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Google is saving $1B per year as a result of employees working from home (latimes.com)
514 points by pseudolus 14 days ago | hide | past | favorite | 329 comments



Google is saving $1 billion per year because of COVID-19, not because employees are working from home. This is literally mentioned in the article, but the headline is twisted (for clicks no doubt):

> During the first quarter, Google parent Alphabet Inc. saved $268 million in expenses from company promotions, travel and entertainment, compared with the same period a year earlier, “primarily as a result of COVID-19,” according to a company filing.

Even if they hypothetically continue the WFH setting for all employees indefinitely, other costs will still creep back up once the world starts getting back to normal. They will still hold conferences (and send employees to conferences). Team events and corporate retreats will still happen. Launches won't be digital-only. Advertising will pick back up. None of this is related to whether employees are at their desks in the office or not.


Like one expense they saved on is sending out recruiters and engineers to likely thousands of career fairs, recruiting sessions, etc. Nobody would reasonably argue that skipping all of them is a sustainable strategy long term even if it hasn't hurt them much so far.

Oh, it is causing pain already. Recently I pitched to a friend fixing a component as a great project for a very junior engineer. Only to find out that neither his nor my team has any sufficiently junior engineers on hand. So the oceans will keep getting ever so slightly boiled until we hire some, or one of the too senior engineers runs out of more important things to do. Sure it won't bring Google down right away, but having cruft like that accumulate kills efficiency in the long run. And Google thrives in cutting those epsilons.

Google cuts epsilon’s in engineering cost that operate on efficiencies of 10s of thousands engineers or engineering components that underpin multiple high-value products. They have entire teams of very senior engineers dedicated to this problem. Conversely, a smaller project wouldn’t demand this kind of attention because solutions don’t scale well and so are managed as local costs at the most local level possible.

What kind of scale project are you and your friend working for and which component is the problem in?

Note that I’m not disagreeing with the consequences being that there are ever growing tech debt that will live on forever and you just try to manage that and fit that into “fixit week” or “20% time”. That’s kind of the discount for why they still pay the crazy salaries for all work, not just in the teams closest to the revenue generation.


We're SREs working on the rollout system used for vast majority of internal software. The component in quesiton collected enough tech debt to start showing "unfixable" defects, but still not enough to justify anything more than "make it retry harder". Any year now it will become worthwile to quantify the actual impact.

Sounds like a Sisyphyian effort to have the software retry harder (harder meaning in a different, more effortful way, rather than increment the retry loop counter).

With the amount of resumes they get, I'd question how important it is for tier 1 companies. I have gone to career fairs and learned a great deal about companies I had never heard of, but it seems as though Google would just receive thousands of applications per opening and approach it algorithmically anyways. Although I've had contacts get poached via LinkedIn or given challenges from Googling certain tech topics.

Google is one of the most sought after companies, but this is due to them actively advertising Google as a great place to work. Actually talking to someone who works at Google makes it more real and attainable in candidates minds and reinforces Google as a desirable place to work

If Google were to stop attending, they risk newer generations of engineers shifting their perspective on Google, especially these days when most portrayals of Google in the media are negative.

The point of Google attending these events isn't for recruiting. It's to advertise their brand to job seekers. Seeing a bunch of candidates flocking to the Google recruiters triggers FOMO is candidates who might not have been as enthusiastic


Sounds about right. The OP sounds like "Why does coke advertise their product so much when they are the most well known product in existence"

Because that status will decline without advertising.


I always thought about this, but not about Coca-Cola, since people actually need to want to buy it to acquire it, but Visa and Mastercard have huge advertising budgets, notably for events like the World Cup and the Olympics, and I never met someone who actively pursued a specific card flag when getting a new card and instead just get whichever their bank has to offer.

But then someone at the bank has to decide between Visa and Mastercard.

And this persons surely thinks "ok, the conditions are roughly the same, what is going to make sure none of my clients even bother to ask why we chose this".

So the bank picks something they know that for sure their clients won't question, and here you are. Even if a newer provider emerged with better conditions, they probably wouldn't pick it because they don't want to deal with the inevitable questions.


But they're not getting Amex or Discover.

Plus, thanks to all the ads they might be pulling out that Visa or Mastercard when they pay for something, rather than using cash. Or they might use the Visa or Mastercard online rather than Paypal. etc etc...


I wonder if this is not a good argument to actually make all kind of advertising illegal.

There is no way that ensuring huge entities with enormous capital are able sustain their dominant position thanks to flushing cash at ads is healthy.

I've yet to see a situation where advertising was better than word of mouth, personal experience or expert feedback.

It seems it's all gain for them, no gain for us.


I recall Google coming to our career fair (maybe 10 years ago now...) and they weren't taking resumes or doing interviews, it was just them talking for a minute and telling you to go online to apply. Still had a queue of people probably 30-50 deep waiting all day.

I think that’s a fair take although my expanded position was more along the lines of whether spending 9 figures on this particular channel was the most effective use of resources given the extent of industry domination, when perhaps other channels could promote the brand for marketing and recruitment purposes.

Unsolicited resumes are the most noisy channel of all. TBF I'm somewhat surprised it is even cost effective to keep reading them. But, send an engineer to spend an hour talking at a university and you get a bunch of very promising leads every time.

Source: I've been an interviewer in Google for a number of years and talked at a university at some point.


How do you determine promising leads among hundreds?

Let’s say for example you send someone to UMinnesota or UMD.

What’s the process here to get leads for internships or new grad roles?


The folk hanging around to ask follow-up questions are my bet. Some of the questions really show the person is sharp enough to suggest you can put them into the system.

Obviously this misses the good leads that simply don't care about your today's topic. That's in line with Google's approach being fine with a lot of false negatives.


It helps because they can also do the initial screening round with basically the entire graduating CS class in-person at the university.

That is practical. Wouldn’t have thought of that.

Companies compete with each other for the best talent, and often lose. They could always stop spending on recruiting and hire anyone from the pile of resumes, but they aren’t looking for just anyone.

One could argue that the money spent sending people to career fairs would be better spent on bigger signing bonuses. I assume Google uses data to make these decisions, but it could just be keeping up with the Joneses.


Why exactly would Google need to do any of that? They're Google, people will come to them for as long as they are Google (and as long as they hand out very generous six-figure salaries).

Better signal to noise ratio.

If Google saved that much money and the business didn't see a considerable negative impact (34% increase? Quite the opposite in fact.), then that news should be telling not just for Google, but for every company that previously catered to spoiled employees who jump on an airplane just to have lunch with the customer.

Two lies COVID has forcibly flushed out and helped dispel:

Lie #1: Remote work, cannot work.

Lie #2: Business travel, is a necessity.

It will be interesting to see how the corporate travel whores, spin this post-COVID in order to keep their Triple Diamond Medallion Platinum status.


Cigarette companies spent a lot of money on advertising [in Europe]. When cigarette ads were banned, they continued to sell cigarettes, but saved on the marketing budget. Still, it would not have been wise not to advertise beforehand: The level playing field is all that matters. For some reasons, e-cigarettes are allowed to advertise, and the shift to these products is substantial.

So for sales/consulting, it might be fine not to travel to your customer when nobody can. Afterwards, you might want to reevaluate.

(And I am speaking as an ex-consultant that hated corporate travel).


This is only true in an environment where nobody from any company travels.

However in a world where one company travels for conferences, lunches, in-person events, then that company will clearly have an advantage over the company that did none of those things.


True, but visits to far away intra-company campuses I suspect to be highly curtailed across the board when remote communications has been shown to work well.

