Google Union Pushes Back on Three-Day Return-to-Office Mandate

Alphabet Workers Union issues statement seeking voice in policies

(Bloomberg) — Google employees are pushing back against the tech giant’s mandate that staffers spend at least three days a week in the office. 

“Overnight, workers’ professionalism has been disregarded in favor of ambiguous attendance tracking practices tied to our performance evaluations,” Chris Schmidt, a Google software engineer, said Thursday in a statement released by the Alphabet Workers Union, which represents some contract and direct employees at Google.

Alphabet Inc.’s Google sent an email to employees Wednesday saying the company expected most staffers to return to the office regularly.

“Not everyone believes in ‘magical hallway conversations,’ but there’s no question that working together in the same room makes a positive difference,” Chief People Officer Fiona Cicconi wrote in the email, which was reviewed by Bloomberg. Cicconi said many of the products unveiled in May at Google I/O, the tech company’s annual developer conference, and at its Google Marketing Live event were “conceived, developed and built by teams working side by side.”

Attendance will now be a factor in employees’ performance reviews, Cicconi said, and teams will start sending reminders to workers who are consistently absent from the office — barring special circumstances like the air-quality-control warning in Canada and the US East Coast this week. Moving forward, Google will consider new remote requests by exception only, she said.

The Alphabet Workers Union says it has 1,400-plus members. Google employed more than 190,000 people at year-end, along with contract staffers.

Google previously planned to bring employees back to the office three days a week in April of last year. In 2021, during the Covid-19 pandemic, the company had said that about 20% of employees would be able to work remotely full time. 

In January, Alphabet enacted the largest job cuts in its history, slashing more than 6% of its workforce, or about 12,000 staffers. The company has also worked to reduce its real estate footprint after announcing a plan to spend $7 billion on new offices and data centers in 2021. In its first-quarter earnings report in April, Alphabet said it spent $564 million related to office-space reductions.

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

Schmidt, the Google software engineer, said that a “one size fits all” return-to-office policy ignores workers’ life circumstances.

“We deserve a voice in shaping the policies that impact our lives to establish clear, transparent and fair working conditions for all of us,” Schmidt said.

(Updates with Google’s total employment fifth paragraph.)

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