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What Google's Hybrid Work Decision Means

January 07, 2021 Employee Experience
Kaya Ismail
By Kaya Ismail

As countries around the world continue to grapple with the pandemic’s effects, many companies are weighing their options with their office space going forward. In fact, tech companies such as Google are now considering a partial remote initiative in which employees spend some days in the office and the rest working remotely. 

According to reports, Google CEO Sundar Pichai said a hybrid model would increase productivity, foster collaboration, and improve overall employee well being. That reasoning is why, in the earliest stages of the pandemic, Google announced employees could work from home throughout 2020 and have since extended until July 2021, and then September. Each of these extensions has allowed the company to develop a plan to balance the need to work from home with the money spent on offices. 

Google is not alone. A Gartner survey revealed that 82% of company executives would allow employees to work remotely at least some of the time. That trend is being felt in the global commercial real estate market, where real estate firm Savills found that leasing demand in New York was down 45%.

However, there is still some debate about the right work model going forward. Pichai nixed the idea of permanent remote work, and Google is requiring employees to continue to live in commuting distance to their office. Other companies, such as Twitter and Pinterest, announced that employees would never have to return to the office. 

With Google intent on pursuing the hybrid model, we asked company leaders for their thoughts on the hybrid office and the benefits it could yield for employees and businesses. 

Employee Considerations Come First 

While real estate costs are a consideration, the major deciding factor in choosing to go with a hybrid model as opposed to a completely remote model is employees. And hybrid seems to make sense.

“It’s the pragmatic choice," said Dan Pupius, co-founder and CEO at Range, a San Francisco-based team effectiveness software platform. "It allows you to cater to employees who want the flexibility of working at home as well as those who prefer to come to the office.”

The decision to go fully remote or hybrid will ultimately depend on company culture and business model. For some, the need for in-person collaboration may be greater than others.

Ben Christensen, co-founder of San Francisco-based Handshake said, like Google, his company has allowed employees to work remotely into the first half of 2021, and sees how a hybrid approach can work in the long term. 

“We do see value in versions of a hybrid model, as they allow people who value being in an office to be able to do so and the benefits that can provide, and also further expand our ability to work with the best talent no matter where they are,” he said. 

Related Article: Is the Hybrid Workplace the Future of Work?

Remote and Hybrid Work Will Attract Talent

Working from home was forced upon companies in 2020, and for many employees it was their first exposure to the experience. The results weren't altogether unpleasant, given the circumstances. In many cases, the ability to work remotely led to greater employee satisfaction, increased productivity and provides companies with access to a larger talent pool. 

Living through 2020 gave employees invaluable experience that can’t be taken for granted. “This, in turn, changes their expectations about what is possible, and many more will seek out companies who can accommodate flexible models," Pupius said. "Companies will realize that to attract and retain the best talent they need to support remote work." 

Companies will need to adopt a remote-first mindset even if they ultimately choose to adopt a hybrid working model. In the past, the few remote employees in a typical office setting might have found themselves on the outside looking in. The tools available today make it possible for a better overall environment for all. 

“Every meeting can automatically have an agenda and notes and they can be recorded to share with individuals who could not attend," Christensen said. "You can also use Google Docs or Confluence to document things instead of just having a water-cooler conversation, meaning that context can be shared and input can be solicited more easily." 

Related Article: Is Now the Time to Invest in a Head of Remote Work?

Reimagine HR and Operational Processes

We are likely only in the beginning stages of companies deciding whether to go wholly remote or adopt a remote-first mindset and adapt it to the hybrid model. To prepare for the changes yet to come, Vijay Sundaram, chief strategy officer at Chennai, India-based Zoho, recommended HR departments re-imagine their hiring practices. 

“Companies will need to adopt cloud-based HR technologies that enable seamless employee experience no matter where their employees are located,” Sundaram said. He also suggested that organizations consider a hub-and-spoke workspace model where there is a central headquarters and then additional dispersed satellite offices. 

Changes such as these can provide companies and employees with the flexibility they need to thrive in a hybrid work environment. 

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