After two years of mostly remote working and months of changing plans on when to bring people back to the office, Google’s hybrid working arrangement begins today. That means most employees will need to be in the office three days a week, with the rest of the time spent working remotely.
Google has spent a lot of time and energy reconfiguring office spaces to accommodate a hybrid way of working and to give employees peace of mind about returning, even though we haven’t completely put the COVID-19 behind us. The company has added spaces designed to accommodate a mix of employees working collaboratively, whether in the office or remotely.
At the time, a Google executive said The New York Times that the pandemic had simply accelerated the future of work that most people thought was “ten years from now” and “brought us to that future now.” On the other hand, former Google HR chief Lazlo Bock told Bloomberg that it won’t last. At least hybrid work won’t.
According to Bock, there are two reasons why he says things are more likely to go back to how they were before the pandemic. First, employees who work remotely will be at a disadvantage, when it comes to promotions or salary increases, compared to their colleagues in the office.
It’s certainly not fair, but it’s not surprising. It’s harder to assess performance when someone isn’t physically there all the time. Even if it is not true, there will certainly be a perception that it is. If your colleagues work in the office full time and you’re only there part of the time, it’s hard not to wonder what you’re missing. The fear of missing out is real, and Bock suggests it will eventually bring people back to the office.
The other reason is much simpler, though just as problematic: Bosses want employees back in the office. “We’ll eventually get everyone back to the office. I just don’t want to fight now,” Bock told a Google executive.
It’s no surprise that many managers prefer their team to meet in person if they have the choice. Managing a remote team is tough and presents different challenges than having everyone sit at desks where you can see them and keep track of what they’re working on. Again, if your main concern is being able to see your team and what they’re working on, you’re probably wrong.
Of course, there are definitely benefits to having people working with each other in close proximity. It is difficult to say that the last two years have not had a cost. Connecting with a team via Zoom is not the same as sitting around a table. There are intangible benefits to being with the people you collaborate with that simply don’t exist virtually.
That’s not to say that working in the office is the only way to be productive. On the contrary, the past two years have shown that many jobs and roles can be performed remotely. The problem is that many people who make decisions about how employees work have assumed that remote work is a temporary fix for a temporary problem. Once the pandemic is over, everything will return to “normal”.
Bock says he thinks it won’t be more than three to five years before everyone is back in the office, like it was before COVID-19. I don’t know if he’s right. I know that if the reason people are coming back to the office is because their bosses want to get back to the pre-pandemic normal, and they’re afraid of being overlooked for pay raises or promotions, it’s enough Clearly we haven’t learned anything.