Google Compromises on Remote Work

Posted on May 5, 2021 by Paul Thurrott in Google with 26 Comments

After employees balked at Google’s aggressive return to work schedule, the online giant said that it would implement a flexible hybrid work model instead.

“For more than 20 years, our employees have been coming to the office to solve interesting problems — in a cafe, around a whiteboard, or during a pickup game of beach volleyball or cricket,” Google CEO Sundar Pichai writes in an announcement post about the changes. “Our campuses have been at the heart of our Google community and the majority of our employees still want to be on campus some of the time. Yet many of us would also enjoy the flexibility of working from home a couple of days per week, spending time in another city for part of the year, or even moving there permanently. Google’s future workplace will have room for all of these possibilities.”

Pichai says that Google is now testing hybrid workplace approaches that will help employees collaborate effectively no matter where they are. This testing has included new multi-purpose offices and private workspaces, plus the development of advanced video technology that it says “creates greater equity between employees in the office and those joining virtually.” Basically, Google is going to try and be more flexible.

This will include:

Flexible work weeks. Google will move to a hybrid work week where most employees spend approximately three days in the office and two days at home or elsewhere.

More locations globally. Google will invest in more office space around the globe so that employees have a choice in where they work when they come into the office.

Remote work. Google will allow many employees to work completely from home or some other remote location, though pay will be adjusted according to the cost of living in that area.

Overall, Google expects 60 percent of its employees to come into the office twice per week, with another 20 percent working in new office locations, and 20 percent working completely from home.

“I know this past year hasn’t been easy for anyone and many Googlers are still suffering as the pandemic wears on,” Mr. Pichai adds. “We will get through it — together — as a Google community … The future of work is flexibility.”

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Comments (26)

26 responses to “Google Compromises on Remote Work”

  1. remc86007

    The more locations globally thing could be a very big deal. I wonder how that's going to work out for them. There is a reason the tech companies are all concentrated in the bay area, Seattle, LA, Austin, NYC, and Boston. Those are the places with enough intellectual capitol to pull from. My experiences with video meetings have almost all been bad. I'm sure there are some situations where it works okay, but in most virtual meetings I've participated in, the meetings took twice as long as they would have in person.


    People on video calls wearing masks is infuriating. That stock photo triggered this rant:


    In my mind it's a pretty binary thing, you are either vaccinated and willing to risk being around people or you aren't. I don't mind either way; but thinking that putting some cloth over your face is going to protect you from the aerosols produced by other people in the same room as you for hours on end is insanity. I see the utility of masks possibly preventing some transmission from coughs or sneezes in public places that people must go, eg. the grocery store, but why was that concept extended in people's minds such that people believe that masks provide substantial protection in all circumstances.


    Several months ago I saw people on social media posting pictures of them and 20+ people in someone's living room (prior to the vaccine) and claiming that they were all "safe" because they wore masks...that's not how this works. And the proof is in the numbers; the places that went mask crazy (San Fran., etc.) did not have demonstrably better results than anyone else. There are two ways to stop the spread of COVID: stay the F away from people or get vaccinated. I wish at this point everyone would go ahead and do the latter. The FEMA site in my city has had stockpiles of thousands of vaccines for over a month, and few people are bothering to go get it. I just don't understand.

    • bluvg

      I think there's a lot of overlap between people that don't want to get vaccinated and also don't want to wear a mask? I hear what you're saying about long-exposure indoor mask vs. no mask, but if people are free not to wear a mask... aren't they also free to wear one?

      • remc86007

        Sure they are free to wear one. When they wear one while being alone in a room on a Zoom call having to constantly repeat themselves because no one can understand them through their mask...that's what bothers me. You'd think that would be an isolated incident...but it hasn't been in my experience.

        • bkkcanuck

          I see two people in the room on one side, the other side you don't see the entire room behind - it could easily be a group room with multiple cameras - so the meeting is distributed between two locations 2 on one side, three on the other.

