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Ex-Google HR chief: Why returning to the office could be a ‘recipe for disaster’

Returning to a hybrid office could be even more damaging than the move to fully remote work, writes the former HR chief at Google. Here’s how to get it right

Source | | LASZLO BOCK

As businesses start to reopen their offices, many are planning for a hybrid model that will see more employees working remotely all or part of the time. But this return to a semblance of normal working life could be more disruptive—and potentially more damaging—than the initial pivot to all-remote work in 2020.

The shutdown last year was brutal and chaotic for both individuals and businesses, but it was also a unifying moment. We faced fear and uncertainty together. We all ran out of yeast and toilet paper at the same time. We were forced to rally and lean on each other with a common purpose: Stay healthy, take care of each other, and keep the business going so we’ll have jobs when this is over.

Several factors make the return to work more challenging. For employees, it will be a staggered, disjointed process marked by uncertainty. Different regions will open up at different times, and some may be forced to close again temporarily. Workers will return to unfamiliar surroundings, with masks, plexiglass screens and hand sanitizer, wondering if their coworkers are vaccinated and how they should greet them.

This is anything but a unifying experience, and it comes at a time when many people are mentally and physically drained after more than a year of lockdown. A study by the University of Chicago showed that employees worked 30% more than normal during the shutdown, and Microsoft found that work-related messages sent between 6 p.m. and midnight jumped 52%. No wonder people are burned out.

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