back to article WFH? Google Cloud's offices like a 'ghost town' before new policy

Google’s CEO described the office environment for its cloud staff in the US as a “ghost town” to explain why he is backing a desk-sharing pilot scheme for staff at five locations across the country. At a town hall meeting last week, the audio for which was shared with CNBC, only around 30 percent of staff were coming into …

  1. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Shared work spaces work if...

    ... the other person realizes it's your space.

    1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

      Re: Shared work spaces work if...

      And if you don't need anything on the desk to do the work

      1. Jason Hindle

        Re: Shared work spaces work if...

        Laptop, favourite keyboard, Slave One (my MX Master), paper notebook, pens, automatic pencil; job done. They can go with me. Oh, and I expect to land at a spotless desk with a good enough monitor and docking station. Otherwise, you can change my name by deed poll to Mr. Furious. Decent pub, nearby, is filed under nice to have.

        1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

          Re: Shared work spaces work if...

          So you need to have enough stuff online that you can work from any desk with just your laptop + wifi

          But somehow you can't do this from anywhere but one of the desks in the building

          1. doublelayer Silver badge

            Re: Shared work spaces work if...

            No, from what they've said, so many people are going to work from home that they're no longer going to have so much office space. They appear to be changing things to better handle the people who will stay working outside the office rather than changing the people to have the work done in the office as some other companies have done. Unfortunately for the people who liked the office, those changes are likely to make the office a worse experience for them.

    2. Sampler

      Re: Shared work spaces work if...

      I don't get it though, why share two to a desk, not just hot desk the lot, pretty much everyone's portable these days and if you're not in the office all that much you don't need a dedicated space, just book a desk the day/week/month before you know you have to be in for whatever reason, works for my partner where she goes in maybe once a week.

      Then instead of halving the numbers of desks, you can go to a third, quarter, etc..

      1. Roland6 Silver badge

        Re: Shared work spaces work if...

        I don’t get the logic of not hot-desking the lot.

        Okay divide it into areas, so that teams have a base, and have a simple reservation system. But beyond that the requirement is to facilitate team interaction i.e. do some task that is more easily done face-to-face, like brainstorming, finessing proposals/presentations etc.

        From memory, the office probably got more noisy - because the focus was on interaction, however, this was mitigated by having a quiet floor of individual hotdesks and project rooms. The laugh is that many of the big consultancy companies probably had this all worked out 20+ years back…

  2. Adrian 4

    "Pichai said coming into the office once or twice a week was not efficient. “We should be good stewards of financial resources.” He added: “We have expensive real estate. And if they’re only utilized 30 percent of the time, we have to be careful in how we think about it.”

    Having unnecessary facilities is not a reason to force a certain work pattern. It's a reason to close some facilities.

    Yes, they are apparently doing just that, but Pichai seems not to have read the memo.

    1. AdamWill


      This is such *bizarre* logic. "We paid for an expensive office, therefore we must require people to come and work in it even if they don't need to, so it looks like we didn't waste the money". That's the kind of thinking we're paying these galaxy brain CxOs for? Yikes.

      I mean, there's a plausible argument to be made that, for some jobs in some companies, working in the same physical location as other folks doing related jobs improves results, therefore it's reasonable to have a policy that results in employees doing that. Sure. There are counter-arguments to that, things may vary across companies and departments and job functions etc etc, but fundamentally, that's at least a supportable argument. But the quoted argument is...not that, it's just nonsense. If you believe you get better work out of people working in offices, say that. If you don't think you need people to come to the office in order to get good work done, don't require them to come in just so you don't feel like you wasted money on the office! Just reduce it in size instead. Good grief.

      1. Jay 2

        Re: right

        During Covid my employers decided to take advantage of moving to a smaller office as to not pay as much rent/facilities/etc. They were also quite happy with how things were going with all the WFH. Then when it was time to come back everyone in IT got thrown under the bus saying it was hot desk only (which funnily enough isn't very appealing to many people). Also some other departments insisted that their staff had permanent desks... to which they hardly ever used. And so the result was an office that could be pretty empty to which the head of the company was usually heard complaining, along the lines of "we're paying for all this, so why aren't people using it". Things are a bit busier now Tue/Wed/Thur but Mon and especially Fri can be pretty barren.