        • bluvg

          Ah, right, that is annoying. And some people mumble, too. I love love love live captioning so much--the computer often understands things I didn't catch or couldn't understand, which is just remarkable.

    • cnc123

      And the proof is in the numbers; the places that went mask crazy (San Fran., etc.) did not have demonstrably better results than anyone else.


      Well, that's a nice rant. It's wrong, but it's a nice rant. San Francisco's all time COVID case rate is 4,146 per 100,000. That's the lowest case rate by far for a big city in the US. The next lowest for a big city is in the 6,000s and a bunch of those counties are in the Bay Area.


      Data: https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2021/us/covid-cases.html


      Other big cities by comparison:

      LA: 12,302 per 100,000

      New York: 11,194 per 100,000

      Phoenix: 12,031 per 100,000

      Chicago: 10,466 per 100,000

      Miami: 17,945 per 100,000

      Houston: 8,355 per 100,000


      You know who else did well?

      Seattle, Santa Clara County (Bay Area), Sacramento, Austin, DC


      You going to adjust your opinion based on actual evidence or just stick to the ranting?

      • remc86007

        Sure; I'm willing to admit I'm wrong. Although, I'm not sure the cumulative COVID positives are the correct metric for measuring the effectiveness of masks. San Francisco has had draconian shut down orders, capacity limits, and stay at home orders (all of which work; I'm not debating that, although--having been there three weeks ago and having seen how SF has fallen into shambles as a result--I completely disagree with that approach). I'd argue those measures have resulted in their low cumulative numbers, not their mask mandates. Another potential problem with cumulative totals/100k is it assumes a denominator that isn't correct. Tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of people in the Bay Area fled the area because their WFH situation allowed them to. I live in a historic neighborhood in Jacksonville FL with many Air BNBs and they have been full of Californians and New Yorkers for the past year not to mention the fact that houses are on the market here for less than a day before they are purchased and some new neighbor arrives from Cali or NYC.


        Maybe some bored statisticians will figure out a way to isolate the effectiveness of masks in the future. Perhaps looking at the relative rise of cases in metro areas when the mask mandates are dropped? Although those numbers are almost all heavily skewed by the vaccine rollout. Then there is the issue of testing; in SF were huge numbers of people leaving their houses to get tested? Cities that were more or less open throughout the pandemic likely had more testing occurring due to employer requirements. I think the best control for that is to look at hospitalization numbers, but that too must be controlled for a lot of variables such as age, general health of the population, etc.


        I love to argue. However, I wish everyone would just go get the vaccine so we can be done with all this.

        • bluvg

          There was that recent MIT study that suggests distance doesn't make a difference indoors over a long period of time. Nonetheless, one of the authors themselves "emphatically denied that the study dismisses the importance of maintaining social distances and wearing masks," despite many saying the study dismisses the value of both distance and masks.


          “Our study highlights the fact that efficient mask use provides an extremely effective means of limiting indoor transmission of COVID-19, in that masks mitigate both short-range transmission from respiratory flows and long-range airborne transmission."

    • Truffles

      At least those seats look sufficiently uncomfortable to keep the meeting short.

  2. fishnet37222

    I'd jump at the first chance to work from the office, provided I didn't have to wear a mask or get stabbed by a needle. Unfortunately, I have no choice but to work from home since I live in central NJ and my employer is in Dayton, OH.

    • bluvg

      Please, I appeal to you: serve the country and people around you by getting the jab, so we can all get back to normal economically and socially. Israel is an example of it working. We won't get there if we have 30% holdout rates. :(

      • fishnet37222

        I avoid needles like the plague. I never get the flu shot. I will never get a tattoo. I have an extremely low pain tolerance.

        • bluvg

          I honestly did not even feel it (it's not a vein shot). I thought she was joking when she said it was done already. Arm was a bit sore for a couple days, though.

  3. bettyblue

    I personally do not like WFH. The lack of separation between work and personal life is not good.


    At the height of this mess people just figured my team was available all day since we were home which was the work place.

