Google to crack down on hybrid work, asks remote workers to reconsider

Sundar Pichai, CEO of Alphabet, speaks during an event in New Delhi, December 19, 2022.

Sajjad Hussain | AFP | Getty Images

Google is planning to crack down on employees who haven̵[ads1]7;t come into their offices consistently, CNBC has found.

The company updated its hybrid work policy on Wednesday, and it includes tracking attendance on office badges, confronting workers who don’t come in on time and including attendance in employee performance reviews, according to internal memos seen by CNBC. Most employees are expected to be in physical offices at least three days a week.

Google CEO Fiona Cicconi wrote an email to employees at the end of the day on Wednesday, which included a doubling of office attendance, reasoning that “there’s just no substitute for getting together in person.”

“Of course, not everyone believes in ‘magic hallway conversations,’ but there is no doubt that working together in the same room makes a positive difference,” Cicconi’s email said. “Many of the products we unveiled at I/O and Google Marketing Live last month were conceived, developed and built by teams working side by side.”

Her memo said the company will begin including their three days a week as part of their performance reviews and teams will begin sending reminders to workers “who are consistently absent from the office.”

Cicconi even asked teleworkers already approved to reconsider. “For those who are remote and 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 the Google community.”

A separate internal document showed that already approved telecommuters may be subject to re-evaluation if the company determines “material changes in business needs, role, team, structure or location”.

In the U.S., the company will periodically track employee attendance at the office using badge data, and managers are currently reviewing local requirements to be implemented in other countries, one of the documents said. If the workers do not follow the guidelines after a longer period, HR will contact them about “next steps”.

Going forward, Cicconi said, new completely remote work will only be provided “exceptionally.”

In a statement to CNBC, Google spokesperson Ryan Lamont said “our hybrid approach is designed to incorporate the best of being together in person with the benefits of working from home part of the week. Now that we’re more than a year into this way of work at, we formally integrate this approach into all of our workplace policies.”

Lamont added that the brand data seen by business leaders is aggregated data and not individualized.

These policy updates represent the company’s most rigorous effort to bring employees back to brick-and-mortar offices.

In 2021, after facing backlash for returning to offices, the company relaxed telecommuting plans and said it expected to allow 20% of employees to telecommute. However, most employees have been expected in physical offices at least three days a week from April 2022, at which time the company tried to woo workers by holding a private Lizzo concert, hiring marching bands and bringing in city mayors to celebrate the return.

In April, CNBC reported that Google dropped its Covid vaccine requirement to enter buildings.

The crackdown comes as the company is in the middle of an AI arms race in which the company has at times called all hands on deck to quickly position itself against rivals such as Microsoft and its backer ChatGPT, whose success has grown in recent months. The company has also made several attempts in recent weeks to crack down on leaks coming from the company.

However, the move also comes as the company reduces its real estate footprint amid wider cost-cutting. In April, CNBC first reported that the company’s cloud unit told employees in March that it will move to a desktop sharing workspace at its five largest locations. CNBC also reported that the company has indefinitely halted construction on its massive campus in San Jose.

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