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Google's Crackdown

With Google's severe new return to office policy, will this mean the end of remote work as we know it?

June 9th, 2023

by Andy Didorosi

in Leadership & Management

Google dropped a bombshell of an email memo this week aggressively clarifying their remote work policy to now be in-person or hybrid for nearly all US-based Google workers.

Here’s a piece of that internal memo:

“We know that a number of people moved to fully remote work for many good reasons, as we all adjusted to the pandemic. For those who are remote and who live near a Google office, we hope you’ll consider switching to a hybrid work schedule. Our offices are where you’ll be most connected to Google’s community. Going forward, we’ll consider new remote work requests by exception only.”

- Google

Google explains they’ll also be using tracking information like badge swipes at the office to make sure staffers are adhering to their hybrid work policies instead of staying at home despite the new rules. Google also clarified that office attendance numbers will be used in regular performance reviews.

This also applies to already-approved fully remote workers who “may be subject to reevaluation” if there are “material changes in business need, role, team, structure, or location.”

This isn’t the first time Google has pushed hard on return to office. In 2021, Google tried to mandate a mass return to office and received major backlash in the process which resulted in Google temporarily backing off their new policies. Google has also tried the “carrot method” with a private Lizzo concert, hiring marching bands, and having city mayors come down to celebrate the supposed return of workers.

So why is Google taking such a reputation risk attempting to force workers back to campus?

Survival. Ish.

Google’s leaders believe that in-person and hybrid teams out-compete remote teams when working on complex technology projects like AI. They’re calling this an “all hands on deck” moment as they fight existential threats from Microsoft and OpenAI that could harm Google’s main cash cow: paid search ads.

There is no clear scientific answer if Google is right or wrong here, but anecdotal evidence shows they’re making a big risky leap for little reward. Titans like Shopify and Gitlab have been fully remote for years and are both leaders in their sector. All remote works as long as a company’s culture supports it.

The real truth is Google is a monster of a massive company with many layers of middle management that are often poorly coordinated when it comes to doing big projects. Google could do well to fix this primary issue - a lack of alignment and vision around a common goal - instead of worrying about which desk their workers use each day.


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