They work when everybody is on the same page. Once things return to normal, it causes a prisoners dilemma. If a company is too cheap to send somebody to speak to you face to face, what else are they going to cheap out on?

I've been working through VC across the atlantic during the pandemic. It's been horrible. There have been multiple projects that took months - and I know, from past experience, that if I could hop over the atlantic for a week they'd be solved in that timeframe.

Why? Because of face-to-face experience and trust building and the ability to sit beside one another and grab someone quickly. It's 100% worth the ridiculously high costs of air travel and expenses.


Seconded. I did consulting for monitoring systems, and doing remote stuff (via email or weird late night calls) was just less effective and shitty.

We got on a plane to Spain, brought some Spanish speaking folks, and crushed the issue in 3 days. Left us with 3 days to chill, and our Spanish counterparts were keen to show us around Madrid; several were locals and actually took us to see their old neighborhoods and families.

Point is, fixed the issue quick AND had added benefits of travel. As an accountant I'd not be keen on it, but as someone who has to live and work, these things are the spice of life.


Do you do much work in this space internationally, for Spanish speaking countries? I'm in something related, and bilingual. I'm also interested in post-covid work travel.

> Lie #1: Remote work, cannot work.

I can see tech bros claiming, noshing on company catered meals, sweating in office gyms and finishing off with a massage is how world is made better place.

> It will be interesting to see how the corporate travel whores, spin this post-COVID in order to keep their Triple Diamond Medallion Platinum status.

Beautiful sentiment. I think there is "military-industrial-complex" like thing between corporate travel, hotels and airlines. So there will be enough "requirements" from clients to have face-to-face meetings, dinners and sports events to attend to. Besides off-sites and retreats are required for executives to keep the morale high of employees who do not get to travel.


Collocated teams and physical meetings work far better than trying to do 100% remote.

Some of #2 holds for academia as well

'Travel whores', lol


You are conflating problems. Digital companies gained a lot of revenue when brick and mortar stores were closed, isnt that kinda obvious?

Your "lies" are missing the "outside of a pandemic" qualifier.

What are your reasons for assuming business travel is a necessity outside a pandemic?

Why do you think remote work is only feasible during a pandemic?


> Why do you think remote work is only feasible during a pandemic?

Remote work was feasible in part during a pandemic because it had to be. When everyone is 100% remote, things aren’t bad. If companies don’t do anything to preserve that culture from during pandemic times, when folks start returning to the office again, remote work will very likely go back to sucking. Being remote you’ll very likely be the odd person out on meetings desperately trying to hear what was said and/or struggle to get a word in with everyone else jammed in a conference room.


A number of teams in my group have long had a rule that if anyone on a call is remote, everyone needs to do the call from their own computer.

I agree that the odd person out being remote is often a problem but distributed teams generally can adopt effective practices. If your company doesn't? Well, there are other companies that are going to be more effective.


I used to work in event tech and can confirm the annual event marketing budgets just for one product at Google is in the $XX millions. Multiply that by all their departments and it could easily be 100s of millions that google spends on conferences every year.

What about office perks, maintenance of space, renovation, staff, commuter credits, office events, snacks, lunches, dinner, equipment, secretaries, and security?

They've been paying rent on their offices the whole time.

If they went permanent WFH they could sell/lease those spaces and probably save billions.

Not to mention the cost all the employees have to endure for traveling to work, wear on vehicles, gas, repairs, collisions, insurance, medical payouts due to car accidents, etc. Plus just generally the externalities of higher carbon emissions.


This assumes the presence of enough office demand to replace a Google sized company in the markets they lease in. It’s not clear that this is true.

US vacancies are projected to be 19.4% nationally. On top of that, there isn’t exactly another Google-sized employer waiting in the wings over in Mountain View.


With re-zoning this won't be a problem. Just rezone it to residential. or residential/commercial.

There's nothing Mountain View wants to do less than let anyone live there.

Also, because of Prop 13 those people wouldn't be paying property tax in 10 years, much like how everyone living there now isn't paying any, so Google is paying for everyone's schools and sewer systems as is.


> because of Prop 13 those people wouldn't be paying property tax in 10 years

I'm not sure what you mean. Prop 13 just caps the annual increase at 2%. I've lived in California and owned property here for 30 years. I pay property taxes.


If the annual increase is capped at 2% and inflation is >2% then the value reaped by property tax will eventually go to 0.

Similar to how if you rent the same place for long enough and it's rent controlled your rent effectively gets cheaper even though it's going up.


> If the annual increase is capped at 2% and inflation is >2% then the value reaped by property tax will eventually go to 0.

Asymptotically at infinity, you're not wrong.

I'm probably not living that long though. Meanwhile taxes do go up every year in real money.


Taxes go up in nominal money :)

Can't they game their way around that though by just increasing the assessed the value of the property? That's how my town effectively raises property taxes beyond the statutory limits. Sure you can appeal the assessed valuation but most people don't. It is expensive and time-consuming.

It’s fixed at the original assessment the last time it was sold, I think. It also applies to businesses, with the result that the car dealership next to me pays less taxes than a new condo. Inheritance does not reset it, meaning the state is effectively living under feudalism.

There was an attempt to fix this for businesses just last year, but it failed because homeowners were convinced it was a plot to get them.


No, it's fixed at when the house was built. You'll see "renovations" where the entire house minus one wall is demolished, and the new structure built around it. This allows the owners to avoid reassessment.

and if inflation is under 2% and the city always increases by the maximum of 2%, then eventually the value of the property tax paid will be infinite, right? How is that analysis useful?

If you make property tax a fixed percentage of the value of the property, it automatically adjusts with inflation.

Imagine how much nicer the cities of the world would become with many of the offices turned into residential. There would be a rebirth of local community.

With many of those offices gone, many people simply won't live in those cities. There seems to be an assumption here that people want to live in cities, but that's certainly not true across the board.

How much cost they will endure when their employees start getting insane from all the zoom meetings and working with a monitor instead of a real person?

> working with a monitor instead of a real person

Pre and post pandemic I'm still communicating with coworkers via email and slack, on the monitor. No difference at all.

Well, one difference is I used be able to hear them munch on their snacks a couple cubicles over, but I can do without that part.

Also, erasing the two hour commute, total win.


We both win with WFH.

I have a co-worker (generally a lovely person) who is about ready to explode when she hears someone crunching on an apple.

WFH, I can now eat an apple without self-consciously slow-crunching.


Once an employee has built a report with their team, knows their roll, is fully trained, properly equipped, and demonstrates proficiency at their job..... then I'm cool letting staff work from home. I suspect Google has the leadership, supervision, and infrastructure to do all those things at a large scale. Unfortunately for my crew I find brining everyone in is waaaaay more efficient....carbon emissions aside.

> Once an employee has built a report with their team, knows their roll

Did you mean "rapport" and "role"? Because that sentence was a bit confusing.


Also, "brining everyone in"? They are all going to be very salty after that... :)

That's a model I'd be interested in working under. It's different for everyone, but I find onboarding most efficient in person, and long-term work most enjoyable fully remote.

If the fully onboarded employees are all WFH, what good will bringing in new hires do?

[flagged]


If you completely ignore profits you go out of business and then the only companies left are the ones who ignore carbon. Better to get this changed at a legislative level to keep the playing field equal.

Amen.

> If they went permanent WFH they could sell/lease those spaces and probably save billions.

To whom? Everybody is moving to work from home.


Does it matter? Even if they have to sell or sublease at a loss, it's better than paying rent on empty buildings.

[flagged]


If you read his comments closely, he was specifically talking about investment bankers. He talked about how it was hard to train junior bankers on deal making if not face-to-face. I think he used the term "apprenticeship". Even in the era of unlimited voice calls, emails, and video calls, as I understand, most M&A and IPO deals are still done face-to-face.

