Google Adopts Futuristic Hybrid Plan for Work Post-Pandemic

Google is creating a post-pandemic workplace to appeal to employees who got used to working remotely last year and may not want to return to the office full-time. Over the next year, the company plans to try out a variety of different ways to design office spaces, based on research done before COVID-19 hit. A variety of consultants were asked to imagine the future workspace, one of which is “Team Pods,” where desks, chairs, whiteboards and storage units are all on casters and can be rearranged in numerous configurations.

The New York Times reports that, “in its annual survey of employees called Googlegeist, about 70 percent of roughly 110,000 employees surveyed said they had a ‘favorable’ view about working from home compared with roughly 15 percent who had an ‘unfavorable’ opinion,” and another 15 percent with a “neutral” opinion.

Google has offices in 170 cities and 60 countries, with most of the 140,000 employees who work for Google and parent company, Alphabet based in the U.S. Alphabet chief executive Sundar Pichai stated that, “the company was committed to making hybrid work possible.”

Google vice president for real estate and workplace services David Radcliffe noted that, although “it seemed daunting to move a 100,000-plus person organization to virtual … now it seems even more daunting to figure out how to bring them back safely.” He added that the company will keep people six feet apart, which means it may need to “de-densify” offices.

Google is, notes NYT, “essentially unwinding years of open-office plan theory popularized by Silicon Valley.” Changes began in 2018 when Google’s global workforce exceeded 100,000. An R&D team for “built environments” headed by Michelle Kaufmann began to consider alternatives for 10 years in the future. “COVID brought us to that future now,” she said.

A long-standing rule at Google was to show up at the office, where an array of perks kept people on campus all day. Now, the company is offering a rotation schedule which “assigns people to come into the office on a specific day to ensure that no one is there on the same day as their immediate desk neighbors.” Other changes include “different movable walls that can be packed up and shipped flat to offices around the world … [and] a prototype of a fabric-based overhead air duct system that attaches with zippers and can be moved over a weekend for different seating arrangements.”

The proposed system also “allows every seat to have its own air diffuser to control the direction or amount of air blowing on them” and “a robot that can inflate a translucent, cellophane balloon wall” to create instant privacy barriers. A desk can also adjust “to an employee’s personal preferences with a swipe of a work badge — a handy feature for workers who don’t have assigned desks because they only drop into the office once in a while.”

Google is also building outdoor work areas in response to concerns that COVID-19 spreads more easily indoors. In March, it converted a portion of its Silicon Valley headquarters to an outdoors working space and is building additional ones in London, Los Angeles, Munich, New York and Sydney, Australia.

Related:
Tech Firms Tweak Work Tools to Grapple with ‘Digital Exhaustion’, The Wall Street Journal, 4/30/21