Back to work the Google way

Back to work the Google way


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Google likes to be different. So it’s no surprise that the company has ideas for the post-pandemic office.

As Google begins to bring employees back to offices in certain regions, it plans to experiment with ways to give them more elbow room and combine elements of virtual work with in-person collaboration. The goal, like my colleague Dai wakabayashi described in an article on Google’s vision for the new office, is about reinventing a happier and more productive workplace.

Dai told me about what Google has learned from the last year of employees working mostly out of the office, and whether a company with unlimited resources will be a model of the future workplace.

Shira: What did Google find from over a year of mostly remote work?

Dai: Google was surprised at the productivity of its workforce. Some employees liked to work outside of the office, or liked certain aspects of it, and were unwilling to return to an office full time. One of the downsides that Google executives talked about was the lack of creativity and collaboration, as well as the difficulty building culture and trust in the workplace, when people weren’t together in person.

But even before the pandemic, Google had started to believe that its current office work environment was broken.

Broken in what way?

Part of the problem is that Google’s workforce has grown so rapidly and the company has packed people into offices. Google’s parent company Alphabet now has 140,000 full-time employees, more than double the number five years ago.

Some employees said they found it difficult to concentrate in the office because it was too crowded and distracted. And some of Google’s office complexes were so large that it took a long time for people to move from building to building. Office work didn’t work for a lot of people.

What is Google trying to do differently now?

First, it wants to provide more security or a sense of security by scaling the frequency with which people come to the office and possibly by “de-densifying” its offices. This is to reduce the potential spread of Covid-19 now, and Google is thinking ahead of annual flu seasons and potential future pandemics. Google’s real estate manager said keeping the office six feet away means it can only use one in three desks in current setups.

Google is also realizing that it can no longer require people to come to the office five days a week. And he wants to be more flexible in the face of people’s changing needs. An example is workspaces which can be configured according to the needs of a particular team or project. He is also experimenting with personal heating and air conditioning systems on camp-themed outdoor offices and meeting spaces. Google calls these changes a pilot that will apply to 10% of its global workspace.

Is this going to happen everywhere? Where are my outdoor work tents and personal heating system?

It will likely cost Google billions of dollars, and most businesses can’t afford it. But Google has long been a pioneer in employment practices and office design. Tech companies like Google have helped spread the concept of wide open office spaces with high ceilings and desks crammed next to each other. If these new ideas about an office environment with the best of remote and in-person working are successful, parts of what Google does can spill over to other types of businesses as well.

What questions are you asking yourself about how this will work for Google?

Some Google employees want to return to a full-time office, while others want to work remotely forever. How will Google respond to the individual desires of tens of thousands of people? If Google forces people to work in an office about two days a week, will that fire those who refuse? Google knows that its employees are in high demand.

And there are so many unknowns as to whether a mix of remote work and office will be the better of the two, or the worse of both. This is all very important to Google and to its employees. There is nothing more personal than the freedom and autonomy around your work.



Tip of the week

If you plan to restart your commute to the office soon, you might be surprised to see the newly used technologies for buses, subways and other shared transportation. Brian X. Chen, New York Times consumer tech columnist, describes some of the options for digitally paying for public transit:

With workers gradually returning to the offices, many prepare to commute. Be aware that your payment options for public transport may have changed over the past year to include contactless options, like paying with the tap of a smartphone rather than inserting a ticket or card. It’s a godsend in the era of pandemic-induced germophobia.

For iPhone owners, Apple Pay is now accepted by many transit operators in areas like the San Francisco Bay Area, Chicago, New York, Los Angeles, and Washington, DC For Android owners, Google pay is also accepted by dozens of public transport agencies.

So how do you set this up? The sites vary slightly depending on where you are traveling, but the first place to check is your transit agency’s website. For example, Bay Area commuters can visit the Clipper website and click Pay with your phone. From there, the site will list the steps to transfer or start a new Clipper card to Apple Pay or Google Pay.


  • A big trial with big stakes: In an essay that begins Monday, video game maker Fortnite says Apple is using the power of its App Store to stifle competition and hurt app developers. My colleagues Jack Nicas and Erin Griffith wrote about what this court case means for the world of iPhone apps and users. (Jack also told DealBook what he looks forward to hearing from witnesses.)

  • The Town Square Clubhouse, or a weapon of the authoritarians? Vivian Yee and Farnaz Fassihi explore how Clubhouse, the audio-only conferencing app, is becoming one of the few places where people in repressive Middle Eastern countries can freely log in and discuss taboo issues. My colleagues also ask: Will Clubhouse – like Facebook and Twitter – go from being a tool of free expression to another way for many governments in the region to control their citizens?

  • The need for quarantine is the mother of invention: Bloomberg News wrote on several websites that sprang up in Singapore during the pandemic to rent items like exercise bikes, portable washing machines, and electronic pianos travelers who must isolate themselves in hotels or other establishments chosen by the government for two weeks.

Can the washer and dryer be musical instruments? Yes they can. (Turn on the sound for a full experience of this Rick Astley’s air, belted in the washing machine beeps and slamming doors.)


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