Ex-Google CEO Thinks Hybrid Working Is A Terrible Idea. He’s Right, But For An Entirely Different Reason


For most of the past few years, Google, like all companies, has been rethinking how its employees work. During the pandemic, most of them worked from home. Now that it appears to be nearly complete, many of the managers would like those employees to return; in the office.

To balance this tension, leaders try to figure out the best way to help employees be productive, or even what that means. Google, a company known for spending a lot of energy and resources creating engaging and innovative workspaces, has tried what it calls a hybrid approach, where employees spend a few days a week in the office and a few days working. from a distance.

Google CEO Sundar Pichai discussed this in an interview at Stanford University last April:

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I think giving flexibility to people in the same way is very clear, I think we strongly believe in in-person relationships, but I think we can achieve that in a more focused way, and give back to employees, more agency and flexibility. So I think hybrid work is great. We’re going to leverage the scale of the business – we have many locations around the world – so people can move to other places and work. We’re starting with a three/two hybrid option, but encouraging employees to apply to be fully remote.

Pichai’s view is quite common, especially among tech companies. Apple, for example, announced a similar strategy starting this summer. The idea would be that people could work from home part-time, but then work in the office on the same days as the rest of their team. This is when meetings and other collaborative work would occur. In theory, it’s supposed to combine the best things about working in the office, with working remotely.

One person who doesn’t think it will work is the company’s former CEO, Eric Schmidt. In an interview with CNBC in April, Schmidt said he believed it was “important to have these people in the office, in my opinion.”

“We spent decades having these conversations about people being close to each other — the coffee table chat and going to coffee,” Schmidt told CNBC. “Do you remember all that? Was this all wrong? »

Schmidt’s view seems to be, at least in part, that people learn to interact with other people in an office, by being, you know, in an office. Which is probably true, especially for younger workers.

“In terms of age, that’s when they learn,” he says. “If you miss something because you’re sitting at home on the couch while you work, I don’t know how you build good management. Honestly, I don’t.

If that’s your goal, then yes, hybrid working is a problem. In fact, I think Schmidt is right, at least with respect to hybrid working as it exists today. He is simply wrong on reason. Here is what I mean:

I don’t know if we’ll ever go back to how most people worked three years ago, but I don’t think the current hybrid working strategy in most companies is sustainable. I’m not saying this because people necessarily need to be back in the office, but because the current way of doing hybrid work is somehow the worst of all possibilities.

Many companies have started requiring employees to return to the office two to three days a week, while giving them the flexibility to work remotely the rest of the time. The problem is that since people aren’t in the office full time, the office is changing, and not in a good way.

I wrote earlier this year about how companies are transforming their offices into what is essentially a co-working space. The idea is for employees to book or find a place to work when they’re in the office, and someone else can use that space when they’re not. Sounds great in principle. After all, it reduces the total number of desks you need and allows for more flexible workspaces.

The problem is, no one feels like they have a place to land when they show up for work. Hot-desking, as it is called, is cool for about two days. Then people just want an office or a place to call their own. Otherwise, just let them continue to work from home where they’ve probably had a place to work for the past two years.

A better form of hybrid working would be to let your team decide where to work based on what’s going on. Trust your team to make the right decisions about where they will be most productive. As Schmidt points out, this might not train them to work better in an office. Again, this may not be a problem at all.

The opinions expressed by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.

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