The email also painted a picture of what the future of work would look like. Google joined the likes of Netflix, Microsoft, Workday and ViacomCBS who have declared that while work will probably not return to a 5-day commute to office, employees will need to turn up some days of the week. Unlike Twitter and Facebook, who’ve expressed interest in swimming to the other end, Google believes in-office collaboration to be key to achieving success.

While there are multiple reasons why I am a fan of this email, there are two noteworthy statements in the email worth discussing: (1) employees should live within a commuting distance to their assigned office, where they are expected to show up three days a week and (2) No company at our scale has ever created a fully hybrid work force model — though a few are starting to test it — so it will be interesting to try.

Sharing clear direction on whether employees will be able to choose their city, country or continent of residence helps cut through the ambiguity employees across the world are currently facing. I have seen mass exodus from cities and countries, especially from non-native employees. While organizations have begun to demonstrate some creative flexibility, it has been unclear on what permanent accommodation will look like. Putting this email out in the open allows people to re-evaluate career options based on where they see themselves living. It helps not only employees but also recruiters to play the long game and hire accordingly. I have seen multiple employees being hired all over the world not knowing where their final work location will be. It also helps organizations (Twitter & Facebook) who have declared ultimate flexibility to hold true to their word and hire people from Google who want to work from where Google offices don’t and likely wouldn’t exist.

This isn’t the first time organizations have tried remote work. In 2013, Marissa Mayer faced considerable heat for calling all Yahoo employees back into the office, and it worked perfectly fine for them. She claimed that – “people are more productive when they’re alone, but they’re more collaborative and innovative when they’re together.” Soon after, HP followed suit. History has shown time after time, as Pichai mentioned in his email, productivity, collaboration and overall well-being are best achieved when you show up without (or with) agenda at a work space at least some days a week.

One has to realize that 2020 was not a true experiment. It was a period when everyone was working from home thanks to a virus playing the role of an equalizer. The dynamics will shift once employees elect to show up to a physical workspace. There is good reason why organizations invested heavily in building physical collision spaces as a part of the office design. It is where most creative ideas come to life and transform into something real. While we are aware of the hero’s journey, innovation rarely takes place in isolation. Virtual collision spaces are yet to demonstrate the same impact, and no matter how hard you try, it is challenging to build close connections with colleagues you have never met. Believe me, I know. It is not as effective nor as much fun.

As the year proceeds, there will, without doubt, be more clarity on what return to work really means. However, if the trends are to be believed, I wouldn’t sell the house in the city and move to a lake house just yet.


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