Google’s offices were once known to outsiders as a whimsical, magical place filled with giant playground slides, 24-hour masseuses, a huge selection of free food, and free laundry service. Today, in Google’s new, cost-cutting era, some employees don’t even have their own desks.
CNBC’s Jennifer Elias received an internal document from Google’s “cloud” division, which explained, “Most Googlers now share a desk with another Googler.” continue to invest in the growth of cloud” and will result in some buildings being vacated. According to CNBC, the new policy applies to Google Cloud’s largest US locations in Kirkland, Washington; New York City; San Francisco; Seattle; and Sunnyvale, California.
Instead of the humorous image of Google employees sitting shoulder to shoulder and fighting for desk space, employees are expected to switch their desk usage from one day to the next. In the wake of the pandemic and work-from-home trend, Google wants employees to come into the office twice a week as part of a “hybrid work” policy. As such, they are expected to work with a deskmate and set the sharing rules. Google’s document says you could end up without a desk if you don’t stick to your schedule. In this case you need to work on an “overflow drop-in space”.
Team leaders are expected to “set norms with their teams around shared desks to ensure pairings of Googlers have conversations about how to decorate or not decorate the space, store personal items, and have cleanliness expectations.” Google also increased restrictions on conference room use.
Exactly how desk sharing will work with important desk items like a computer will probably take some getting used to. A bizarre line from the CNBC report reads: “[Google’s] The FAQ said that employees with computer workstations no longer have those workstations directly under their desks, but instead need to look up the location in a database or create a troubleshooting ticket using an internal-only thin client virtual desktop tool called “CloudTop” to which to change employees.
The report says Google employees internally criticized the company for stifling the announcement in “corpspeak.” Google dubbed the desk-sharing plan “Cloud Office Evolution” and said it would “combine the best of pre-pandemic collaboration with the flexibility” and “ultimately result in more efficient use of our space.” The teams will be organized into “neighborhoods” of 200 to 300 employees, with a “vice president or director” for each neighborhood who will be responsible for making sure everyone shares office resources fairly, according to the post on the company’s internal “Memegen” forum , “Not every cost-cutting measure needs to be garbled so that it sounds good to employees. A simple ‘We’re cutting office space to cut costs’ would make the leadership style more credible.”
Earlier this month, a Google spokesperson told SFGate that it was “terminating leases on a number of unoccupied spaces and will work to consolidate underutilized space going forward.” Google has been on a cost-cutting streak lately. Last month, 12,000 employees were laid off — the largest brain drain from a company previously immune to Big Tech’s layoffs. In the past seven months, Google has killed Google Stadia, the Pixel laptop division, Project Loon, and most recently a robot division called Everyday Robots. It halved Area 120, merged Waze with Google Maps and laid off 15 percent of the workforce at Alphabet healthcare company Verily and nearly 20 percent at Alphabet robotics company Intrinsic in another round of layoffs.
The cloud division accounts for a quarter of Google’s full-time employees, so it’s a big real estate user. The group, a distant third in the cloud provider market behind Amazon and Microsoft, has never turned a profit and most recently lost $480 million in its most recent quarter. A 2019 report by The Information claimed Google Cloud was facing a deadline to reach second place by 2023 or it would “risk losing funding.” That was a while ago, but now it’s 2023; Google Cloud is still in third place, and being specific to Google Cloud and not all Google sure sounds like a budget cut.