Why can’t tech firms decide on working from home strategies?

You’d have thought companies that peddle digital transformation would have more conviction in it

Is working from home a good thing? Should employees be allowed to continue working remotely even after the coronavirus pandemic has subsided? How much flexibility is enough? Despite its reputation for finding answers to almost every question out there, Google is apparently struggling with these. 

Currently, it’s testing a "hypothesis" for a flexible two-day remote working strategy to see how it affects "productivity, collaboration and wellbeing", according to The New York Times. This is despite already having nine months of mass remote working to check all of that out, both using internal data and any intel it’s gleaned from those of us who use its services. 

Why is it testing a two-day plan now, six months after most research suggested that was the optimum remote working schedule for most employees? Given recent claims made by past and present Google employees, "productivity" is likely to be the only metric it actually cares about. But how, exactly, will it measure and accurately attribute it to working from home? How will it know that female and minority ethnic employees are getting less done while in the office because they prefer to be remote and not just, you know, away from a toxic working environment that squashes protests and free speech

Sadly, Google isn’t alone here. Microsoft also seems lost when it comes to agile working policies, though its CEO, Satya Nadella had the sense to dress it up as a concern for wellbeing. He recently cited “video-call fatigue” as something businesses should be wary of while warning about the dangers of staying at home.

Facebook has been more forward-thinking, but only for its actual employees. It has brought in a policy for permanent remote working, for those that want it, unless you work in the content moderation department. It has been reported that those poor souls who remove all the horrid posts about child abuse or acts of terrorism, have been ordered to get back into office because their job is deemed too critical to do at home. These are mostly privately contracted employees, so their wellbeing is someone else’s problem. 

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Now, there are no figures on how many jobs and lives have been saved by remote working, but I would hazard a guess at “millions”. It has also come with a side of happy benefits for the future; less commuting, better work-life balance, close proximity to the fridge! We’ve all realised the wonders of working from home and most of us want to keep it up. And yet, when we look to the companies peddling the tech that lets us do so, we see an absolutely directionless mess. They’re the ones that benefit the most from our digital transformations, so you would have thought they would have more conviction about it.

The prospect of mass vaccination is on the horizon, so I understand the desire for a return to some normality. But I’m sure most of us thought that would just mean one or two days back in the office and getting kicked out of a physical meeting room, or possibly going to Pret at lunch (other sandwich shops are available). If it is indeed productivity Google wants to increase, there are studies available that already show we do more from home.

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