Google's push to bring employees back to offices in September is frustrating some employees who say they'll quit if they can't be remote forever

  • Google employees are expected to return to offices in September.
  • Some employees aren’t happy about the idea. Others want details on the new hybrid plans.
  • One employee told Insider they had quit because Google wasn’t permitting a fully remote policy.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Google was one of the first big companies to move its workforce out of the office in the early days of the pandemic, but now it’s calling employees back. Some of them say they don’t intend to return.

While tech firms like Microsoft and Twitter have announced they will allow employees to work from home permanently, Google has resisted going fully remote, and employees say there’s an increasing sense of frustration among a faction of the workforce.

That frustration spilled onto social media last week: “Spoken to quite a few colleagues at Google that say they’ll quit if forced to go back to the office in September,” Google Cloud programmer Chris Broadfoot tweeted on Thursday. Several other employees joined the thread to co-sign the message, some saying they may look for another job if Google makes them go back to the office.

A half-dozen current Google employees who spoke to Insider shared a similar sentiment or said they knew colleagues who had made permanent moves during the pandemic. They asked to remain anonymous because they were not authorized to speak to the press.

“A lot of my colleagues have moved away with no real intention of coming back,” one of those employees said. “Especially in that 30s/40s-age bracket. I would say that’s predominantly where it is.”

That same employee told Insider they had handed in their notice after their request to work in a location outside of the Bay Area was shot down by their manager.

Another current employee said that at least two VPs in their group had made permanent moves during the pandemic, and they expected they would not return to the office if it became required.

Google has told employees they are expected back in offices by September 2021, but the company said last December that it will pilot a new flexible arrangement where employees are expected to work from the office three days a week. 

Since then, Google has offered few specifics of the new arrangement, and employees are pressing leadership for answers. Google has never said it would offer fully remote work for anyone who wants it, but as the deadline to return to offices has been pushed back, some employees have relocated anyway, gambling that Google will eventually follow other companies that are allowing employees to work from home permanently. Facebook announced last year that it would begin allowing employees to request to remotely full time.

“There are employees leaving already because they don’t want to wait around until September. They want to get on with their lives,” one employee said.

A Google spokesperson said the company will experiment with a series of pilots around remote work, but said nothing had changed in terms of the existing policy.

Google wants to be flexible. Employees want to know how flexible.

To be sure, plenty of Google employees do want to return to offices, if the company’s own polling is to be believed. In an internal survey conducted last year, 62% of Googlers said they wanted to return to the office, although just 8% said they would want to do so full time.

Over the past few months, CEO Sundar Pichai has made other hints that Google is considering a flexible setup when employees return. Since then, questions about remote work have been continually put to leadership, according to employees and internal materials viewed by Insider.

“Almost every TGIF [Thank God Its Friday] or area all hands, the question gets asked,” one employee said.

In one all-hands held last October, which was viewed by Insider, Pichai said he saw the majority of Googlers’ roles still tied to an office, but said the company planned to expand the number of “hub” offices in order to give employees more flexibility.

“And beyond that, we are also thinking, what does hybrid-flexible work mean in that context?” he added.

Since then, employees have pressed leadership to elaborate on just how flexible Google is willing to be and whether the three-day office rule will be applied evenly across the company, but say they’re not getting answers.

“Because there’s like no clear guidance and like more hand-wavy communication, we’re all sort of guessing what to do,” said one current employee.

Google, with its open office culture filled with perks like snacks and nap pods, has plenty of reasons to cling onto in-person work. One employee pointed out that splitting teams between office and remote work could create awkward dynamics. Google has also continued to invest in physical workspaces during the pandemic, expanding its Mountain View, California, headquarters, with plans for a new campus in San Jose.

On the company’s Q1 earnings call this week, Chief Financial Officer Ruth Porat said that Alphabet intends to spend $7 billion in offices and data centers in 2021.  “We do value bringing people together in the office,” she told one analyst on the call. “And we’re looking at a hybrid work-from-home/work-from-office model.”

But as they wait for answers on what that will look like, some employees have taken the plunge and moved away from their offices, while some others don’t see the need to go into the office even three days a week.

“I have no intentions of going back to Seattle every day so I can scurry from tiny room to tiny room on GVC calls,” tweeted Justin Beckworth, a Google engineering manager. “Right now I’m managing people in 8 cities spread across 5 time zones. What possible reason do I have to be in an office?”

But forcing employees back could also mean losing talent to employers with more flexible arrangements. Three Google employees told Insider that they noticed an increase in messages from recruiters at other companies emphasizing their remote work policies.

“I think they will have a talent drain if they do force everyone back in September,” one of those employees said. 

“If I don’t have a way to work remote at Google by next spring, I’m going to look elsewhere for fully remote options,” said another who was keen to move their family.

For now, Google is letting employees return voluntarily where offices have been reopened, although employees must first pass a health survey and agree to follow new health guidelines. For those who don’t want to yet return, it’s a waiting game.

“It’s dividing a large faction of the workforce,” said one employee. “There are people lining up on the return office side and people lining up on the remote side. And there is contention internally from leadership not committing to a plan and going with it. People don’t know what September will look like.”

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