Google CEO email delays return to Sept 2021, no permanent remote work

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Google CEO Sundar Pichai speaks on stage during the annual Google I/O developers conference in Mountain View, California, May 8, 2018.

Stephen Lam | Reuters

Google is delaying employees’ return to offices to September 1, and will expect employees to report to work in-person for at least three days a week thereafter, according to an email from CEO Sundar Pichai.

The email, which was viewed by CNBC and previously reported by The New York Times, included a link to a FAQ that detailed further expectations for office returns, including that it expects workers to “live within commuting distance” of offices.

“When we closed most of our offices back in March, we didn’t know what course the pandemic would take,” Pichai said in the email to employees Sunday night. “We’ve adapted. We’ve kept innovating. And with new vaccines on the horizon, thanks to the incredible ingenuity of our medical and scientific community, a return to normal is now in sight.”

Pichai’s note represents a delay in office returns and Google’s most detailed plan yet on returning its workforce of more than 130,000-plus employees amid the ongoing pandemic. It wasn’t immediately clear how much of the new plans apply to Google’s contractors or Alphabet’s other companies.

Hybrid return plans

In July, Google became the first major company to announce it would allow employees the option to work from home through mid-2021, an extension of its prior timeline. In September, Google said it began working on a “hybrid” work model, as most employees said they wanted to come back to the office at some point, but not full-time.

Other competitive tech companies, such as Twitter and Facebook, have said employees can work remotely “forever” or over the next decade, allowing employees to move to other regions if they wanted to.

Google employees had hoped for similar flexibility. But the Dec. 14 memo suggests Google will have stricter requirements than these competitors.

Employees in regions that aren’t at high risk levels will be expected to spend a minimum of three days in the office and two days at home or wherever they work best, Pichai’s email states. They’ll also have the option to book spaces for collaboration for up to a dozen people and outdoor spaces for larger team gatherings. It will also have “reservable” desks for employees who want to work in a quiet space, Pichai’s note states. 

The pilot won’t apply to everyone. Pichai noted flexibility may not apply to employees in customer-facing roles “that spend lots of time with clients,” those who need to be on-site in data centers or labs, or those who depend on specialized equipment to work. 

Pichai’s email instructs employees to read the full FAQ, which is a lengthy website that has more details about the office returns. In it, the company says employees will need to return to their assigned office, adding that it believe teams work best when “anchored by shared projects,” according to a company Q&A viewed by CNBC.

“You will need to work from your assigned Google office and will be expected to live in commuting distance of your assigned offices,” the company’s answer went on. “We are actively investing in our hub strategy to create more roles — and options — in global offices over time.”

Pichai’s note says the company will be creating in-office presentation booths “designed to send professional-quality broadcasts to large, distributed audiences.” It will also be improving its Meet and Workspace products to “better bridge the gap between colleagues working from the office and those working from home.”

“In-office collaboration will be just as important to Google’s future as it’s been to our past,” Pichai stated in Sunday’s email. “The unpredictability still ahead for many regions creates some interesting challenges.”

Google did not respond immediately to requests for comment on Pichai’s memo.

Watch now: Coronavirus may forever change how Big Tech works



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