For the investment bank, many of the employees work in New York City and use a train (or bus) to commute. That is pretty low carbon intensity.


The same "apprenticeship" also applies to tech companies.

The claim is usually that people are more productive in the office. Assuming that's true, then what's actually more expensive: having existing employees commute, or employing, say, 10% more people? Even if you only care about carbon costs, what are the carbon costs of raising, educating, training, and giving healthcare and everything else to 10% more people?

Yeah.

It’s totally fine to ask everyone to stop eating meat, but millions of Americans running their cars to/from the office everyday? Not a peep.

Our politicians and business class are wholly unserious about this as they were about COVID-19.


It's also not counting any repercussions, short or long term. I don't know Google but several other friends have told me productivity is down at their companies significantly with WFH.

Also, if it's just about the perks mentioned, those perks might be part of what retains employees.


Interesting, what position are the people in that told you this? I‘ve only heard this from middle management at my company.

Software project‘s actually have less delay than usual. Don‘t get me started on why every project is ‚late‘. We‘re not even allowed to work overtime while we‘re at home.

We do see problem‘s with new hires though. They have a harder time integrating into their team.


I guess it will go up a little, but I am willing to bet that a bunch of the cases you mentioned where they had to send people around are now done online. I will be really shocked if the google IO is not an online conference going forward.

>I will be really shocked if the google IO is not an online conference going forward.

I would be very surprised. I'm connected to the tech events space and the widespread assumption is that events will go back to physical while maintaining a strong online component going forward to continue to reach more people.


It means all the consulting companies are also going to report better than expected results; no travels, food etc expenses. Clients don’t always reimburse that.

In general, the pandemic has not been great for services businesses.

Also, people might work differently, as there will be different distractions in a post covid world.

Google may save $1B this year on the P&L, but I can assure you that a large cohort of employees are vastly less effective (especially parents!). Time will tell how wfh pans out in terms of long-term enterprise value creation, after confounding variables (i.e. COVID) are removed.

Source: A lot of my Googler friends are itching to get back into the office -- whether parents or people whose social lives centered around work.

Ninja Edit: Google has already announced their return to work plans, which involves substantially returning to physical office spaces. From early April: https://www.forbes.com/sites/jackkelly/2021/04/01/google-wan...


I'm a parent, who does WFH, and definitely disagree about the preferability of office work. Sure my kids will occasionally pop their heads in the door to say hello. I guess that's an occasional distraction, which has some small productivity cost.

You know what hurts productivity more? The soul-crushing experience of missing out on watching your kids grow up because you're spending all day in an office or commuting. If you work from 9-6, and commute an hour each way, that basically means you hardly see your kids at all five days out of the week. That level of depression and alienation is going to do far more to hurt output. By comparison, the productivity impact of taking five minutes to give my daughter a kiss before she takes a nap is a de minims by comparison.

The people I work with are all great and interesting people. But frankly, I'd infinitely prefer to spend my lunch hour and coffee breaks and happy hours with my wife and kids. This may just be my preference, but I don't see how anyone with kids could actually prefer being alienated in an office instead of at home with their loved ones.


Yea commute + kid is the key motivation for WFH for me. My Bay Area commute is 4+ hours per day, depending on traffic. This means in order to guarantee I can be at work for my first 8AM meeting, I need to wake up around 5AM and leave the house at 5:30. My day is over at around 5PM (thankfully I don't work for a workaholic culture start-up), but this still means I'm home by 7:30-8PM most days. I'm basically driving 50% of the time I spend at work, and don't get to see my kid at all besides weekends. It really sucks.

COVID-19 has been a huge quality of life boost for me.


My father traveled for work a few months at a time. It wasn't the best for any of us, especially my mother. Consider the cost of those lost years. Even if you can retire early it's a season you'll never be able to share with them.

Why do you live 2 hours away?

Expensive housing

Property prices, I assume?

Obviously! I would love to live closer to work, if I could afford it. I can maybe afford a tent in Fremont and a shoebox in Palo Alto. Nothing in the South Bay or Peninsula in my price range screams "quality of life".

This is exactly the way I feel.

After working at home for ~13 months now, it will be very hard for me to go back to the office. I have young kids at home and getting to spend extra time with them every day is a huge gift, on top of having no commute. There are some negatives, but I feel just as productive and more engaged.


Great for you! I feel exactly the opposite, I feel trapped in my house, super-ecstatic that the kids are finally in school now and can't wait for the office to open.

Do you think you'll enjoy the office as much if (for simplicity sake) 50% of the people enjoy working from home so much they do not want to return? From my discussions with colleagues much more than 50% hopes to work from home 3+ days a week once this all is over.

Not the O.P., but speaking from experience, yes, a thousand times yes.

Here in Sydney, Australia, both office and WFH are available at my work. I'll have anywhere between 0% and 90% of my team in the office depending on the day or week.

In my experience, even being the only one in the office is a thousand times better than WFH.

Whether teammates are WFH affects me less than whether I'm WFH.


As a parent my workday has shifted to be 8 am to 6:30 pm and lots of people complain about that kind of shift, but I see that as a plus.

I used to be out of the house from 7:30 am to ~6:30 pm depending on commute, so it wasn't like that my time anyway. Now I'm working a slightly longer day, because during it I'm taking an hour to make my kids lunch, an hour to interact with them in the afternoon, some random downtime here and there when they pop their heads in, etc.

As schools reopen my plan is to basically just to set my core working hours to the schoolday which is going to be at 8:15 am to 3:30 pm and then I'll log a bit more in the evening if needed. We normally have the kids do some reading before bed to start winding them down and I can easily sit there with my laptop while the kids read. so many of the other parents I've seen struggle are the ones that rigidly stick to 9 to 5 vs a concept of "I should do about ~8 hours of work today". Those are the ones that really seem the most vocal about wanting the office back. Which honestly if that is what they want, that's fine. They can be the office crew and have the commute, pay for childcare, etc. I'm not looking to get back on that grind though.

I do feel bad for parents were both parents are constantly on Zoom. We're lucky in that we were able to rig it so all my meetings at AM meetings and my spouse has PM meeting, so we can have an on call parent most of the time. For families were both parents work sales, this probably sucks. Although I've seen some people in sales do enterprising things like setup little pods of rotating babysitting so they can just not schedule calls during their day to watch all the kids in the pod (do their reports or whatever).

I think going forward two things I'll advocate for at work is flexibility during summer hours and for parents with kids too young to be handed a Redwall novel and told to read quietly for a bit. Both are forms of investing your employees as short term thing for long term benefit since after all eventually the children get older (or you at least end up with a more mature child that can do tier 0 support duties and escalate to mom or dad when needed).


> Sure my kids will occasionally pop their heads in the door to say hello. I guess that's an occasional distraction, which has some small productivity cost.

Surely not a bigger productivity cost than a coworker doing the same thing, though.


I would even say a less, my kids will often have a specific ask 'can I watch some TV' where I can reply 'yes/no/later/that's really good/bad' and then its done. A co-worker will sometimes not even have a specific ask, but are instead looking for some idle chat.

> commuting

Assuming you're driving yourself, this is universally a productivity killer. You risking a huge amount of frustrating and angering situations while your workers are commuting to a central location. I'd put good money on a lot of lost productivity to commute.

Then there's the people who have to commute, due to functionally in-person jobs (artisans, doctors, baristas, etc.). Optional commuters going to the office for their "social fix" are doing so at the expense of forced commuters. Work should be work and social should be social; if you want a social experience during work hours then have a social lunch in your neighborhood.


