What Google’s doing to make flexible work great

BrandPost By Google
Dec 22, 2021
Remote Work

Google supplied
Credit: Google

Now that people are gradually returning to the office, they often describe the quite profound experiences they have in seeing coworkers ‘in 3D’ again after spending two years only seeing everyone as a flat tile in a video conferencing app. The audio never, ever drops out! You can see their full body language. You don’t have to raise a hand to ask a question.

Although Google is a tech company building great solutions for people to work anywhere, we also know the value of face-to-face, human communication.

Googlers work all over the globe in campuses designed to make working enjoyable, with bikes to get around between buildings, lots of healthy food options, onsite doctors and counsellors, well equipped exercise areas and dramatic, unconventional meeting rooms that are as far away from grey boxes as possible to inspire creative thinking.

However, we also know that the future of work is flexible. Most Googlers will spend some of their time working remotely from now on.

So how do we make the most of the time that we come together, and more importantly, how do we make flexible working great?  

Three pillars have emerged over the past 12 months.

1. Work is no longer a place – we no longer “go” there and then “go home”. When people do come into the office, it’s going to be specifically for collaboration.

2. Time is more precious – 1 in 4 parents are playing the role of primary caregiver right now, and almost everyone has a family to support in one way or another, whether they’re helping kids or looking after elderly parents.

3. Human connection is crucial – that connection that used to take place in the workplace is still crucial and every business needs to find a way to keep that going within the context of flexible work.

Google is taking a multi-disciplinary approach to innovating in this new scenario, acknowledging that tech alone isn’t the solution. We’re focused on testing and learning with the objective of relieving obstacles to well-being and productivity, whether people are working from home or an office.

What Google is doing to support flexible work

#1 Helpful@Home – Google has always been about making work great wherever Googlers are working. We wanted to be as helpful as possible to our people at home. We’ve given further support for parents, including more parental and caregiver leave. For people facing the new challenge of making healthy meals for themselves at home we’ve created a site that allows for virtual cooking classes. And we’ve put together practical ways of improving productivity and wellbeing at home.

#2 No meeting days – no-one enjoys sitting on back-to-back video calls all day. Teams of Googlers can now allocate weeks or days where there are no meetings or limited meetings to generate more of a balance between productive work time, personal time and meetings.  

#3 Focus time – We’ve launched a feature called Focus Time as part of Google Calendar in Google Workspace. Team members can now schedule focus time, which disables all notifications – they won’t get pinged with messages or emails during that time, and if someone tries to book over it, the meeting request gets automatically declined. (The feature is available to anyone, not just Googlers.)

#4 “Reset” days – we know everyone’s tired from everything they’ve been through in the pandemic. We’ve offered staff globally some days off to recharge their batteries. When nobody is working on the same day it means everyone can have a genuine break and not return to a pile of emails waiting to be actioned.

#5 Rethinking the office environment – we’ve done a lot of work to transform really large office spaces to make them multi-use and multi-purpose. Instead of rows of desks, we have been focusing on creating more team collaboration spaces and equipping those with the right technologies. We’re also organising offices so that Googlers can book a desk in advance and still be seated around their colleagues.

#6 New communication technologies – now that there will be a mix of people working remotely and in the office at any one time, we’re rethinking meeting spaces. Future immersive meeting spaces will put multiple displays around a room and give each person a ‘seat’ at the table, whether they’re physically present or working remotely. Google Meet hardware now supports continuous framing that allows cameras to zoom in on people’s faces automatically, so that remote participants can clearly see the facial expression and body language of speakers in the room. 

#7 Work from any location four weeks a year – with greater flexibility comes greater demand to be able to not be tied to a home base. For people with families overseas, or who simply want to have a ‘hybrid holiday’ where they can take the family to a glorious location and dip in and out of work, Google is now giving Googlers the opportunity to work from anywhere up to four weeks of the year.

#8 Giving people modern collaboration tools – Smart canvas is the next evolution of Google Workspace, weaving collaboration deeper into every surface of Docs, Sheets and Slides. If a hybrid team is brainstorming together in a Doc, smart canvas lets them use @-mentions to view recommendations for related content, people, and meetings, all of it driven by Google AI. It also lets them automatically generate meeting note templates and easily insert checklists. If they decide to pivot from their on-screen brainstorm into a live meeting, they’ll soon be able to jump into a Google Meet right in the doc they’re working on. Smart Canvas is set for release in the first half of 2022.

#9 Being truly flexible – Most Googlers will spend three days in the office, but it’s up to the team manager to work out with their team members what the right balance is. The objective is around allowing team members to be able to focus on getting work done but also balance it with their own wellbeing. As part of this, we’re making it culturally acceptable and encouraged for Googlers to block out focus time in their calendars.

To organise an executive briefing on Google’s culture of innovation and future of the workplace, reach out to the Google account team in Australia