If we’re lucky, at some point in the near future, Covid-19 will mostly fade into our memory. It’s not that we’ll forget how challenging the last 16 months have been, but as the world opens up, more aspects of our daily lives will look more like they did before everything stopped in March of 2020.
When it happens depends, obviously, on whether enough people are vaccinated, preferably before a vaccine-resistant variant shows up and causes bigger problems.
As for making things more like they were before, companies have been trying to figure out how to get employees back to the office, at least part of the week. Some companies have had a better time figuring out what works for their business, while others have struggled to find the right approach that allows employees a degree of flexibility.
It turns out that the only thing more challenging than figuring out how to transition an entire company to remote work, is figuring out how to bring them back to the office. In some cases, the challenge is figuring whether you should try at all.
Google’s solution, which I wrote about in May, is one of the more thoughtful and flexible plans I’ve seen. The company plans to bring most of its employees back to the office for three days, while allowing people to work from home–or wherever–the remaining days.
More importantly, Google is all-in on this approach and is redesigning its physical spaces to accommodate the different ways its team will work in the future. The New York Times had a fascinating look at how the company is trying to “accommodate employees who got used to working from home over the past year and don’t want to be in the office all the time anymore.”
It’s a big deal. Google is one of the iconic Silicon Valley workplaces, with open floorplans that encourage employees to interact with each other in person, and fancy perks designed to encourage them to stay in the office working as long as possible.
After 16 months of working remotely, many employees aren’t particularly interested in either, especially now that we’ve proven that you can, in fact, be productive without being in the office. Sometimes, even more so.
One of the most interesting experiments Google is trying is blending remote and in-person work by creating meeting spaces that can accommodate both on as equal a footing as possible. According to the Times, the spaces, known as Campfire, include circular seating areas with large monitors for virtual participants.
The company is also designing different types of spaces, including some outdoors, to accommodate groups and teams while making it easier to avoid packing people into enclosed spaces. The idea is that it will be able to keep employees safe, even as they return to in-person work. The company is even developing schedules that rotate when employees come in so that they avoid close contact with workspace neighbors.
The point is that most employees will work a hybrid schedule that includes three days in the office, and two elsewhere. The challenge is how to make that work, while still getting work done.
That’s why I think every business should look at, and learn from Google’s approach. Making sure that those employees can stay connected and engaged when they’re working remotely, and stay safe when they’re in the office, is a strategy every business should copy.