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HomeBusiness & FinanceGoogle’s Former CEO Thinks Hybrid Work Is A Bad Idea. He’s Right,...

Google’s Former CEO Thinks Hybrid Work Is A Bad Idea. He’s Right, But For the Wrong Reason



For most of the past few years, Google–like every company–has been rethinking how its employees work. During the pandemic, most of them worked from home. Now that it seems to be mostly over, a lot of managers would like those employees to come back to the office. 

Balancing that tension are leaders trying to figure out the best way to help employees be productive, or even what that even means. Google, a company known for spending a lot of energy and resources creating interesting 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 remotely. 

Google’s CEO, Sundar Pichai, talked about it in an interview at Stanford University back in April:

I view giving flexibility to people the same way to be very clear, I do think we strongly believe in in person connections, but I think we can achieve that in a more purposeful way, and give employees again, more agency and flexibility. So I think hybrid work is great. We’re going to leverage the scale of the company–we have many locations around the world–so people can move to other places and work. We are starting with a three/two hybrid option, but we encourage employees to apply to be fully remote as well.

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

One person who doesn’t think it will work is the company’s former CEO, Eric Schmidt. In an interview with CNBC back in April, Schmidt said he believes it’s “important that these people be at the office, in my view.”

“We spent decades having these conversations about people being close together–the discussion at the coffee table and going to coffee,” Schmidt told CNBC. “Remember all of that? Was that all wrong?”

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

“In terms of their age, that’s when they learn,” he says. “If you miss out because you are sitting at home on the sofa while you’re working, I don’t know how you build great management. I honestly don’t.”

If that’s your goal, then yes, hybrid work is a problem. In fact, I actually think Schmidt is right–at least about hybrid work as it exists today. He’s just wrong about the reason. Here’s what I mean:

I’m not sure whether we will ever return to the way most people were working three years ago, but I don’t think the current hybrid work strategy at most companies is sustainable. I don’t say that because people need to necessarily be back in the office, but because the current way of doing hybrid work is sort of the worst of all possibilities.

Many companies have started requiring employees to return to the office for two-to-three days a week, while giving them the flexibility to work remotely the rest of the time. The problem is, 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 turning their offices into what is basically a co-working space. The idea is that employees reserve or find a place to work when they’re in the office, and someone else might use that space when they aren’t. That sounds great in principle. After all, it reduces the total number of offices 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 to work. Hot-desking, as it’s known, is cool for about two days. Then, people just want a desk or a place to call their own. Otherwise, just let them keep working from home where they presumably have had a place to work for the last two years.

A better form of hybrid work would be to let your team decide where they need to work based on what they have going on. Trust your team to make the right decisions about where they’ll be the most productive. As Schmidt points out, it might not train them to be better at working in an office. Then again, maybe that’s not a problem at all.

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



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