With 5 Words, Google Just Explained the Best Reason Yet Not to Return to the Office

For every company, figuring out when to bring employees back to the office is at the top of the list of major challenges right now. Google is no exception. Over the summer, the company had said it hoped to roll out a hybrid work plan by fall, a timeline that was later pushed back to January. 

Of course, many companies, if they could, would bring everyone back tomorrow but the surge of COVID cases in many areas has led many companies to reconsider what makes the most sense. Additionally, if we’ve learned anything over the past two years, it’s that a lot of the work we thought had to be done in an office, simply doesn’t. 

For many employees, working remotely has become their new normal, and they’ve figured out how to be as productive, if not more so, than before. Still, as companies try to figure out what work environments will look like after COVID, most are planning some version of hybrid work that involves spending some time in the office, and the rest working remotely.

Google had already told employees they would have flexibility in where they work, telling employees that it expected to bring everyone back three days a week, while allowing individuals to continue working remotely the rest of the time. 

Most recently, the company had pushed its planned return to the office until January 10. Now, however, uncertainty around the Omicron variant has led the company to push off a return indefinitely. Instead, according to a report from CNBC, the company will wait to bring employees back to the office until it’s able to come up with a “stable, long-term working environment.” 

That’s from an email to employees from Chris Rackow, Google’s VP of security, which says the company will allow employees a transition period of 30 days once the company returns to the office. Rackow also encourages employees that “where conditions allow, to reconnect with colleagues in person and start regaining the muscle memory of being in the office more regularly.”

While this might just seem like another big tech company delaying the inevitable, there’s actually an important lesson in waiting until you can be sure that returning to the office will create a “stable, long-term working environment.”

Those five words are actually a far bigger deal than you might think. They might even be the best plan I’ve heard yet for bringing people back to the office–even if it doesn’t sound like a plan at all. Here’s what I mean:

The thing your team needs most is certainty and stability. After almost two years of balancing changing circumstances, family needs, remote school, working at home, and all of the other stress that comes with trying to maintain some sense of normal during a global pandemic, the best thing you can do for your team is create certainty and manage expectations.

Google’s statement effectively tells employees that the company isn’t interested in hitting some kind of arbitrary deadline just for the sake of bringing everyone back to the office. That’s not to say the company doesn’t believe there are benefits to having its team back together in person, but that those benefits have to be balanced with other variables.

One of the reasons that remote work has become such a desirable arrangement for so many employees is that it creates certainty. And, of all the things your employees need from you, certainty about how and where they work is at the top of the list.  

For example, right now there is simply too much that is outside of anyone’s control. Bringing your team back to the office, only to have to send everyone home again, would be both disruptive and demoralizing.

Additionally, employees who have families have other considerations. Knowing that you have flexibility and choice over your work arrangements allows you to make plans for all of the other areas of your life. Right now, that’s far higher on the list of priorities for most employees than whether they can sit in a conference room with their coworkers for the next team meeting.

That’s what I love about Google’s plan moving forward. The company recognizes that circumstances are still changing too quickly to make plans months into the future. Instead, it has told employees that it will continue to monitor the situation in various areas, and make decisions with an eye towards the most important thing–creating a “stable, long-term work environment.” You should too.

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

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