Google to keep employees home until summer 2021 amid coronavirus pandemic

Move will affect nearly all 200,000 full-time and contract employees across Alphabet Inc.

SAN FRANCISCO — Google will keep its employees home until at least next July, people familiar with the matter said, making the search-engine giant the first major U.S. corporation to formalize such an extended timetable in the face of the coronavirus pandemic.

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The move will affect nearly all of the roughly 200,000 full-time and contract employees across Google parent Alphabet Inc., and is sure to pressure other technology giants that have slated staff to return as soon as January.

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Alphabet Chief Executive Sundar Pichai made the decision himself last week after debate among Google Leads, an internal group of top executives that he chairs, according to a person familiar with the matter. A small number of Google staffers were notified later in the week, the people familiar said. Mr. Pichai was swayed in part by sympathy for employees with families to plan for uncertain school years that may involve at-home instruction, depending on geography.

The new date plants Google firmly in the cautious camp of companies debating the efficacy and wisdom of remote work as coronavirus cases surge and employers try to balance workers’ safety with efforts to reopen the economy. Some multinational firms are eager to bring employees back and return to normalcy.

In this Wednesday, Jan. 4, 2017, file photo, Google CEO Sundar Pichai speaks during a news conference on Google's collaboration with small-scale local businesses in New Delhi. (AP Photo/Tsering Topgyal, File)

Google could announce the extended timeline internally as soon as Monday. It applies to company employees in most of its major offices, including the headquarters of Mountain View, Calif., and other offices in the U.S., U.K., India, Brazil and elsewhere.

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Until now, Google had told its employees to expect a return to the office beginning in January.

Silicon Valley technology companies were early to send workers home in March, and they have steadily pushed back the time frame. Google’s move, however, takes it beyond many peers. Microsoft Corp., for one, has told staff in cities like New York that they may return to the office as soon as this fall. Salesforce.com Inc.’s remote work order expires at the end of the year. Apple Inc. opened, and then closed, some of its retail stores.

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Facebook Inc. founder Mark Zuckerberg has said he expects half of the social network’s employees to work from home in the next decade.

The uncertainty has upended the housing market in the San Francisco Bay Area and elsewhere, as employees consider alternative living arrangements outside the expensive metropolitan areas where major employers are often based.

Mr. Pichai himself has been personally fascinated by the pandemic, according to people who have spoken with him. He began reading research papers on the virus in January, before it was headline news, and spearheaded the initial March decision to close company offices.

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Google has partially opened some smaller offices in countries relatively unaffected by the pandemic, such as Australia, Greece and Thailand.