        1. Tom 38

          Re: right

          My old company just gave up on Fridays, its a mandatory WFH day so they can turn the heating off on Thursday evening and cut cleaning costs by 20%.

        2. Roland6 Silver badge

          Re: right

          Curbed the desk empires back in the early 1990s by making the costs of the office space part of the individual department budget.

          The MD got a lot of respect when he also did away with managers offices and made the exec floor open plan.

    2. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

      As I read it - and I've just gone back and read it over again - he seems to be doing exactly what you said he should do, not what you are saing he is doing. Much desk space is underused so they're getting rid of it and those who do come into the office on different days are going to have to share desks and they're getting rid of the surplus real estate.

  3. TeeCee Gold badge

    You cannot eat your cake and have it.

    You want to "work from home"? Hot desking when you do go into the office comes free with that.

    No organisation in its right mind is going to maintain a separate desk for every person just so they can occupy offices and gather dust.

    1. Sykowasp

      Re: You cannot eat your cake and have it.

      Exactly. And it has benefits - you might get a better desk location some days, or decide to use the perch desks overlooking the river, or sit elsewhere for collaboration reasons. Also the desks are clean, in theory, and you get a locker.

      The opposite is also true - force hot desking onto your employees and expect them to WfH more often.

      The main issue is people don't come in evenly over the week. Tuesdays and Thursdays are particularly bad, Wednesday somewhat - TWaT culture. Nobody wants to come in on Mondays or Fridays anymore. If they can fix that somewhat, then we might be getting somewhere that allows office downsizing whilst retaining utilisation.

      1. EarthDog

        Re: You cannot eat your cake and have it.

        with fewer people fewer meetings, more exclusive use of conference rooms.

        1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

          Re: You cannot eat your cake and have it.

          But I do miss the scavenging opportunities that came with having a desk next to a conference room frequently used for lunch meetings between people who all seemed to have decided lunch was for wimps. The stack of untouched Cointreau crèmes brûlées is a particularly glowing memory.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: You cannot eat your cake and have it.

        The TWaTs are missing a trick.

        Some Mondays are bank holidays, so you miss your in the office day with a day off and on Fridays, people leave early and or go to the pub for lunch.

        The MaFs are much more sensible.

    2. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

      Re: You cannot eat your cake and have it.

      >You want to "work from home"? Hot desking when you do go into the office comes free with that.

      No they are really "thinking outside the box" - 3 days/week you need to work from somebody else's home

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    “We have expensive real estate. And if they’re only utilized 30 percent of the time, we have to be careful in how we think about it.”

    A traditional 8 hours a day, 5 days a week butts in the office chair schedule would see the expensive real estate used something like 24% of the time (assuming my math is correct).

  5. IGotOut Silver badge

    I'm confused...

    The place is like a ghost town, so come in and share a desk.

    That makes fuck all sense.

    1. doublelayer Silver badge

      Re: I'm confused...

      It's mostly empty, so let's sell off half of it and pack people into the other half. Now, even if the same people come in, it will look less empty. What happens when two people come in who are assigned to use the same desk, I don't know, but I'm guessing that whoever came in second finds someone else's desk where neither came in and has to use that one.

      It's likely to put off those who used to like coming in, because they can no longer leave things on their desks. Those who wanted WFH and wouldn't hear a word against it meanwhile won't come in anyway because they hate the idea. So probably this will just reduce the occupancy anyway.

      1. FrogsAndChips Silver badge

        Re: I'm confused...

        Sharing a desk for 2 makes no sense, what they need is a desk reservation system. We have that at work and it's fairly convenient. You just need to be aware of which days are busier and book in advance accordingly: Mon and Fri you can turn up without a reservation, Tue-Thu you'd better book at least 2 weeks before and you can try to reserve the same desk if you're particularly attached to one.

        1. spuck

          Re: I'm confused...

          The danger now becomes Ted reserving his favorite desk for 4 weeks solid just in case he decides to come in to the office a few days that month, which means it's not available for anyone else.

          I worked at a company where the "good" conference room was routinely booked by the marketing department for 3-4 hour standing meetings but rarely actually used. It was a power play to make sure us lowly engineers knew our place and that marketing had to have "their" room available at a moment's notice.

    2. ecofeco Silver badge

      Re: I'm confused...

      Not make sense? Welcome to the world of big business and PHBs!

      Where moral hazard is the ONLY game in town.