We could just let people do whatever they wanted.

It is unclear why, having complained about being forced to work from the office, the set of employees happy to work from now think imposing their preferences on everybody else is supposed to be better for everyone.


There is one good reason: if most of your team works at the office, and you're working from home, it's difficult to make sure that you're not left out of discussions.

Agreed. I can’t focus when my toddler is running around screaming. I love her; but I miss my office.

In fact I simply miss the ritual of leaving my home and returning every day. I’ve been doing this for a few years, though.

Long dog walks have helped.


That’s a point I agree on. But my understanding is that most of the companies that are re opening offices are insisting that employees eventually come back. Is Google/Apple/JP Morgan letting people stay full WFH?

it isn't the employees imposing their preferences, it's the managers.

Even when talking about the negative effects of commuting on you and your kids, you frame it in terms of the productivity impact on your employer. Man, talk about Stockholm syndrome.

Productivity is not the end all be all. It's ok to look out for yourself.


I have two very young children, one of whom was born during 2020. I can tell you that raising kids that young, with both parents trying to WFH, and the lack of any support of any kind at all thanks to Covid restrictions, was a soul-crushing experience that I do not ever want to repeat. I do appreciate that my experience is a little unique, though.

> You know what hurts productivity more? The soul-crushing experience of missing out on watching your kids grow up because you're spending all day in an office or commuting.

Yes!

And I'm renting a small office near the house for pandemic purposes to have a quiet space to work. But being two minutes away instead of an hour away is night and day. I can be home and back multiple times a day, in same time than it took to walk to the snack dispenser at the office.


The secret you learn is that many people that like work a lot, actually fundamentally don't like their home lives, whether that be their spouses or their children.

How old are your kids and what are they doing all day?

This. My daughter is a month old now and while that does require me to chop my day into pieces so that I can take care of her, I can't imagine being out for 10h a day.

I couldn't agree with you more!

> If you work from 9-6, and commute an hour each way, that basically means you hardly see your kids at all five days out of the week.

So live closer to work. Google pays enough for people to do that. The schools are usually better too.


A) There's only so much housing near campus buildings.

B) Prices can become extreme near campus buildings because landlords know they can charge exorbitant prices and still find a tenant.

C) Moving to a more expensive place impacts you _and_ the rest of your family via shared rent, utilities, etc..

D) Your significant other, if you have one, may not work at the same company. So you may end up shortchanging your spouse and taking time away from them and their lives?


> Prices can become extreme near campus buildings because landlords know they can charge exorbitant prices and still find a tenant.

I'm not advocating for living literally right next to campus. But to say you can't compete is disingenuous. The whole reason Mountain View is so expensive is because there are so many engineers from Google who can afford it.


> Google pays enough for people to do that.

No they don't.

Go look up house prices right around campus on Trulia. I would say it's shocking, but disgusting is a more apt feeling.


Senior eng makes $400k+ TC. You're rarely buying a house alone. Most eng at FAANG end up marrying others who are similar. Easy to see $600k+ TC.

You can buy a home nearby. Sunnyvale has homes for $2m or less and you can afford it at $600K household. Very reasonable commute.

If you want 3000+ sqft and 5-bath homes then yeah, you're out of luck. Hit executive level or startup riches for that one.

To act like Google doesn't pay enough to afford a home in Bay Area though is BS. The whole reason the area is so expensive is because FAANG pays so damn much to keep pulling in more talent. (It's a cycle)

Also - you could rent. Most eng I meet at FAANG have no interest in ownership out of principal. They just want investment potential. Renting is frequently very good. Only reason you'd buy is for leverage but you won't get good leverage here in SFBA because you have to do all cash offer. So, just invest in market instead.


You're living in a dream world if you think $600K household is the norm in Silicon valley, even for FAANG employees. We are talking about a small percentage of employees (1. those with FAANG spouses) out of a small percentage of employees (2. top leveled, say Google L6+) out of a small percentage of employees (3. engineers) out of a small percentage of companies (4. FAANG). The rest of us, who are not 1 AND 2 AND 3 AND 4, schlep away at normal compensations and there's no way we're buying $2M homes.

> You're living in a dream world if you think $600K household is the norm in Silicon valley, even for FAANG employees.

For married couples above 30 with one high TC earner - it's extremely common. You're not marrying a barista in SF if you work at FAANG. I haven't met anyone who is married, above 30, who also works at FAANG, the spouse can legally work in the country, and the household income is below $500K. I know that seems like a lot of qualifiers but basically a married couple that both have working abilities - if one is at FAANG, the other is likely at FAANG or similar (or a doctor or a lawyer or an executive or whatever - very common).

I'd have to really stretch to find anyone who I've met with high TC that isn't also married to another with high TC (besides SAHM/SAHD - where the one earner is usually an exec, so homes are still not too expensive for them).

I'm not talking about non-FAANG employees btw. If you work somewhere that doesn't pay well - then ok. You have to suffer like every other American does. I'm saying that if you work at FAANG - it's a bullshit excuse to commute an hour each way. (I mean - FFS - a lot of them have shuttles where you can clock in on even if you do live further away) It's a choice at that point. They pay you a lot so you can be close to their campus. High earners typically marry high earners. It's financial suicide to do otherwise. (Bye-bye 1/3 of your income for 18 years when you inevitably get divorced)


> I haven't met anyone who is married, above 30, who also works at FAANG, the spouse can legally work in the country, and the household income is below $500K.

You may have a very limited circle of folks you talk to and are willing to share such details with you. Myself and a number of close friends do not have a $500k TC household as married couples. Not even close.

> It's financial suicide to do otherwise. (Bye-bye 1/3 of your income for 18 years when you inevitably get divorced)

Maybe I misunderstood you but you're saying you should marry someone who earns similarly to you because of the inevitable divorce? I'm not sure I follow, you're advocating to marry for the financial prospects first because marriages end in divorce?


And you’re at FAANG? If you have 10+ YOE, there is no reason you shouldn’t be ~70% of the way there as a single earner.

I’ve seen enough people have their marriages end and have insanely high and long term alimony payments even after the other partner has moved on and pseudo-married someone else. (But hasn’t legally married them because then they don’t get their alimony) Until marriage is treated like a business contract where consequences are agreed to before signing, it’s a terrible idea to marry someone in a lopsided financial situation unless you don’t care about any kind of risk. You’d never be able to get/afford insurance for such an incredibly risky venture.


Half of that TC goes to taxes, then there is childcare, rent, etc while saving. The home is doable but you’re not going to have a competitive offer unless you’ve been saving for a few years assuming you have no debt.

The point is.. going into work is a waste of time most of the time. That’s why a lot of companies are doing flex schedules now.


> Senior eng makes $400k+ TC.

This is not true. Maybe people are confusing principal with senior?

That or you're counting multi-year stock grants in the current year.


Senior engineers at Google/Facebook (L5) make at minimum $300K, and with stock appreciation / refreshers $500K+ is not uncommon. Netflix is also well known for paying essentially all of their engineers at least $400K.

Principal engineers (L8) at Google/Facebook make around $1M a year, and $1.5-2M is not unheard of.


I have a lot of difficulty believing any of these numbers.

Source: spouse is management level at G of FAANG. Those numbers don't match up with reality in general. For a few edge cases, sure. Not for most people.


As mentioned in several other places on this thread, you can check out levels.fyi (https://www.levels.fyi/company/Google/salaries/Software-Engi...) to see... nearly 500 reported TCs for Senior SWEs at Google. Median is indeed ~350k/yr. 320-380k seems to be the standard "initial offer" range for HCOL areas. These numbers don't include stock growth, stacked refreshers, or the new front-loaded 40/28/20/12 vesting schedule.

