Google won't be fully remote, CEO says, as other firms tout permanent telecommuting

"I expect us to need physical spaces to get people together," Sundar Pichai says.

Richard Nieva Former senior reporter
Richard Nieva was a senior reporter for CNET News, focusing on Google and Yahoo. He previously worked for PandoDaily and Fortune Magazine, and his writing has appeared in The New York Times, on CNNMoney.com and on CJR.org.
Richard Nieva
2 min read

Google CEO Sundar Pichai discusses the company's remote-working approach. 

James Martin/CNET

Though Facebook and Twitter have announced big updates to policies that allow for remote working by their employees, Google isn't committing to any major changes to its workplace priorities. Instead, the search giant is taking a more measured approach, CEO Sundar Pichai told Wired in an interview published Friday. 

"How productive will we be when different teams who don't normally work together have to come together for brainstorming, the creative process?" Pichai said. "We are going to have research, surveys, learn from data, learn what works."

Pichai's comments come a day after Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said the social networking giant will allow some employees to work from home permanently. He said about half of Facebook's workforce could be remote over the next five to 10 years. Twitter made a similar announcement last week. CEO Jack Dorsey also extended the policy to his other company, mobile-payments firm Square, earlier this week. 

The discussion of remote-working policies underscores how the world's largest tech companies are reevaluating their approach to business after the novel coronavirus forced unprecedented office shutdowns across the globe. Pichai had previously said most employees will work remotely for the rest of 2020. Earlier this week, he said workers will likely come in on a rotating schedule, with offices operating at a 20% or 30% capacity by the end of the year.

Google is in the midst of big office expansions, including major additions to its already sprawling headquarters in Mountain View, California. The company is also investing in a large campus in San Jose, California, and a renovated building in New York City. Pichai said remote working won't impact those projects.

"In all scenarios I expect us to need physical spaces to get people together, absolutely. We have a lot of growth planned ahead," he said. "So even if there is some course correction, I don't think our existing footprint is going to be the issue."

Still, the coronavirus lockdown has taken a toll on the company more broadly. Google's normally muscular advertising operation slumped in the first quarter, though Google's well-oiled ad machine managed to beat revenue expectations. Still, the search giant reported that revenue dropped sharply in March as the coronavirus crisis began to take hold, and the company warned of a "difficult" second quarter for its ad business. Google has also slowed hiring for the rest of the year and reportedly slashed its own marketing budget by as much as half for the second part of 2020. 

"We are moderating our hiring plans but we are still bringing in people. That doesn't mean we aren't looking for efficiencies," Pichai told Wired when asked about potential cuts and layoffs. "We are looking at areas where we can course correct, where we can be more efficient, where we can streamline."