Google warns hybrid working could hinder its 'corporate culture'

Fresh reports from the tech giant suggest it still hasn't figured out a suitable remote working strategy for its employees

A Google kitchen area at one of its offices

Google has warned that its productivity and finances may take a hit due to the new 'hybrid working' model necessitated by the global COVID pandemic. 

The firm is concerned that social distancing measures and hybrid work models - a structure whereby employees are given more flexibility to work remotely while others work from a central office - will increase costs and potentially impact its "corporate culture", according to Google's annual 10-K report.

The tech giant is well-known for offering employee perks as an incentive. It has over 135,000 full-time workers, but it also offers lots of temporary and freelance work for contracted professionals from third-party firms. 

"As we prepare to return our workforce in more locations back to the office in 2021, we may experience increased costs as we prepare our facilities for a safe return to work environments and experiment with hybrid work models, in addition to potential effects on our ability to compete effectively and maintain our corporate culture," the company stated.

Google was one of the first firms to order its employees to work from home, but as the year and the pandemic progressed, it issued muddled instructions for its planned return to the office. The company has made a number of announcements about 'testing' a hybrid approach, but it's also still investing in large office spaces around the world. 

In December, it was reported that CEO Sundar Pichai told employees that remote working would be extended to 1 September 2021. However, it also came with the stipulation that they would have to work at least three days in the physical office and remain within a suitable commuting distance

These reports suggest that one of the biggest providers of remote working software isn't so keen on its own staff enjoying the benefits of it. Similarly, rival firm Microsoft has also made concerning remarks about mass remote working - despite also heavily investing in services that facilitate this shift. 

For some, it highlights a concerning lack of progression from the very companies powering the so-called 'new normal'. 

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"Many companies in Silicon Valley have been actively encouraging presenteeism for years now with beds, restaurants and even gyms, but it's an outdated metric for technical staff productivity," said Martin Biggs, VP and GM of Spinnaker Support. "Our definition of productivity has to change from clock-watching and time-in-office to actual outputs. The biggest mistake I see is organisations trying to apply old strategies to an entirely new situation."   

There are also some businesses that find the struggles of a tech giant like Google "refreshing". The company's "open and honest assessment" of the time it will take to readjust is a great insight for smaller businesses, according to Dan Harding, the CEO of Sign In App.  "Culture takes years to build and it's clear that Google is not 'anti-remote work', just realistic about how much needs to change and adapt to new ways of working and employee expectations," said Harding. "Some of Google's main competitive elements and focuses are its staff, culture and wellbeing so they will certainly be one of the ones to watch how they adapt during 2021 and beyond."

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