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WFH? Google Cloud's offices like a 'ghost town' before new policy

Desk-sharing scheme adds more bums on seats, claims CEO

Google’s CEO described the office environment for its cloud staff in the US as a “ghost town” to explain why he is backing a desk-sharing pilot scheme for staff at five locations across the country.

At a town hall meeting last week, the audio for which was shared with CNBC, only around 30 percent of staff were coming into office once or twice a week and Sundar Pichai called out an inefficient use of funds amid expense scrutiny.

“To me it’s obvious that they are trying to be efficient and save money but at the same time also utilize resources,” the Google chief said. “There are people, by the way, who routinely complain that they come in and there are big swaths of empty desks and it feels like it’s a ghost town - it’s just not a nice experience.”

Last month, Google told its Cloud employees, which comprise around a third of the workforce, that under the Cloud Office Evolution (COE) program “most” of them will be required to “share a desk with one other Googler.”

“Through the matching process, they will agree on a basic desk setup and establish norms with the desk partner and team to ensure a positive experience in the new shared environment,” Google told workers in the Cloud division.

As we pointed out at the time, this is a world away from the perks that employees act Google are often lavished with, including a fee on-site gym, free meals and free massage therapies.

Just as many cloud customers now want to 'optimize' their spend, Google is tightening its belt following a slowdown in financial growth, and a realization that the recruitment policies deemed fit for purpose during the early years of the pandemic no longer match economic reality.

As such Google is laying off 12,000 staff, although at least one activist investor would like to see a total of 30,000 staff made redundant and pay rates at the company to be clipped.

Google CFO Ruth Porat said in its earnings call last month to discuss calendar Q4 financials that she expects Google to incur costs of $500 million this year related to “exiting leases to align our office space with out adjusted global headcount… We will continue to optimize our real estate footprint.”

Pichai said coming into the office once or twice a week was not efficient. “We should be good stewards of financial resources.” He added: “We have expensive real estate. And if they’re only utilized 30 percent of the time, we have to be careful in how we think about it.”

Anas Osman, strategy and operations veep for Google Cloud, said staff were given the option to have their own desk or share a space. “Those one-to-one desktops actually were utilized roughly 35 percent of the time at four days or more.”

“We think this is a good balance of how to both find efficiencies and create a better experience,” said Osman, who added that Googlers operating under COE “reported significantly better collaboration when they had assigned days in the office even if that was in a rotational model and a shared desk.”

COE is only for Google Cloud employees at five locations in the US, at least for now.

Amazon recently called its 300,000 corporate staff back to the office for three days a week, saying it was “easier to learn, model, practice and strengthen our culture” when together. Amazon staff aren’t so sure and staged something of a mini revolt in the form of a petition for the disgruntled to sign. ®

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