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Google likes to be different. So it’s no surprise that the company has these optimistic ideas for the post-pandemic office.
As Google starts bringing employees back to offices in some areas, Google plans to experiment with ways to give them more space and combine elements of virtual work with face-to-face collaboration. The goal, as my colleague Dai Wakabayashi describes in an article about Google’s vision of a new office, is to reimagine a happier and more productive workplace.
Dai talked to me about what Google learned from last year when employees were primarily working away from the office and whether a company with infinite resources is the role model of the future workplace.
Shira: What did Google find after more than a year of working primarily remotely?
Great: Google was amazed at the productivity of its workforce. Some employees like to work away from the office or like aspects of it and aren’t willing to return to the office full time. One downside Google executives talked about was the lack of creativity and collaboration and the difficulty in establishing workplace culture and trust, when people didn’t meet face to face.
But even before the pandemic, Google began to believe that their current office environment was disrupted.
Broken in any way?
Part of the problem is that Google’s workforce has grown too fast and the company is driving 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 report that it is difficult to gather in the office because there are too many people and easily distracted. And some of Google’s office complexes are so large that it takes people a long time to move from building to building. Office work is not suitable for many people.
What else is Google trying to do now?
First, it wants to provide more security or a sense of security by reducing the frequency of people coming to the office and ultimately “reducing the density” of its office. That is to reduce the spread of Covid-19 right now, and Google is thinking ahead of its annual flu seasons and potential pandemics in the future. The head of Google’s real estate division said securing 6 feet of space in the office meant it could only use one out of three desks from current configurations.
Google also realizes that it cannot ask people to come to the office five days a week anymore. And it wants to be more flexible with everyone’s changing needs. One example is workspaces that can be configured according to the needs of a particular team or project. It is also experimenting with individual heating and cooling at the desk and camp-themed outdoor meeting spaces. Google is calling these changes an experiment that will apply to 10% of its global workspace.
Will this happen everywhere? Where is my outdoor work tent and personal heating system?
This would probably cost Google billions of dollars and most companies could not afford. But Google has been at the forefront for a long time in office hiring and office design. Tech companies like Google have helped spread the concept of open-air office spaces with high ceilings and close-up desks. If these new ideas for the best in-person remote and remote office environments succeed, factors of what Google is doing could also filter down to other types of companies.
Do you have any questions about how this feature works for Google?
Some Google employees want to go back to the office full time and others want to work remotely forever. How will Google meet the individual needs of tens of thousands of people? If Google asks people to work in the office two days a week or so, will Google fire those who refuse? Google knows that its workers are in high demand.
And there’s a lot of unknowns about whether the combination of telework and office work will be the best of the two or the worst of the two. This is a big deal for Google and its employees. There is nothing more personal than freedom and autonomy around your work.
Tips of the week
No-touch technology for transit
If you plan to re-start your commute to the office soon, you might be surprised to see new technologies being used for buses, metro and other shared transportation. Brian X. ChenThe New York Times consumer technology columnist, offers several options for digital payments for the shipping process:
With workers slowly returning to the office, many people are preparing to go to work. One thing to note is that your public transport payment options may have changed over the past year to include touch-free options, like paying with a smartphone instead ticket or card slot. That is a boon in the age of fear of pandemic pathogens.
For iPhone owners, Apple Pay is now accepted by many transit operators in areas such as the San Francisco Bay Area, Chicago, New York City, Los Angeles and Washington, DC. For Android owners, Google Pay is also accepted by dozens of transit agents.
So how do you set this up? The websites will differ slightly depending on where you are traveling, but the first place to check is your referral agent’s website. For example, Bay Area commuters can visit the Clipper website and click Pay with your phone. From there, the website will list the steps to transfer or start a new Clipper card on Apple Pay or Google Pay.
Before we go …
A large lawsuit with large stakes: In an experiment that began on Monday, video game maker Fortnite claimed that Apple used the power of its App Store to stifle competition and hurt app developers. My colleagues Jack Nicas and Erin Griffith wrote about what this trial means for the world of apps and iPhone users. (Jack also told DealBook what he wanted to hear from the witnesses.)
Clubhouse town square, or the dictators’ weapon? Vivian Yee and Farnaz Fassihi explore ways Clubhouse, the audio-only conference app, is becoming one of the few places where people in repressive countries across the Middle East freely connect and discuss taboo issues. My colleagues also questioned: Will Clubhouse – like Facebook and Twitter – turn from one free-of-speech tool to another so that multiple governments in the region control their citizens?
The necessity of quarantine is the mother of the invention: Bloomberg News has written about a number of websites that sprung up in Singapore during the pandemic to rent out things like exercise bicycles, portable washing machines and electronic pianos to travelers asked for isolation in government-selected hotels or facilities over two weeks.
Can the washer and dryer be a musical instrument? Yes, they can. (Turn on the sound for the full experience of this Rick Astley tune, which goes off in the beep of the washing machine and slams the door.)
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