Google employee outlines how the tech giant is embracing flexibile working

Google has had a tumultuous relationship with flexibile working in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic.

The tech giant has been keen to return workers to offices ever since last year, but had to postpone the callback after Omicron cases started to spike.

Now, as things appear to be settling again, the company has met with pushback from staff who are keen to carry on having the ability to work remotely.

Like that other tech giant, Apple, Google is trying to figure out the best course of action with regards to its employees.

This month, the company told staff they must return to the office – but only for three days a week.

‘It’s been a long and challenging two years since the vast majority of our people started working from home,’ John Casey, Google’s vice president of global benefits wrote in an email to employees seen by CNBC.

‘But the advances in prevention and treatment, the steady decline in cases that we continue to see, and the improved safety measures we have implemented across our Bay Area sites now mean we can officially begin the transition to the hybrid work week.’

What does Google’s hybrid work week look like? According to one employee, it seems to be what most workers are looking for: a way to balance their work and home responsibilities.

‘My days center around my family. After checking emails and eating breakfast, my husband Chris and I take turns getting Natasha ready for school,’ explained Patricia Torres, a program manager at Google based in Sydney.

‘I usually sign off around 5:30p.m. and have dinner with my family. We have a nightly routine where we share challenges and what we’re grateful for — it’s been an eye-opening experience for all of us!’

Patricia says that Google’s flexibility allowed her to take on homeschooling during the pandemic, as well as spend time with her sick mother, who eventually died from the disease.

‘Covid-19 has presented challenges for everybody. For me, the hardest part was balancing childcare with work. When my daughter’s school closed for in-person classes, my husband and I became teachers overnight,’ she said.

‘It was a huge relief when Google extended their Carer’s Leave policy, which provides time off for parents or caregivers to support children or other family members due to Covid.

‘Over the next few months, Chris and I worked half days, taking turns to make sure Natasha finished her schoolwork. On top of that, my mum was sick and in the hospital. Having the flexibility to work from the hospital and spend time with her before she passed was so important to me.

‘Chris and I are both lucky to work for organizations that prioritize our health, well-being and families.’

Google’s chief concern has been protecting the creative work that springs from physical proximity. It’s offices are famous for their perks and, of course, being in the office means that it’s easier to keep workers under surveillance.

‘But longstanding (and widespread) management concerns that employees working from home would lower productivity have proven unfounded,’ explains Elizabeth Sander, an assistant professor of organisational behaviour at Bond University in Australia.

‘For example, a 2014 randomised trial involving about 250 Shanghai call centre workers found working from home associated with 13% more productivity,’ she wrote, in an article for The Conversation.

‘This comprised a 9% gain from working more minutes per shift – due perhaps to fewer interruptions – and a 4% gain from making more calls per minute – attributed to a quieter, more comfortable working environment.

‘Research in the past two years supports these findings. Harvard Business School professor Raj Choudury and colleagues published research in October 2020 that found allowing employees to work wherever they like led to a 4.4% increase in output.

‘In April 2021, Stanford University economist Nick Bloom and colleagues calculated a the shift to remote working resulted in a 5% productivity boost. Though their working paper, published by the National Bureau of Economic Research, was not peer reviewed, it was based on surveying 30,000 American workers, which is a decent sample size.’

Whether or not other companies follow Google’s example remains to be seen, but the impact of flexibile working has caused changes here in the UK.

All employees now have the right to request flexibile working, such as working from home, but your employer does not have to grant it.

Daniel Barnett, barrister and LBC presenter, explained to ‘Employees don’t generally have the right to work from home. They do have the right to have a request to work from home considered fairly by their employer, but there’s rarely any recourse if the employer says “no”.’

Employers can turn these requests down if they have reasonable cause to do so – however, the absence of this reasonable cause may mean you can make a legal claim against them.

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