Google is once again delaying its return to the office in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, although it’s now planning a change to the way people work when they get back. The New York Times has obtained company-wide email from Sundar Pichai indicating that the company will not only push back reopenings to September 2021, but pilot a “flexible workweek” when in-person work resumes. Staff would be expected to work in the office for at least three days of “collaboration,” but could spend any other days at home.
The company wants to test a theory that more flexible work would lead to better “productivity, collaboration, and well-being,” Pichai said. He boasted that no other company at its size had tried a “fully hybrid” model like this before. The exact timing for flexible schedules isn’t certain due to the varying state of the novel coronavirus across countries, and it might not apply to those who have to directly interact with customers and workers.
Google has already been looking at more flexible offices that reduce risks and enable remote work, such as in-office presentation booths for online sessions and outdoor spaces for larger company gatherings.
Google has repeatedly pushed back its office return strategy. It was optimistic about a return to work as early as July 2020, but delayed that to September, then January 2021, and more recently July 2021. The new timeline is an acknowledgment that the recovery might take a long time, and that it might not be safe until most or all employees have taken a vaccine.
The remote work plan isn’t the most ambitious. Companies like Twitter are allowing employees to work from home indefinitely, while Shopify and others have indicated that most staff will work remotely by default. Google is clearly larger than either, however, and what it does might set an example for other companies as they consider how office work might resume.