Ways of working

As Google makes a permanent move to hybrid working, what can we learn from it?

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As one of the world’s tech giants and a trendsetter in many fields, it’s no surprise that Google is at the forefront of the move to hybrid working. In May, CEO Sundar Pichai wrote a company-wide open letter in which he envisaged that, by September 2021, most team members would be working three days at an office and two days “wherever they work best”.

At Regus, we’ve long understood the benefits of the hybrid approach. From the promise of shorter commutes to increased opportunities for more diverse recruitment, combining a corporate HQ with access to local flexspaces offers advantages for employees and businesses alike.

Back in December, Pichai predicted that Google might be even more productive working remotely than not – and the company has recently issued playbooks full of tips for navigating the new world of ‘distributed work’. Here, we share some of their advice for making the hybrid model successful.

Set ‘team norms’ and stick to them

Agreeing on set, day-to-day team behaviours – what Google is calling ‘team norms’ – is crucial to its flexible work strategy. This means discussing and managing team expectations around regular tasks and processes – how quickly or how often they should be achieved, how they are communicated – then sticking to those rules.

Such norms allow colleagues to feel confident: sure that key projects are on track, and that they’re in step with one another. It’s also a good idea to pre-empt any logistical quibbles early on. For example, you may wish to clarify whether team members are expected to join meetings outside of their usual hours.

Meet in person, early and often

As social distancing restrictions begin to ease in several locations, Google is championing ‘early and often’ in-person sessions as part of its hybrid approach. These will boost company culture, prepare colleagues for effective teamwork and prevent employees feeling disconnected.

Google will enable groups of up to 12 staffers to book ‘collaboration spaces’ near to their home locations, as well as outdoor sites for larger groups. “Getting to know people in person sets the tone for successful virtual collaborations later,” outlines the remote playbook, which suggests that teams “aim for plenty of informal time” and “learn about others’ goals, preferences and styles to facilitate working relationships when apart.”

Collaborate safely

Google’s ‘campuses’ or main offices have always been quirky, but even these are set to be transformed in the name of social distancing. Collaboration spaces are being repurposed as part-remote ‘fire pits’, with tiered, distanced seating for in-person attendees and high-spec screens for those dialling in. Others, such as Camp Charleston in Mountain View, California, will act as utopian outdoor spaces for larger-scale gatherings.

Elsewhere, fully adaptable ‘Team Pods’ will come with moveable seating, whiteboards, screens and walls on castors, so you can create your own team environment to suit the purpose of the moment. One of the most bizarre developments is Google’s new ‘privacy robot’, which inflates a translucent balloon wall to shield confidential meetings.

Spaces like these will offer employees a hub to drop into or use for face to face sessions, while at other times they’ll have the freedom to base themselves at flexspaces closer to home.

Keep in touch

Veronica Gilrane, head of Google’s People Innovation Lab, champions a ‘little and often’ approach to helping hybrid teams stay connected. In a recent blog, she suggested “hosting virtual weekly lunches to create space for casual conversations between teammates”.

“I send weekly ‘Pi’ emails to share goals for the week,” Gilrane wrote, explaining that these also highlight “potential barriers to getting work done, wins or accomplishments” – and that she usually includes an emoji, “to make it fun and personal”.

Make virtual conversations accessible

It’s vital to remember that virtual meetings and communications aren’t easy for all to follow. Google is making a concerted effort to remind its people to make meetings accessible. This might be as simple as using real-time closed captions on video calls – not just for deaf or hard-of-hearing colleagues, but for anyone attending a meeting not held in their first language – and using large font sizes and a high contrast so everyone can clearly see any presentation materials.

In a blog on the subject, chief diversity officer Melonie Parker recommends giving verbal summaries of visual information, and adding alt text – which summarise visuals using audio – to any purely visual slides and documents.

Look to the future

Google is characteristically positive about its future as a company operating a hybrid model, as well as typically prescient. It’s not alone in its ambitions to keep flexible working a part of its future: Facebook, Twitter and Square have all announced similar policies for the coming months and years, with more companies sure to follow suit.

Regus has been at the forefront of the way we work since opening its first location in 1989. Find out how its workspace solutions could help you and your business today