I also have multiple friends that work at Google, and can confirm that their numbers fall squarely into the bands described on levels.fyi. (In fact, they're often taking home considerably more, due to the aforementioned stock growth and stacked refreshers.)

Several possibilities:

1) your spouse is not in the engineering management track and isn't familiar with the payscale

2) your spouse works in an office with a lower payscale due to regional considerations (though this wouldn't make the numbers look realistic even in "LCOL" US offices, so it'd need to be international)

3) there's some misunderstanding about levels or something else. That Principal Engineers (L8 - three levels above Senior) make 900k-1M out of the gate isn't really disputed; they tend to make a bit more at Facebook, even.


Also, Google has an internal spreadsheet where employees document their own compensation, which, according to the same friends, corresponds pretty well to the levels.fyi numbers.

Is levels.fyi inaccurate?

Those golden cages at the FAANG companies are getting brighter, last time I had looked at their engineers' compensation they were around the 200-300k mark, and that was seen as high (around 2015-2016, even though I could be mistaken by a year or two). I guess monopoly power does indeed pay.

Levels.FYI for L5 (senior SWE) shows median annual at 350. Levels.FYI lags behind because they keep around old data. Principal at G is at 992k median.

> Senior eng makes $400k+ TC.

Good thing Google only employs senior engineers... <image>eyerollsmiley-x1000.gif</image>

> The whole reason the area is so expensive is because FAANG pays so damn much to keep pulling in more talent.

No it isn't. That isn't the reason at all. The reason is a bunch of literal rent-seeking wealthy old people who fight new housing projects at every possible turn so they can sell their house for $2 million, or die and leave it to their kids, who will then sell it for $2 million.

> Most eng I meet at FAANG have no interest in ownership out of principal.

Press X to doubt.


Even without a commute, the point still stands. Young kids are usually in bed by around 7, that’s enough time to eat and take a bath, maybe read a story and that’s it.

So what? That's the standard work environment and the reality for most Americans. This has nothing to do with Google or SFBA then.

Maybe the standard work environment has been wrong and should be changed and WFH is the way to do it.

That's fine - but that's not what I was talking about. I'm specifically saying if you work for Google - you can afford to live closer than a 1 hour commute. (And you can even take the god damn free shuttle where you clock in for the trip even)

You could also afford to set fire to a stack of $100 bills. That does not mean you find it a sensible thing to do.

You could also afford a straw man. Does not mean you find it sensible thing to say.

Or you're just spoiled.

I'm blessed. But the idea of civilizational progress is to get everyone at that level, as a baseline.

Someone want to tell this commenter how expensive daycare is?

Nah, obviously everyone who works in IT makes 500k a year, has a spouse who earns the same, and can afford 1 mil houses 5 minutes from where they work. At least from what they say.

If you’re at FAANG, you can - that is the point. I’ve only spoken of FAANG so far. Check levels. A $1mil home is cheap for a FAANG employee.

I don't think he said he works at Google.

Parents being less effective would be due to kids being at home, not due to wfh. It's not much of a distinction when it's all due to covid, but long-term the distinction matters for people who go back to out-of-home childcare/education but continue to wfh.


I disagree. Also most projects are distributed across multiple sites and orgs. In person meetings were always team based and guess what they still are wfh. You lose serendipity and cross pollination but I don’t think companies actually optimize for that. I mean it’s not an OKR nor performance goal.


My company has OKRs directly focused around improving serendipity and cross pollination lost due to Covid WFH.

Your company is making up fairy tales to support a narrative.

I shudder to live in a world where no one tells fairy tales.

Fairy tales in good faith and with positive intent are always welcome.

What have teams been doing to hit those OKRs? How are they measured?

Our people team is in charge of organizing things. Some of it is intangibles like encouraging more communication on Slack, others are more concrete like setting up time to connect people who might not otherwise connect.

What's OKR?

Objectives and Key Results. The things you choose to optimize for during any given planning period.

Which is arguably stupid as it makes you focus on improving specific numbers instead of your product/service. Crude example:

OKR: Improve customer feedback ratings from 4.2 to 4.5+ stars

Result: Customer support personnel start handing out free upgrades/bonuses/merchandise to complaining customers, resulting in many 5 stars reviews and while not solving any problems customers are facing, still achieving the OKR.

Measuring performance by numbers instead of personal judgement (from managers/team leads) is problematic.

Edit: It certainly makes sense in some departments (like decreasing page load time from 2 seconds to 1[0] but forcing that across all verticals is retarded.

[0] then again you could achieve that for example by deleting all JS from the site

/rant


I hate, hate, hate, hate, this argument, it's correct but it distracts incredibly from the fact _numbers still do matter_. Software engineering, remarkably, is the only industry I know of that can wave away any metrics, at all, ever, being even mentioned, by pointing out it's possible to game a metric.

That isn't a criticism of OKRs. That is a criticism of literally any and all metrics.

There is nothing wrong with metrics, the issue is optimizing for them which is what OKRs are trying to do.

Yeah metrics are fine as long as they're not being manipulated. Then you can be aware of their inherent inaccuracy. Amazon reviews springs to mind. If the only inaccuracies is that people tend to be binary in their choices and either give 1 or 5 star reviews then you can for example adjust by giving more weight to the 4 star reviews. But with the current landscape of all of them being highly manipulated the numbers almost don't even matter anymore.

OKRs are the opposite.

In your example, the "O" would be something like "provide a good experience for app users" and a "KR" would be "improve star ratings from 4.2 to 4.5". The "O" helps keep you focused on what you actually care about, making the metric subservient to that goal.


Only in theory, in practice success is measured by the associated metric. And as constantly demonstrated, anytime you measure people’s performance by some metric that metric becomes gamed.

Relying on personal judgement of a small set of managers is the fastest way to kill any product. Plus, your example isn't really using the process correctly.

Improved feedback rating is a result, not an objective on its own. It could be filed under, say, "improve customer experience with the app". That objective would have many (3-5) results that you track, with improving feedback being just one of them. Others could be improving page load times (as you mentioned), adding critical missing functionality, or whatever else. These results can also be based on subjective opinions, but need to be somewhat measurable (otherwise how do you know whether you made things better?) Ultimately if you made good enough progress in each of these KRs, you can consider the objective achieved.


What I guess I'm saying is that it's insanely difficult to come up with good OKR's and so many good things aren't measurable, while the fans of OKR's don't seem to want to take this into account.

Whatever alternative methods (judgement of managers) is up for debate though, I didn't say I had a good one. Just that OKR's in my mind are a waste of time for the most part, especially when you make the whole organization do them.

And look at products like Facebook, they seem to be built solely on OKR's.


Those parents may be a lot more productive once their kids go back to in person school and after school activities that keep them away from 8-5.


Maybe for older kids that are involved in extracurricular activities, but for younger kids that won't be the case. With a 4 year old starting pre-k this fall, I'll be lucky to have a distraction free work environment from 9-2 daily.


Pre-pandemic I had a 2 and 4 year old. The 4 year old was gone all day between 9 and 2 MWF for preschool, and we had a nanny the rest of the time.

I suspect post-pandemic it will be similar. Someone who works at Google can probably afford a nanny. It's just because people aren't comfortable with others in their home right now that it's a problem.


There is a huge nanny crunch / there are much longer lead times for high-end nannies now..

