Sundar Pichai, the CEO of Alphabet, Google’s parent company, said that he plans to be “flexible” with his workers and offer a hybrid model that will include a blend of both remote and in-office methods of working.
Over the duration of the outbreak, the conversation veered toward a future of working from home, remotely or anywhere. As we’re getting closer to the beginning of the end of the pandemic, the odds are increasing that many corporations may ultimately follow Pichai’s blended program. While there is much talk and conjecture about remote work, we should follow the money, as that’s more likely to reflect what will actually happen. This is exemplified by the actions of Google, Facebook and Amazon.
The Wall Street Journal reported Tuesday that Amazon is embarking on a massive $2.5 billion mixed-use office and retail complex in Northern Virginia, which could house about 25,000 employees. The second headquarters, after Seattle, will include three 22-story office and retail buildings. An outdoors theme will include woodlands, an amphitheater, walking paths, extensive bike parking and a dog run.
To hedge its bets, Amazon is anticipating that there will be people who want to come into the office on an occasional basis. Designs are being made to accommodate space where workers can collaborate with each other. Inside the office, there will be greenery and amenities, such as an artist residency program.
Previously, Alphabet proposed constructing a large company-town project in Mountain View, California. The tech behemoth will build a combination of houses, retail stores, parks and recreations and a corporate campus spanning 40 acres.
Google’s future is taking a page from the past. During the late 1800s, America experienced an economic boom. Company-owned towns flourished, fueled by corporations seeking workers to extract natural resources, such as gold, coal and lumber. The Gold Rush brought in thousands of “forty-niners” from across the country, which led to the growth of San Francisco.
Google’s vision, called the “Middlefield Park Master Plan,” is an updated version of the company town and offers roughly 1.33 million square feet of office space, along with residential housing, open-air recreational space, commercial buildings, retail shopping and a host of other amenities. The search-engine company will hold ownership of the campus.
The cost of living in San Francisco and surrounding areas have become prohibitively expensive for many people who work there. With the recent civil unrest and loosening of some laws, residents of San Francisco, similar to other large cities, have complained of the proliferation of out-in-the-open drug usage, homeless people (in need of medical attention), an increase in crime and the deterioration of sanitary conditions.
Young people, in particular, have been priced out of the rental market in San Francisco and other cities. This has forced them to move further away, which results in extremely long round-trip commutes. Having a clean, bright mini city within the overall corporate campus seems like a perfect solution. Google can offer nice, affordable accommodations, along with recreational parks, retail stores and other perks with a walk-to-work commute.
In another move that challenges the current trend of companies embracing employees working from home, social-media giant Facebook purchased the beautiful, new and unused 400,000 square foot corporate campus headquarters from outdoor lifestyle retailer Recreational Equipment Inc (REI) near Seattle.
The spectacular complex offers a design and functionality incorporating the environment and nature with an office space consistent with its outdoor lifestyle brand. It has outdoor staircases, a bridge, courtyard and skylights for workers to see the wide-open sky.
The REI campus was never occupied, as the company pivoted to a remote-work setup. The company planned to sell the building in its entirety or keep some office space and rent out the rest.
Amazon also announced in mid-August that it is leasing corporate space for 3,500 new hires in six major cities. Facebook leased over 2.2 million square feet of New York City office space that could house thousands of employees. There’s now an emerging technology hub in Manhattan, which includes Apple, Google and a number of promising startups.
The move by these Big Tech companies is a smart hedge. The disease could continue reemerging or employees, even if Covid-19 is contained, may have strong feelings against returning to an office five days a week. They’ll be worried about contracting the virus during the round-trip bus and train commutes or while at work. Potential massive legal liabilities will force management to allow people who are either at risk or overly anxious to remain at home.
There are valid reasons for getting out of the house and going into the office. Serious concerns were raised by parents about how difficult it is to maintain their jobs, while desperately trying to juggle child care and homeschooling via glitchy Zoom videos. Some people, who’ve become frustrated being stuck at home for nearly a year, look forward to getting out of the house and starting to socialize again with colleagues. Executives, such as JPMorgan CEO Jamie Dimon, openly questioned the productivity of people working from home.
Amazon, Facebook and Google’s big investments in corporate real estate show that they are serious about having their employees return to an office setting. It might not be five days a week or the traditional 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. schedules, but the enormity of the complexes being built and purchased reflects a big financial bet on at least a sizable percentage of people returning back to an office setting.