    • Paul Thurrott

      Different people have different needs and experiences. And for many, WFH is a godsend. I have a friend who had a horrific commute, and now he just works from home and will do so until he retires. He got back an extra 90 minutes to 2 hours EVERY DAY. That's huge.
      • LT1 Z51

        Yea, there work life balance thing is tough. I actually find I do work a little more. But the advantages are, no more 2 hours in the car every day. No more trying to leave the office by 3 pm to rush home to do yardwork, etc. No more getting up at 5 am to get to work before traffic.


        So while I work more, I never wake up until 7:30 am take my morning meetings in my PJs (we don't use video), do my yard work during downtime (free hour during the day, cut that grass!), stay up later (I now go to bed at Midnight instead of 10 pm), sleep better and generally not stress out about when meetings are and I NEVER worry (in the winter) about the roads, weather, are streets plowed, etc.


        I'd be totally happy with going in 1-2 days a week regularly and otherwise working from home. To me, 1 day a week is perfect with other trips as required (I'm in the office maybe 5 times a month right now to do in person work at our vehicle development track)

      • bettyblue

        I think it highly depends on your job as well. If you sit in a cube and do one thing then it probably does not matter. Programers fit into this mold in IT.


        If you work with lots of other groups and half or more of them are back in the office you will miss out on "hallway" stuff that could impact your career. I have seen it happen, and this was years before covid.

  4. bkkcanuck

    I would have thought more places to work would be a no-brainer. The move to centralize offices with tens of thousands in one office, where most do not work in close proximity is a point of failure in a pandemic and with the risk of future pandemics probably higher now... having many small satellite offices so that you are not putting all your eggs in one potentially contaminated bucket... seems like it is a better solution. It will of course take more office design and communications design (for tech companies) to ensure that even people working in offices or offices further away from each other can be in constant collaboration with each other (electronically connected 'whiteboards', cameras/quality mics, an more than one monitor so that the conferencing software does not impinge in workspace. They should be taking this opportunity to improve all collaboration tools so that people can work remotely from one another and still have the good collaboration. Their are many pieces of the puzzle that can use upgrading including collaboration and project management tools etc.


    The company I am contracting for right now (I was 12 timezones away from the office before) has closed down one tower in this city and merged facilities after polling the employees (80% do not want to return to the office - which I think is higher than average) so they are working on changing their working model with less office space and more remote work as well.

    • bluvg

      I sure hope other companies in BKK follow that trend. A friend of mine there works for a company that easily can do WFH, yet insists on the return to office, despite the recent outbreak. And sure enough, they had to send them all home again after one person tested positive, and after many interactions with coworkers. Many people in that office got sick as a result, and many people then got sick from those people. It's just so unnecessary!

    • bkkcanuck

      Obviously one area of issue (IMHO) is how do you integrate new employees into that model.

  5. red.radar

    I wonder how much of this is about google employees wanting out of high cost of living areas.


    • taswinfan

      That is a good question. If it were me, working for google today would have basically been a non starter along with any other job in any state on the west coast due to the crazy costs of living and mountains of regulations and taxes. Im from the west coast...but I wont be going back anytime that I can forsee.

  6. eeisner

    The hybrid model needs to be the future. Less cars on the road so less traffic and better for the environment, possibility for smaller offices with floating desks/cubes/offices, more flexibility for employees... Glad to see Google implementing this for now.

    • bluvg

      It's just so much better use of resources in general. If we had always worked from home and a pandemic forced us to go to the office, we'd be figuring out how to get back to WFH. We can still improve at WFH a lot as well... make it the default for applicable roles, and meet up when the advantage is significant enough to justify it.

      • bkkcanuck

        It is also better redundancy. During the SARS (1) outbreak in Toronto we were planning on how to keep the office running - so we had split locations - the office and temporary space in a couple locations for the duration. If they broke the one large office into regional nodes (away from the large city), there would be better HR redundancy... just have to work out how to make it all work with technology. (it also gives a better standard of living for people who prefer not to work in the city core).

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