Collaboration works better in the office, says Google chief

Mr Golan acknowledged the irony of the tech giant, which builds and sells cloud computing and software products that allow people to work and collaborate online, fundamentally believing in the importance of physical offices.

“Physical co-location still allows people to collaborate better and, I think, relate better,” he said.

“Traditionally, relationships are formed in person. They are formed when you are in the office together, when you’re leaning over a shoulder talking to [someone], when you go to lunch with them.

“So when you go into this kind of environment like we’ve seen with COVID, you can then lean on these relationships. But if you’ve never had a chance to form them, there is nothing to lean on.”

Balancing teams and individuals

He said over time there would be a deterioration in relationships and company culture if people weren’t physically brought together.

“Companies are going to have to find a way to rekindle that feeling of culture and teams that comes from the formation of personal relationships.”

He said the challenge for Google in the future was working out how to strike the balance between the needs of the team and the wishes of the individual.

“Individuals have lots of different reasons for why they want to work remotely or from home, and often times those reasons don’t necessarily enhance the team,” Mr Golan said.

“For Google as a company, there has always been this interesting dichotomy because at one level we’ve probably been one of the foremost companies that produces technology that allows people to be efficient from wherever they are, and yet we still fundamentally believe in the concept of physical co-location as the driver of productivity and culture.”

Lendlease chief executive Steve McCann said technology had been a big winner of the pandemic, but he was confident there would be a “solid” office-based sharing environment in the future.

“We, along with lots of other companies, have seen a significant lift in concern around the mental health impact of just staring at a screen all day and talking to people without that physical contact,” Mr McCann said.

“And the other factor is how do you innovate when you’re sitting by yourself and you’re not able to leverage off the people around you?”

But, Mr McCann said, companies would have to adapt the design of offices in anticipation of another scenario similar to COVID-19 in 10 or 20 years’ time.

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