Google slams on the brakes for office return, mulls ‘flexible work week’

The decision highlights just how radically COVID-19 may have transformed the face of future workplaces.

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Google intends to keep employees working from home until at least September 2021 and is set to conduct an experimental work week afterward.

In light of the coronavirus pandemic and continuing uncertainty over the safety of returning to the workplace, the tech giant originally extended its US remote working policy until July

As cases in the US have now surged past 16 million, mass vaccine rollouts are yet to begin, and as we head into the winter months, Google has now chosen to extend this decree by several months. 

This extension will also give the tech giant time to implement a sweeping set of changes to its employees' working practices, as reported by the New York Times, which may include "flexible work week" options.

In a recent email to members of staff, the CEO of Google parent company Alphabet, Sundar Pichai, said that Google is considering a "fully hybrid workforce model."

This could include asking employees to spend at least three days in the office per week but allowing them to work from home on other days. 

The three days in the office will allow staff to continue to "collaborate" and maintain the social aspects of communicating with colleagues in-person that have been lost over 2020, while also potentially offering greater flexibility to employees. 

However, the pilot plan could have business benefits, too. 

Pichai said the company is "testing a hypothesis that a flexible work model will lead to greater productivity, collaboration, and well-being," an experiment that will be "interesting to try."

Greater productivity, of course, can only be of benefit to the tech giant. While not coronavirus-related, other organizations worldwide have begun experimenting with four-day working weeks for the same reason -- and some companies have reported benefits to productivity and improved staff wellbeing. 

Google also intends to rearrange its office layouts, offering quiet spaces for employees to work outside of the home, and creating booking systems for outdoor spaces. 

Another issue touched upon by the NYT is whether or not employees will be required to have a COVID-19 vaccine before going back to the office. Alphabet's CEO did not mention this topic, but it is likely one that we will see begin to emerge in broad business dialogue next year. 

In other Google news this week, the tech giant said the coronavirus track-and-trace system developed in tandem with Apple, the Exposure Notifications System (ENS), is showing "anecdotal signs" that ENS is helping to contain the spread. 

ENS has been made available to health agencies for the Android and iOS mobile platforms. Over 50 countries, states, and regions have adopted the technology.

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