Flexibility and choice – the new way of working

As we get closer to what we hope is the end of the pandemic, businesses are faced with a new challenge: how to bring people back to work. It’s not a small thing to consider when and how to get your team back in the office safely or, whether that’s something you should do at all.

With all businesses tackling this question, it is interesting to observe how leading companies such as Google are addressing this issue. Last week Sundar Pichai, Google’s CEO laid out a new set of policies in a blog post. Note, Google’s workforce has been almost entirely remote since the beginning of the pandemic, and the company had previously said that it was planning for its employees to return to the office in September.

The company has now changed their view allowing employees to choose where they want to work. As long as the role allows it, employees can relocate to a different office, work remotely or return to the office:

“…spending time in another city for part of the year, or even moving there permanently. Google’s future workplace will have room for all of these possibilities. We’re moving to a hybrid work week with most Googlers in the office approximately 3 days a week.”

Google says it expects around 20 percent of its workforce to remain remote on a permanent basis. The rest, the company expects to work “approximately three days in the office and two days wherever they work best.”

Where Google’s approach is unique, is that they recognise the right solution to this problem might look different for individual team members. The old model of “one size fits all” will not work. Instead, the principle behind the company’s new plan is to allow employees

to work with greater flexibility and choice once they are able to return to their offices globally.

There’s something simple about this approach, summed up in those three words. Google’s plan is to be flexible in setting up work structures, in order to give employees a choice. I am sure there are plenty of details around what that looks like, but the plan is simple: give people flexibility and choice.

In my experience that is rare even among companies that pride themselves on having a great culture. Free lunches and a in office yoga are a lot different than telling employees they are free to work wherever they think they can work best. It’s a lot different than decentralising the way people collaborate and allowing them the flexibility to make a decision that’s best for them – not just convenient for the company.

Pichai ends with “The future of work is flexibility, these changes are a starting point to help us do our very best work and have fun doing it.” This, I believe, should be goal of any business leader currently working out how to “do our very best work” in the business environment that is emerging.

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