Google to reopen offices on July 6 and allow gradual return to work

Employees wanting to continue working from home will receive a $1,000 allowance to purchase office equipment

Sundar Pichai, Google’s chief executive, said the company encourages its employees to continue to work from home if they can. AFP
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Google will reopen its offices on July 6 for employees keen to return to the workplace, the company’s chief executive Sundar Pichai said, as tech companies eye staggered back-to-work strategies.

Depending on the “external conditions”, the Alphabet-owned firm is aiming for a gradual return of employees – starting with about 10 per cent office capacity before ramping it up to 30 per cent by September.

“Beginning July 6, assuming external conditions allow, we will start to open more buildings in more cities … this will give Googlers, who need to come back to the office, the opportunity to return on a limited, rotating basis,” Mr Pichai told employees in an internal email.

In all scenarios I expect us to need physical spaces to get people together, absolutely.

The company will approach the return to office mode with a “gradual, phased approach, taking both team and individual needs and preferences into account”, said Mr Pichai.

Google has a limited number of staff whose roles are needed back in the office this calendar year, he said, adding that returning to the workplace will be voluntary until the end of 2020 and the company still encourages its employees to continue to work from home if they can.

Google began shutting its offices in the first week of March to stem the spread of coronavirus. America has seen more than 30 million US jobs affected at least temporarily amid shutdowns due to the coronavirus pandemic, as US Federal Reserve chair Jerome Powell warns that a full economic recovery in the country may take until the end of 2021 and require the development of a coronavirus vaccine.

Google’s return to work strategy comes at a time when other tech giants are weighing various options to manage their physical offices during the coronavirus crisis. Facebook and Twitter have already told employees to work from home permanently, if they want to. Cupertino-based Apple, however, is bringing its staff back to stores in different phases after it shut down its retail operations amid the outbreak.

Google said it is open to employees working remotely that want to relocate, but Mr Pichai advised them to consult their managers and review guidelines around personal factors, such as tax filings and health coverage.

This trend could potentially affect the costly housing markets in California and New York, where most of the Google’s full-time employees in the US are based.

For those wanting to continue working from home, Mr Pichai said the company will be giving each employee an allowance of $1,000 (Dh3,670) to purchase necessary equipment and office furniture, such as standing desks and ergonomic chairs.

Workers wear hazmat suits during construction of a building at the Google campus in Mountain View, California, U.S., on Thursday, May 21, 2020. Tech companies announcing a full or partial move to more permanent remote work amid the Covid-19 pandemic is a trend that could drastically change Silicon Valley and the San Francisco Bay Area, which has for decades been the mecca for high-paying technology jobs. Photographer: David Paul Morris/Bloomberg

“We are also investing more in your work-from-home set-up to make sure you have what you need to be productive and comfortable," he said in the internal memo.

Google is currently investing heavily in its physical space expansions at various sites including San Jose, New York and at the company’s sprawling headquarters in Mountain View.

“Our campuses are designed to enable collaboration and community … in fact, some of our greatest innovations were the result of chance encounters in the office and it’s clear this is something many of us don’t want to lose,” Mr Pichai said.

He said the new emphasis on remote working will not impact those ongoing projects.

"In all scenarios I expect us to need physical spaces to get people together, absolutely," Mr Pichai told Wired, an American magazine, last week.

“We have a lot of growth planned ahead. So even if there is some course correction I don’t think our existing footprint is going to be the issue. I am positive we will put it to good use and I am anxious to see some of those projects get done.”