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    This Made Me Laugh

    Article :

    "As such Google is laying off 12,000 staff, although at least one activist investor would like to see a total of 30,000 staff made redundant and pay rates at the company to be clipped."

    The activist investor is all heart.

    Is it Rees-Mogg ?

    1. Joe W Silver badge

      Re: This Made Me Laugh

      "activist" basically want act and no plan, I guess?

    2. TheMeerkat

      Re: This Made Me Laugh

      > Is it Rees-Mogg

      Left as always proves that they are driven by pure hatred. Why did you have to bring this here?

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: This Made Me Laugh


      2. Citizen of Nowhere

        Re: This Made Me Laugh

        >Left as always proves that they are driven by pure hatred

        Snowflakey hyperbole much?

  7. LemonTree3

    Carbon neutral since 2007

    If you look at the bottom of the web page it shows hardly anything but at the very bottom it proudly says "Carbon neutral since 2007". Having Employees Drive to and from work, and the cost of heating/cooling these offices is the reverse of this kind of a policy. We need cleaner air and water. This is not the way Google!

  8. TaabuTheCat


    If those coming in are complaining it's a "ghost town", here's a thought for you. Try practice-sharing one of the many empty desks with another one of the complainers. and do it right next to another pair of desk-sharing complainers, ad nauseam, until none of you have a single moment of peace. It will be good practice for what's coming.

  9. Donuts

    Wheres my bean bag?

    What happened to the bean bags, table tennis tables and bottomless soda for crying out loud!

    1. diodesign (Written by Reg staff) Silver badge

      Re: Wheres my bean bag?

      Last time I visited a Google office, it had way more than that. There was an on-site movie and gaming theater, a doctor's office, hairdresser, indoor Zen garden, a tea sommelier, rooms of designer furniture to chill out in, a speakeasy within a speakeasy, the works. Perks are a big thing.

      Heck, even El Reg's SF WeWork space had bean bags, table tennis, and bottomless soda and beer that we and a bunch of Aussies in the same building rinsed out until WW gave up and took away the booze.

      (PS: The El Reg London WeWork space had sparkling wine on tap as well as beer. Those were the days.)


  10. Martin-73 Silver badge

    Please sir, what town

    What the heck is a 'town hall meeting'. You do REALIZE this is a British publication right?

    1. doublelayer Silver badge

      Re: Please sir, what town

      So you're now blaming The Register for the name an American businessperson chose to put on their meeting which was covered in the article? The complaints by a few UK people are getting kind of crazy given that, in this case, they're using a name they didn't choose. Maybe we should split the paper into something that covers tech news no matter where it happens and one that only copies things about the UK so nothing foreign appears in their articles. I'll still be reading the former.

      In case you're asking because you don't understand the term and not just to complain about the use of a term you don't use, it doesn't really mean anything useful here. As I understand the original meaning, it was supposed to mean that a relatively small group of people would meet so that everyone could ask unscripted questions, but then businesses started using it. Whenever a business starts using a term, it starts meaning nothing. The same way that a "stand-up meeting" changed from a meeting so short you should be able to do it standing in a hallway to the name they put on another meeting because nobody really knows but that's the word, "town hall" no longer necessarily implies anything and can be interpreted as "lecture with all format decisions made by the lecturer".

      1. Martin-73 Silver badge

        Re: Please sir, what town

        HERE is the UK... and nobody uses that term, are you short of thinking, the register is UK... borging by colonials notwithstanding... 'merkin' will ALWAYS be a pubic wig, and nobody who does any work ever attends meetings btw

    2. Azium

      Re: Please sir, what town

      Err, I think you mean REALISE.

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Please sir, what town

      not any more

  11. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Several problems...

    “We have expensive real estate. And if they’re only utilized 30 percent of the time, we have to be careful in how we think about it.”

    1. You have expensive real estate

    Oh, just the one problem really. No thinking needed, really

    1. Roland6 Silver badge

      Re: Several problems...

      Google’s management wanted expensive real estate…

      I see there is still no start date on the construction of Google’s £1bn (2013 money) London HQ at St.Pancras that was due to be completed by 2016.

      Aside. Looking at the price of office space at St.Pancras, I can see why people are getting worried; that’s a lot of money going out each month… Working from home, with no change to employee salaries, the company is still quids in.

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