That's just nonsense. Australia has had one of the harshest lockdown measures in the developed world and we're quite Corona free at the moment. We're living in our own little bubble. Everyone who could, had to work from home during the lockdown. Everyone else was supported by a salary equivalent payment from the govt. Now, people are back at work. But when it can be done from home, most people are still choosing to do it that way. And we're haven't lost any productivity. Rather gained more due to savings in commuting time. Also, as our lives get easier, we're more grateful because of it and the overall positivity definitely helps with productivity. I've been lucky to work for a company that promotes this more. Even after everything is normal, no one is being forced to come back to the office. Because it doesn't matter. We get the same thing done more effectively. You're right about one thing. I'm also itching to get back to work. I do that once or twice a week. Mostly to catch up with mates and grab some lunch together.

I think it will be interesting to see how some of the companies in Australia with head offices in the US go over the next year. There are signs from the FANG (well “GA” here, the rest effectively don’t exist) will push for people back in offices.

On the flip side Atlassian just came out and said the reverse. https://www.smh.com.au/business/small-business/four-times-a-...


Microsoft has also said that they're envisioning a permanent work from home setup. Some people I know just gave up their apartment in Washington and moved to our small city in the midwest because even after MS adjusted his salary down he's coming out way ahead.

I don't see why MS would adjust his salary. He is still doing the exact same work. If anything he is paying the rent, electricity and internet bills that MS otherwise would pay for him! Am I missing something? I understand that living costs could be lower in his small city. But how is that MS's concern. He get's paid for his work/talent! It's not an attack on your statement. I'm genuinely curious.

yeah, there is some push by the city's business lobby groups to get people to offices as businesses that supported these offices are losing a lot. But it's upto the private companies to decide. Most employees like me have quite good home setups like standing desks, coffee machines etc and can do most of the things from home. It'd be interesting to see what approach other companies will take. I've heard stories about some of the American and Indian/Asian companies starting to ask their employees to get to office. It all depends on the work culture . I work at Xero and they've been quite cool with flexibility even before Covid.

Going to argue against this as a theme. I work for an extremely huge consumer electronics company based in a zip code not far from Google; my org has been remote for over a year and in that time, we’ve had significant productivity. Most people are claiming to be far more productive since many people had 2 hour daily commutes. Also, our company is so secretive that “water color” innovation isn’t particularly a thing. Since we all have private offices in my org due to confidentiality needs, the only real face to face is in meetings. Meeting where we sit around a table and occasionally use a white board. Most people that work for this company aren’t joining because they need an adult kindergarten (and we don’t get free food either, aside from vending machines.) I don’t care about free food or massages; with the appreciation of RSUs, buying that myself is barely a rounding error. I also saved tens of thousands being remote outside of California since I don’t have to pay resident income tax anymore. My house payment is less than half of what I paid for rent and I have about 3000 more square feet of house. My productivity is much higher because my mental health is much better. And my kids are in schools that have been open full time since August. Being “in” Silicon Valley is fun for a minute, but it’s a gimmick for the most part. I’m not having chance encounters with Tim Draper at the Palo Alto Starbucks raising millions over a latte and if I were to start a company, raising SV VC money would be the result of having something worth funding rather than my kid being on the same little league team with some investor’s kid. As far as “Silicon Valley” talent — that’s a myth. Companies didn’t start in SV because of the talent. They started because of that’s where they happened to live. The incentives that made SV great in the 1960s were killed off by politicians choking the golden goose.

I do believe you got free dinner, but maybe not.

> The incentives that made SV great in the 1960s were killed off by politicians choking the golden goose.

Nah, it's still there. It will be there as long as California bans noncompete agreements. (California being expensive is not because of politicians, it's because the voters want it to be expensive so they can sell you their house.)


As someone else says in the thread, all these "assurances" are based on combinations personal preference and anecdote.

I am overall responsible for the team that produces and figures out developer productivity metrics for Google.

I can assure you there is lots and lots of real data on this, so there isn't a lot of need for random supposition based on people's desires (WFH vs not) and biases. There are too many comments in this thread to read every single one, but most suppositions i read seemed just to reflect biases and personal preferences rather than any real data.

It's IMHO a little odd to see people assume that any really successful tech company is not going to be able to figure out and succeed at maintaining whatever overall level of productivity they want (IE pre-covid, pre-covid-50%, pre-covid+50%). The ability to adapt and be productive/effective in changing conditions is often one of the things that makes companies successful in the first place.

The thing that is much harder to fix is stuff like personal well being.


Care to share some of that real data? You're right about the haze of wishful thinking around the issue and seem to be in a position to clear it up a bit. You can infer something about the value of face time from the universal FAANG commitment to centralized HQs, despite the huge costs of this policy.

Here's a longer answer:

I actually really wish i could (and other companies could), because I think it would make for some really interesting papers/studies/etc.

We normally publish a bunch of our productivity, inclusion, etc research in journals and conferences. For example, https://www.computer.org/csdl/journal/ts/5555/01/09361116/1r...

For this particular topic, I believe we have published some small amount of stuff, and there is some public info in articles like this: https://www.cnbc.com/2020/11/18/how-google-improved-employee...

But I know for both us, and others i've talked to, there is a bunch of good reasons folks don't want to publish the more raw data, some privacy, some competitive, some legal, etc.

In this case, not releasing the data often means we don't publish more formal papers or studies because of the inability to make the underlying data available with the paper (for example).

I will say while this situation is a bit sad to me from an academic perspective, pragmatically, even with all the data from us, MS, apple, etc, i don't think it would pragmatically answer the broader questions for a whole ton of reasons.

It's definitely useful for research and further exploration, and trying to distill overall considerations and insight. It's probably useful on the internet to spike someone who says "WFH is more productive" or "Office is more productive".

But it also won't tell you what the future of work should be for your company.


Looks like, from the CNBC article, that WFH basically worsened the performance of low-level/ middle managers, which feels about right.

It also feels that some way of improving this group of people in general is sorely needed -- how does the G2G program work exactly?

ninjaedit: found this https://rework.withgoogle.com/guides/learning-development-em... . Will evangelize at my company… probably will be ignored though because I'm an IC.


Working from home has actually increased productivity for the two teams I manage. Far less waisted time with "drive by" coworkers. We're also more flexible with time off when needed.

Add to that my ability to help around the house. Before I was basically absent from the house for 9-10 hours a day M-F. Now I can make my kids lunch, go on a walk with them, or sign off a little early and go to a park.


> (especially parents!)

Riiiiight... Kids are often not as big a distraction as the immature coworker(s) who can't be bothered to, you know, shut up and actually work.


My desk was near the ping pong table for a while. shudders

I am personally itching to get back into the office, at least a couple days a week. But, my team has been super productive throughout the pandemic and as of the last time we all chatted about it, I was really the only one who was concerned about getting back to the office. I do not work for Google, btw. Just experience from another tech company.

I'm sure some employees are less effective from home and others are the opposite. Looking at their earnings reports from the last few quarters, though, it is pretty clear that the company itself is reaping massive benefits from the pandemic and WFH culture.

Google's product hasn't noticeably changed at all during the pandemic. They're making more money because people are spending more time on the internet and advertisers are switching funding from traditional forms to internet ads.

Pandemic, not WFH.

on the other hand i feel vastly more productive with not spending 2-3 hours every day commuting. i will miss wfh, even though being around my teammates is nice for other reasons.

WFH during a global health crisis != WFH

That's probably a case-by-case scenario but the last year has been a struggle for me. I much more prefer my usual 30m commute over working from our 45m2 apartment with my wife doing the same, my daughter attending online classes and few apartments in my building being renovated during work hours. Man, I miss my office and my desk.

> vastly less effective (especially parents!) ... A lot of my Googler friends are itching to get back into the office

Well... are they really itching to get back into the office, or just itching for day cares to open back up?


