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Google delays return to office, announces plan to test ‘flexible work week’

Google has delayed its plan for employees to return to the office, moving the date from July to September 2021, according to a staff memo sent Sunday night by Alphabet and Google CEO Sundar Pichai.



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In the email, confirmed by NBC News, Pichai said the company will test out a “flexible work week” that entails working at least three days a week in the office and other days at home.

“We are testing a hypothesis that a flexible work model will lead to greater productivity, collaboration, and well-being,” Pichai wrote in an email first reported by the New York Times. “No company at our scale has ever created a fully hybrid work force model — though a few are starting to test it — so it will be interesting to try.”

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Google isn’t the only tech company to contest the traditional workplace. In October, Microsoft released “Embracing a flexible workplace,” which included more guidance on an adaptable work site, work hours and work location. In May, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg wrote in a Facebook post that the company could have half of all employees working remotely over the next decade. Twitter has said it will offer a permanent work-from-home option for its staffers.

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Google’s move to a hybrid model is also significant for the spaces in which its employees operate.

“In the history of modern American companies, there’s no company that has spent as much money and effort and resources in building an in-person office in terms of the Google campus,” Andy Challenger, senior vice president at outplacement and career transitioning firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas, told NBC News.

“The reason they built these elaborate campuses is so that people can come there and work for long periods of time without needing to go home,” he said of major tech companies.

At last month’s New York Times DealBook conference, Ruth Porat, CFO of Google’s parent company Alphabet, told Andrew Ross Sorkin that even though Google’s space is built around the traditional Silicon Valley value of in-person collaboration, that doesn’t mean it can’t be achieved elsewhere.

“We believe that innovation benefits from people coming together. It’s about collaboration, it’s about serendipity,” Porat said. “We do look forward to getting people back in the office. That being said, working from home is working and there’s a productivity lift not needing to come into the office.”

According to a PwC survey released over the summer, 44 percent of executives reported that employees have become more productive while working from home during the pandemic. Employees, on the other hand, may not agree, with only 28 percent reporting increased levels of productivity, according to PwC.

“The goal of the work-from-home hybrid model, I don’t think is to have people work less, but it allows them to work on their own timetable,” Challenger said.

While Pichai did not make any mention of a Covid-19 vaccine requirement for Google employees, it is a topic that has been widely debated among all business sectors as Pfizer and BioNTech’s vaccine doses started to roll out in the U.S. this week.

Facebook, whose work-from-home policy continues until July 2021, has made mention of the subject.

“At this point, we don’t think it will be necessary to require a vaccine for employees to return to work,” Zuckerberg told employees last week, according to a company spokesperson.

This subject may become a larger debate among industries where work cannot be performed remotely, including the service sector and manufacturing.

“We can’t operate fully unless we have that widespread immunity that can only come with a vaccine. The vaccine is absolutely critical,” Jay Timmons, who represents nearly 13 million manufacturing workers in his role as president and CEO of the National Association of Manufacturers, told NBC News.

“Manufacturers have to operate if we’re going to get this country healed, if we’re going to be able to distribute PPE and the food supply and medical supplies. If that means we have to require vaccines, then we’ll require vaccines,” Timmons told NBC News Business and Tech Correspondent Jo Ling Kent in an interview that aired on “Weekend Today” on Sunday.

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