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Google’s decision to work from home may reshape your own work schedule

Google announced Monday its employees will work from home until July of 2021

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In this Nov. 12, 2015, file photo, a man walks past a building on the Google campus in Mountain View, Calif.

In this Nov. 12, 2015, file photo, a man walks past a building on the Google campus in Mountain View, Calif.

Associated Press

SALT LAKE CITY — Google announced Monday that its employees can work from home until July 2021 due the coronavirus pandemic. The move is a sign Google doesn’t see the coronavirus pandemic ending anytime soon.

Google’s decision might represent a tipping point in the shift for companies to allow their employees to work from home. Maybe Google is predicting COVID-19 won’t go away so soon. Or maybe they’re seeing production levels rise because of working from home. Regardless, an industry leader capitalizing on the decision may encourage other companies to follow suit, paving a new future for people who have to work from home.

In a memo to employees, Google CEO Sundar Pichai acknowledged the company reopened 42 different offices across the world. But the company wanted to help employees plan ahead to help people take care of themselves and their families, according to The Wall Street Journal.

“To give employees the ability to plan ahead, we’ll be extending our global voluntary work from home option through June 30, 2021, for roles that don’t need to be in the office,” Pichai wrote. “I hope this will offer the flexibility you need to balance work with taking care of yourselves and your loved ones over the next 12 months.”

Google’s move follows what other tech companies have done, too. Twitter and Facebook alike said that they plan to allow some employees to work from home indefinitely. That could easily stretch through the rest of the year if not longer. Google, Facebook and Twitter all started the work-from-home push at the beginning of the pandemic. Now they’re taking it steps farther with indefinite return dates.

Helping employees plan for the future seems like the goal here. Now employees can work remotely from their parents’ house if they need to. Or maybe they can stop feeling worried about whether they’re going to have to stock up on Lysol wipes for their desks.

The move also highlights the health risks of heading back to the office. Google’s headquarters is in California, where there’s been a recent spike in COVID-19 cases. So it’s not surprising Google would want to encourage people to stay home given the high likelihood of the virus lingering nearby. Data continues to show that poor ventilation can lead to the spread of COVID-19. Spending eight hours in a single office surrounded by peers — some who may have the virus — could put workers at risk.

Google may also be doing this for productivity reasons, according to Sam Naficy, the CEO of Prodoscore, an employee tracking software company.

“This is another sign that we’re on the other side of the tipping point,” Naficy said in an email to the Deseret News. “Google is not doing this just for health reasons. Many companies are finding that remote work is just as successful as in-office, if not more. Just you watch: more companies will follow Google’s footsteps within the weeks and months to come. We believe that even when there is a cure for COVID-19, the American workplace will be forever changed, with more than 50% of professional Americans spending most of their time working remotely.”

Prodoscore released findings from its own study that found 90% of employees are open to employers having visibility of their daily productivity. Specifically, this doesn’t mean employees spying on you during the workday. It’s about having the tools to help you be more productive.

 “With so many people working from home, there is an even stronger desire now from both employers and employees to make use of visibility tools,” Naficy said. “No employee likes spyware, but, as the results show, most do like tools that help them be more efficient and productive while simultaneously demonstrating their value to their employers.”

That said, Google may be tapping into another aspect of all of this — mental health. By revealing a July 2021 return date, it might put workers’ minds at ease about returning to work. A study from Blind, an anonymous professional network, found that the majority of employees in New York, Seattle and the Bay Area said they felt loneliness, anxiety and a change in productivity levels since the pandemic began, according to Forbes. For anxiety, 44% said they felt anxious about work. Giving a firm date about when to come back seems to be aimed at giving people that peace of mind.

Still, this isn’t exactly like it’s a total win for employees. As The New York Times recently reported, work from home policies might create a “transactional relationship with employers may promote companies’ use of contractors — which can be more lucrative but less stable for the people accepting such work. And when workers are spread out, they may have a harder time sharing information and organizing for better pay or working conditions.”

Working from home might also lead to bad behavior being revealed down the road. Confidentiality might be breached, where employees might reveal secrets to their families. Staff might disengage from the culture, too, since they’re not constantly reminded of the office culture and values.

And again this ties back to mental health. No office, no structure and longer hours might lead workers to blaze on the trail toward burnout.

“Without the natural rhythm and with no opportunity for decompression from work as no commute time, staff are often working much longer shifts and so more prone to errors and to suffering mental health issues,” reads one risk in a new report from a London financial industry body.

There are so many questions about what the future of working from home looks like. Your office setup might change. The way companies manage productivity will shift. But Google’s decision to skip almost an entire year of working in the office shows that there might be a change coming, and the entire field of working from home may be more commonplace than we think. Soon enough, Google employees will look back at the time before they started their remote work, a time when there were office buildings and water-cooler conversations. Tech companies have been known to lead out on massive workplace changes. Working from home may only be the latest one.