The majority of employees and google as a whole is more productive. Their stock is up 80% in the last 12 months. Do you have a better indicator of productivity correlated to p&l?


I can assure you that a much larger cohort of employees are vastly more effective. No commute alone is a MASSIVE gain.


I can assure you all these "assurances" are just based off personal preferences and anecdotal stories.

There are pros and cons with office work and WFH, and some people prefer one over the other. A full remote arrangement isn't for everyone, despite how the overwhelming number of introverts on HackerNews paint it as the objectively the best way going forward for all companies.


Please don't frame the community as being on one side of a divisive issue (invariably, the side the commenter disagrees with). It's a trope of lame discussion. You can make your case for the view you think is correct without that.

The community is divided on divisive issues. It's as simple as that.


Heck, I'm an introvert and I recognize that the increased friction in communication has a significant negative impact.

I'm also a bit put off by the "it's so great not having a commute" people. Commuting does suck, but they voluntarily signed up for it. Meanwhile those that chose tiny apartments near their offices didn't sign up for spending all day in cramped quarters trying to work from a couch.


> Meanwhile those that chose tiny apartments near their offices didn't sign up for spending all day in cramped quarters trying to work from a couch.

They literally did. I don't see any difference between choosing living an hour from work or choosing living in a cramped up flat near work.


No, the point was that the choice of where to live was made before the pandemic sent people to work from home.

> despite how the overwhelming number of introverts on HackerNews paint it as the objectively the best way going forward for all companies.

Hacker news is no more pro work from home then people IRL I see.

And division among people I know in person is not introvert/extrovert at all. It is more about living arrangement and family. Single people living alone want to go to work. Those who have family and expect their partners to do all childcare, prefer to go to work and socialize with colleagues after work. Those who have kids and want to be present fathers or have partners with equally important work want to work from home.


You can use anecdotal stories or, you can look at quarterly earnings. That’s how one can objectively measure how productive a company is. If the earnings are there, it’s hard to prove that remote is, a least, a hindrance to productivity.

Most employers don't give workers a choice when it comes to open floor plan. And yet everyone sucked it up and did it to pay the bills.

My point is this: If you have to be effective working remotely you will be effective working remotely.


It's not really binary though. I can be somewhat more or less effective depending on my work environment.

It's also possible that wfh was beneficial in the short term, with projects already mostly planned and the benefits of in-person collaboration continuing via inertia, but will be detrimental long term. Maybe. I don't know.

And that is the big kicker to me: too many unknowns to definitively say one way or the other.


>It's not really binary though.

Might be. Depends on the company too.


I have a hard time imagining a complete uprooting from your normal routine during a global pandemic would result in a short-term productivity gain that would then decrease as workers become more accustomed to remote work and are less stressed due to the lack of a pandemic moving forward.

That's not to say you don't make good points, I just can't imagine your points outweighing what I perceive as more heavily influencing factors.


Anecdotal as everyone else, but what the grandparent describes has been exactly my experience. When we went all-remote last year we were in the later stages of an existing project, and it wasn't much of a problem because everybody had a good understanding of what we had to do. Getting our next project off the ground was much harder due to communication challenges.

I agree. I find the claims about WfH being inefficient very amusing.

I work for an international American SW company in Czechia. We have a big office there, but for the first ~8 years there (since 2006), I was the only person working with a team of Americans, or only with a teammate, because they "outsourced" work to us. It was more annoying than WfH today, I remember all the really incomprehensible phone calls (no reliable video, only screensharing), making sure I get everything I need done in the morning so I could batch the questions for afternoon due to time zones, etc. And yet, my bosses were happy about my performance (more than they are today).

(It's interesting when I think about it now, IMHO constant communication can have downsides, too. There is something about having a half day where it's only you who has to solve a problem, and no one can help, you will learn a lot.)

OTOH, I was never a big fan of work from home, but I tried it now and I found it more pleasant with almost no downside. It's very similar to how I used to work in the era of "outsourcing", actually it's much easier.

To sum up, outsourcing was efficient but individual WfH isn't? Gimme a break, of course it's propaganda.


> No commute alone is a MASSIVE gain.

This is a huge one for me and anyone more productive in the morning, I'm no longer wasting an hour of my most productive time just getting to work. Then you've got the extra 2 hours a day to relax and get various things done that also make me more productive.


Eh, I'm not so sure. As the parent said, time will tell.


Live in an area with a better commute. Mine is 8 minutes.


I'll live where ever I want to thanks. I have ZERO desire to life close to anything and I can you do a great job at home. If you can't that's on you not me.

100% this. There are some loud people trying to say the opposite, but a lot of places have had productivity tank.

I was talking to someone at a large financial company (think 10s of thousands of employees). Their workplace productivity went through the floor when things went work from home. They were willing to allow work from home for now to keep people safe, but will not be continuing in the future due to the efficiency loss.

A lot of people don't want to hear this, but it's the truth.

Work from home where I work has been kind of awful from a communication and camaraderie standpoint, even though the company was already rather heavily invested in remote work, Google chat, etc.


No, I think the truth is that it varies. A counter anecdote is my own example: Our team of network, software and systems engineers has seen productivity increase over the past year of wfh - albeit with casual access to the office and labs.

This totally depends. My experience has been that my team is way more effective since work from home (we even work less hours) but that doesn’t mean other teams have the same experience.

Always remember: numbers without context are meaningless. Google had 180bn revenue in 2020.

In normal circumstances , even with much more WFH, they'd still pay for regular company get togethers. They'd pay for more satellite offices. They'd pay for conferences because making cross industry connections and promotion is important.

These savings don't mean much. Even more so if they lead to a potential dip in efficiency (not arguing that's the case, mind you) or reduced employee retention. Less personal engagement leads to less attachment to the company.

The effects of that are barely visible after a year.


two. billion. dollars. per. day. or $23,000 USD per second.

Mostly from advertising, some 87%. Funny to think in their initial whitepaper, Brin and Page were heavily arguing against paid (sponsored) ads in search result of a search engine, as it would skew the results to the point where people would stop using it.


I think your math is a bit off... they make $5,707 per second.

Walmart by comparison makes $17,730 per second.


There's a lot of employee travel at big companies. Many times of the year you can hardly book a hotel room around Mountain View/Sunnyvale/Palo Alto. I think the pandemic has shown how non-essential a lot of that really was.


What does “essential” mean? I don’t think anyone viewed travel as essential — they just viewed it as “worth it” to facilitate collaboration/communication, build relationships, etc. This is still easier in person.


'Worth it' in cash terms, while the plane fuel is subsidised and the negative externalities are forced on everyone else.

“Essential” means your boss expects you to.

Interesting. I work at Google and never saw such an expectation (though it’s just my experience). I suspect most travel at large companies is dominated by individuals making decisions about what allows them to be most effective in accomplishing their goals (as long as it’s aligned with company travel policies).

It really depends on your job and location.

I think the "your boss expects/forces you to" interpretation from the grand parent isn't generally what happens (at Google). I haven't seen that at all. It's rather more common that you realize on your own that a certain amount of travel is highly effective for building and maintaining the relationships you need to do your job.

This is extremely strongly correlated with your distance from HQ and with the seniority of your position in the company.

For what it's worth, I hold a reasonably senior role (at Google) in EMEA and I'm living off of the relationships I built in the two years prior to the pandemic. I traveled nearly 25% of the time then. Ask your nearest director+ in EMEA engineering and they'll recognize this at least in principle. This is likely to be very similar in other companies that are globally distributed but with a strong epicenter somewhere. I don't think it's particularly Google specific except in that Google engineering isn't very top down/command-and-control, so relationships in a complex org are an even more important tool for getting things done than they would be in a more hierarchical environment.


