Google has piloted Focus Fridays to give employees periods of uninterrupted time to work

Avanthi Maharaj says Focus Fridays also help in practising better meeting hygiene.

Focusing on ways to ensure your employees have energy and are well rested contributes to an increase in productivity and happiness. This is why the global leadership team at Google introduced a pilot Focus Fridays for frontline HR.

The pilot was launched in January and will end in June 2021 and Avanthi Maharaj, market HR cluster lead – SSA at Google says they will do a recalibration to see whether they will be taking this through to their Q3 and Q4.

She shares that the global team was trying to find smart ways of making a difference for their Googlers.

“The team looked at conducting extensive research and pulsing with Googlers regularly to understand WFH experiences as well as incorporating this data and feedback into our actions, tools and policies to address top pain points. It then went through a process of implementing broad initiatives and a series of targeted improvements rooted in strong principles, pilots and experiments.”

She adds that it also looked at a few flexible ways such as teams adopting a no-meetings week or day on a monthly or quarterly basis. It would then be at the discretion of the business to help improve, maintain and sustain the wellbeing, productivity and connectedness of employees while working from home

In implementing the Focus Fridays, “The goal is to minimise meetings on Fridays so that we can use the time to get work done ahead of the weekend, to then better disconnect during our time away from work. This means moving lower priority and non-urgent meetings to other days, and being more thoughtful about what you schedule on Fridays to give you periods of uninterrupted time for focused work.”

Avanthi adds that the most important factor was making sure that they still kept the essence of running a business, “but also had some time out in terms of just hunkering down and focusing on what you can’t get through in a 12-hour day.”

Avanthi explains that having these Focus Fridays also provides an opportunity to practise better meeting hygiene.

“Of course, there may still be time-sensitive or urgent client meetings that pop up on Fridays, or consults that should still be prioritised because crises don’t wait for Monday, but we have been using it purposefully and thoughtfully while making sure it works for both us and the business.”

In making sure that their employees are appreciated and are seen, Avanthi says Google commits to their employees in a tangible place where they get to see and experience what this means.
“In each employee’s calendar there is a new blockout function called Focus Time. Focus Time automatically declines meeting requests if you choose it as an option,” she says.

Practising good meeting hygiene
Avanthi says the traditional approaches to and reasons for conducting meetings have evolved completely. And the way in which these meetings are conducted is quite important at Google to ensure the workers thrive and survive in the workplace.

At Google they have a ‘meeting hygiene checklist’ which talks about the purpose, presence and the participation of the meeting. “So, managers making use of this checklist is critical because they set the tone. Questions such as: ‘Is this meeting really required at 10pm or is there another way I can have this meeting and engage with my team?’ need to be asked.”

Avanthi says time zone challenges are a reality for Google, especially in HR – however, “If you know you have an audience in the US and in Singapore, the time difference is eight to 10 hours, are you going to invite them at a completely inconvenient time or are you going to record the meeting and share it with the team?”

She asserts that the time zone issue and respect are important to her because a lot of HR practitioners work according to time zones and very often they sit in meetings late at night or early in the morning, accommodating other time zones.