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Flexible Work Week: A Cure for WFH Fatigue?

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Brooke Lynch
12/17/2020

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Since the pandemic began, work-from-home has become a major topic of conversation for companies who made the initial shift. Although safety concerns were the primary catalyst in relocating the office, we’re now seeing companies make permanent changes to their remote work policies. Google is taking the first steps to implement an updated remote work plan, giving us a glimpse into the potential 2021 work environment.

In a company-wide email on Sunday, Google announced plans for a September 2021 return to the office. This is an extension on their initial plan, which aimed for a July start. The bigger story, however, was CEO Sundar Pichai’s proposal for a “flexible work week” in conjunction with employees’ safe return to the office.

To start, employees would come into the office three days per week and work from home the other two. The plan emphasized the flexible framework, stating it will encourage productivity, collaboration, and well-being. The proposal marks the first hybrid work-force design for a company at this scale, the email states.

This new flexible work plan may come as a surprise to some, after seeing other tech companies like Twitter offer permanent work from home solutions for employees who wanted it. But looking at the case Google is presenting, this new plan may just alleviate some of the biggest challenges fully remote employees are facing.

 

The Office as the Center of Collaboration

When work from home was first mandated, employees adjusted accordingly, hopping on Zoom calls and setting up virtual happy hours. But as time passed, the novelty wore off, and the burdens of everyday life at home started to negatively impact the remote employee experience.

One of the most considerable issues remote workers continue to face is the lack of collaboration within disjointed team environments. When employees are at home, they’re not having the casual conversations that used to inspire creativity. A recent WeWork survey on remote work found a 25% decrease in unplanned interactions and an additional 11% drop in brainstorming sessions. Without these off the cuff interactions, employees are struggling to innovate. 

Google’s new flexible model offers to restore these interactions to promote a more collaborative team environment. The company suggests that permitting employees to come into the office, even just three days a week, will spark an increase in productivity. 

With the ability to book “collaboration spaces” for team gatherings, employees can focus on activities like trainings, team-oriented projects, and brainstorming sessions on their in-office days. Their at-home days will meanwhile continue to offer all of the perks of remote work, like avoiding commutes and gaining more time at home.

To put it another way, the office becomes a space to connect and socialize, and home remains a haven for focused individual work.

 

Well-Being Improvements

Beyond offering a newfound sense of participation in team environments, Google is promoting the flexible work week as a tool for better well-being in the workplace. With tech employees reportedly three times more likely to face increased stress levels since working remotely, there seems to be a lot of room for improvement in terms of mental health.

Employees who cited distractions at home or missing the routine of being in an office as causes of their stress would likely benefit from this plan. Giving employees the benefits of more regular interaction with coworkers, while still supporting the transition with remote work options, may very well improve employee’s well-being. 

Google is just beginning to test this hypothesis, according to Pichai, but it does provide some framework for the future of office culture. With as high as 90% of people seeking at least some form of return to the office (starting with one day a week), this new plan may just be the solution employees are looking for. 



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