Sure, this is definitely an "eating your seed corn" sort of situation. And it's definitely very asymmetric at Google - a senior director outside of MTV definitely has to come to meet people in Mountain View from time to time. A senior director in MTV just expects everyone to come to them.

If you define essential as "the project will fail if I don't make this trip" then yes, very little business travel is essential. That does not automatically mean it isn't beneficial at all. Employees gain skills by attending conferences and expand their network. Getting distributed teams from different offices together once in a while improves working relationships. Free travel to other countries is sometimes just a perk which helps with employee retention.

I think a big question is not how essential it is in a vacuum, but how important sales travel is in a competitive landscape.

ie, sales would work equally well if everyone did it via Zoom calls. But if one competitor is willing to send reps in-house for in-person meetings, and the rest are just scheduling Zooms... I can see the industry quickly collapsing back into constant sales travel, if there's even a small marginal gain from face-to-face meetings

(or dinners, or drinks, or whatever else sales reps do to close a deal)


Ive worked cloud sales for Azure and GCP. Zoom/Teams/Meet is not a replacement for in-person sales. In large Enterprises, you would be surprised by how much of the outcome is determined by relationship rather than technology decisions. There is no substitute for shared experiences with customers or randomly bumping into a friend as you’re walking the hallways of your customer. Sometimes it just comes down to who they like better and building rapport over video chat is hard.

I'm sure there's a lot of sales travel at places like G but I feel like G in particular doesn't have a lot of sales travel. A lot of the travel is just employees working together for whatever internal tasks.


Maybe, but we had GCP reps in-house for days when we were figuring out our cloud strategy. So I do think there's some even at G.

If AWS is coming to my office to do a "free architecture evaluation" and GCP doesn't, guess which one I'll choose.

That logic is flawed, I think. It is fairly easy to see why.

Gyms have been closed for many months, but that doesn't seem to imply that exercising is not important.


Back of the envelope calculation:

100k employees, each spending 10k/year on business travel... $1B.

The company could choose not to spend this money even without COVID, but it normally chooses to spend it, presumably because it considers the benefits worth it.

Personally, the difference in working atmosphere before and after I visited coworkers from a different country was massive, and likely well worth the travel expenses for the company.


That, combined with the change in overall productivity. I don't know what the net is, for me personally it's a neutral since I was working remotely before COVID, but my hunch is that it's an overall negative due to how many people seem to crave the social aspect.

It will be interesting to see how much previously considered necessary patterns are restored.

On site employment, car loans and car payments, expensive rent in poorly managed or unsustainable counties—the potential for behavioral change is enormous.


Google isn't exactly a penny pinching small business, and for now, while the getting is good, they don't need to act like one.

Guessing Google leadership doesn't believe that, since:

If employees want to work remotely after Sept. 1, for more than 14 additional days per year, they’ll have to formally apply for it, according to a separate note marked “Need to know.” They can apply for up to 12 months in “the most exceptional circumstances.” The company could, however, call employees back to their assigned office at any point, the note said.

https://www.cnbc.com/2021/03/31/google-speeds-partial-office...


The 14 day policy cited in the article is wrong. It is more than 14 days of international remote work.

So Google recruiters are telling interviewees in the US that they do not need to move to an office location?

From what I understand, you still need to relocate if you get a job offer.


You'll need to relocate after September. Permanent WFH is currently not offered by Google.

But the "you need to formally apply for every remote day and 14 is the absolute cap per year" is not the case.


In one contiguous block too. I think you can do it more than once.

>Google leadership doesn't believe that

What do you mean. Obviously they believe the $1B in cost saving. But what they do also believe is that the value generated by people being in the office will exceed the obvious short term costs.


Well, for one, "primarily as a result of COVID-19" isn't the same as "result of employees working from home". I would guess it intersects some, though I don't know how much.

I think any google leader who read the original post would not believe it, especially given the purely speculative nature

That is some very, very back of the envelope math that ignores a lot of factors. For example, the idea that Google will indefinitely suspend promotions is preposterous. And the idea that taking exceptional financial numbers from the beginning of the pandemic and multiply by 4 to get a meaningful "annualized" figure only makes sense in a 4th grade math textbook. I hate click bait headlines that use exceptionally exaggerated facts.


I have worked from home for 15 years. I’m glad to see it is a serious option now.

I know it isn’t for everyone though.


savings of $268m from company promotions, travel and entertainment

so.. thats a combination of unnecessary spend, and cost-shifting: some of this, the employees now "self fund" as well as avoid.


At google in particular isn’t the on-site food and entertainment a big perk? Seems like even a slightly worse employee retention rate could really cut into this savings.


This is what I wonder about Dropbox. There wasn’t really any particular reason to work there except the food. The RSUs weren’t going anywhere, the technical culture wasn’t amazing, but the food was incredible. In a 100% remote Dropbox, did they bump everybody’s comp by 20%?


They gave them a debit card that covers $1.75k in expenses (groceries, meals, exercise equipment, etc...) every 3 months. Or at least that's what I heard from my brother who works at Dropbox.


What constitutes an excellent tech culture in your view? Just curious

Eh, I could complain about it at length if you get me started but the root cause is they have a process where you have to take all your ideas before a committee of senior engineers and get permission to do anything, and the people who are on the committee are unfortunately not qualified for that purpose, they just happened to have been early employees who blundered into fancy job titles. Aside from that there's also a special clique who do whatever they want to do without regard to that process and the existence of the clique is incredibly corrosive to morale within engineering.

Coming from Google, where you definitely do not need to bow and scrape before Jeff and Sanjay, and even if you did they are both gods who are more than qualified to comment on your ideas, the Dropbox system was a big shock.


Ah, I understand. That's really interesting. Thanks for sharing your experience

I don’t give a rat’s behind about free food and entertainment. It’s nice, but being able to avoid the chaos of an open office and a long commute is nicer.

The value people find in the Google perks is definitely mixed and vary from person to person, and hard to know what the net-net result is. I personally hate to deal with lunch and breakfast (but cook dinner all the time). So the food was a great bonus for me.

I get that this isn't true for everyone.


Honestly, I (childishly) felt dependant on the Google office perks. I didn't want to work anywhere else. It was only after the office closed, I reevaluated my priorities, and subsequently quit Google.

WFH will impact Google's retention. It is no longer a differentiated company.


On the other hand "Google perks" which were once revolutionary are now standard at every tech company in silicon valley. They stopped being the differentiator a long time ago.

These perks are mostly targeted towards younger employees, who don't want to spend time cooking their own food, want to live in the city and use company shuttles to commute, don't care about getting out of the office early to get back to their kids, want to have more options to socialize.

At least speaking to just cafeterias, if Google can forecast what their employees would've wanted to spend their money on, and then purchase that more efficiently than they could, then that is a way for Google to transfer increased value to their employees.


If the cafeterias were for the employer convenience, they can purchase it more efficiently by 1/(1 - Tm) where Tm is the marginal income tax rate, which for Googlers is generally over 40% (combined federal and state and Medicare).

If the lunch is worth $12 to the employee, Google would have had to otherwise pay them $20 to leave them with enough to buy lunch after tax if their marginal rate was 40% combined. Google can probably provide it for $10, which is likely at least 50% deductible to Google.


Although in an odd twist Google catering charged teams $40+/head for a so-so buffet dinner. I assume the ordinary culinary is much more cost effective.


Man, they forecasted that a *lot* of us wanted to eat kale.


The less obvious nicety of company cafeterias is that employees can talk about confidential things without worrying about being overheard... It's very good for encouraging collaboration.

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