Attempting to blend office and home working is tricky. The results don’t always look good. But it seems Microsoft, Google and Apple have the will and the resources to make it work. They will make mistakes along the way (and we can all learn from them) and it’s been interesting to see their differing road maps.
Apple employees had been planning to return to the office from 1st February, but the company has delayed this indefinitely due to Omicron. Their pilot programme was for each employee to work in the office at least 3 days per week.
Taking an inflexible approach, Tim Cook CEO has said all employees must be in on Monday, Tuesday and Thursday with the option to work from home on Wednesday and Fridays.
This rigid policy may cause issues for employees balancing personal commitments. Apple is attempting to ensure everyone is in the office together so as many meetings as possible are in-person.
This is also an inefficient use of office space. But when your budget is as big as Apple’s, you don’t mind if many desks go empty on certain days.
Apple will also let employees work for up to four weeks remotely each year as the iPhone giant prepares for a gradual return to offices in 2022.
The company had previously said employees could work remotely for two weeks a year, but they have now doubled that time to four weeks. “This provides more opportunity to travel, be closer to your loved ones, or simply shake up your routines.”
Always a progressive company, Apple were conscious of striking the balance. They want to give employees what they want but also maintain the office presence needed to maintain their company culture.
Their plan has been met with some backlash as many employees want to keep working remotely permanently. It will be interesting to see if that changes this year with all the twists in the COVID saga.
Microsoft has been very open about its hybrid working plans, publishing a lot of content on the future of work. It includes this large guide where they repeatedly highlight the strain that fully remote working has had on their workforce.
Microsoft intends to set aside long-held assumptions and shift to embrace extreme flexibility for their workforce. But they recognise it will not be easy.
Satya Nadella, the CEO of Microsoft, said Hybrid work represents the biggest shift to how we work in our generation. Microsoft recognises the paradox of hybrid working – employees want more flexibility, but also more in-person time. This is a prescient point that will be at the heart of the hybrid working debate for years to come.
Microsoft will be allowing all 160,000 employees to work remotely up to 50% of the time. To help facilitate this, they will be placing a big focus on synchronous and asynchronous communications.
Of course, they will be making full use of their own product suite to get the most from hybrid working. Nadella highlighted Microsoft Viva. It enables one-to-one and one-to-many communications to keep everyone engaged and informed about the company and its mission.
Like many other companies, Microsoft is placing an emphasis on mental and emotional health. Fully aware of the stress from seemingly endless video meetings, the company has developed new settings in Outlook that reserve short breaks.
Microsoft aims to ensure their meetings are “equitable, inclusive experiences” that optimise the remote participant’s involvement. By placing cameras at eye level throughout meeting rooms they aim to capture the spirit of the room. Going even further, they are excited about virtual reality meetings, which “transcend space and distance to collaborate virtually in new ways.”
Overall impressive goals from Microsoft but we’re sceptical that digital experience can ever live up to in-person meetings. We don’t think strapping a pair of scuba goggles with an LED screen to our head is going to reduce video calling fatigue.
Google has recognised the varying needs of the different employees within their business. They expect around 60% of Googlers to come together on their main campus a few days a week, and 20% to work remotely. The remaining 20% are expected to be gradually moved to new office locations across the US.
In a blog post, CEO Sundar Pichai offered some perspective, “For more than 20 years, our employees have been coming to the office to solve interesting problems… campuses have been at the heart of our Google community and the majority of our employees still want to be on campus some of the time.”
It is clear Google is not giving up on the workplace, but they recognise the desire for working from home a couple of days per week can have enormous benefits for everyone. Like Microsoft and Apple, they will be allowing employees to work from anywhere for up to 4 weeks each year.
Pichai expects most Googlers to spend approximately three days in the office and two days “wherever they work best.” For those that want it, Google will be allowing employees to apply for full-time remote working but it would be dependent on their role and team needs.
Google also intends to redesign their office environment for a more inclusive and enticing experience. As a Silicon Valley based company, they are relying on their employees to want to come into the office instead of spending their time living in a small apartment that likely costs a fortune.
Google’s vision for the office of the future is a technology-driven space that provides flexibility. From simple, easily movable walls to futuristic robot helpers you can have no doubt it will be full of surprises.
Tackling some of the more traditional elements, Google intends to replace rows of desks and boring meeting rooms with ‘Team Pods’. Each pod is a blank canvas; chairs, desks, and whiteboards. Designed to be fun and easily rearrangeable, they hope their Pods will be a springboard for collaboration.
We’re all looking forward to hybrid working and I’m sure we all have our own ideas about how to make it work. Being able to watch and learn from Microsoft, Google and Apple with their virtually unlimited budgets is a great resource. However, at Schej we believe that all the technology in the world cannot replace the human experience of in-person collaboration. Businesses that centre and nurture people will be the winners of the hybrid working future.
For more insights on hybrid working and the future of work, subscribe to the Schej Bulletin.