Tech

Google relaxes mandates, opens amenities as it prepares for workers to return

Key Points
  • Google's real estate VP told San Francisco Bay Area employees that Covid-19 risk has fallen low enough to reinstate the buzzy, fun perks for which the company is known, such as fitness centers and massages.
  • The regional offices are also dropping some of the Covid-19 protocol requirements, and the company will no longer require vaccination as a condition of employment in the U.S.
  • It comes as the company prepares to bring workers back to the office three days a week after two years of delays.
An Android statue is displayed in front of a building on the Google campus on January 31, 2022 in Mountain View, California. Google parent company Alphabet will report fourth quarter earnings on Tuesday after the closing bell.
Justin Sullivan | Getty Images

Google is dropping some Covid-related mandates for employees and restoring perks back to its headquarters as it prepares to bring workers back to the office.

Google Real Estate and Workplace Services VP David Radcliffe wrote an email to San Francisco Bay Area employees this week explaining that the company is relaxing some rules around vaccines, testing, social distancing and masks. Separately, a Google spokesperson told CNBC that the company has reversed course and will not require vaccinations as a condition of employment for U.S. workers, but declined to offer further details.

Radcliffe's note also said that perks such as massages and access to informal spaces in the office will be returning. In the past, Google has been able to attract talent with fun office amenities, but many of those were suspended during the pandemic.

The moves come as the company prepares to require most employees to come into physical offices at least three days a week for a "hybrid" work model, while some other Bay Area tech companies are offering fully remote work options. Google has had to delay its office return several times amid various Covid-19 variant surges, and another surge could change these latest plans once again.

It has almost been two years since Google and other tech companies first sent their employees home at the start of the pandemic. Since then, the labor market has tightened, employees have grumbled about missing perks, and workers have voiced their desire to remain working remotely.

Vaccines, testing requirements relaxed

Radcliffe's note says Bay Area offices are lifting the testing requirement imposed in January, which applied even to vaccinated employees.  

In addition, Google is dropping its social distancing requirement and masks for vaccinated employees in most areas, noting that the few cities still requiring masks are likely to drop them soon. 

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Google is also reversing course on requiring vaccination for employment for U.S. employees, according to Google spokesperson Lora Lee Erickson. In November, CNBC reported the company told employees that they must comply with vaccine policies or they'd face loss of pay and eventually loss of employment.

Erickson told CNBC the company dropped the requirement for employment last month after removing the Jan. 18 deadline it had set for employees to either get vaccinated or get exemption approval. She declined to provide further details on the policy or the reasons for the reversal, but noted that employees would still need to be vaccinated or have an exemption in order to come into the office.

"We're continuing to implement our vaccination policy requiring COVID-19 vaccinations or approved accommodations for any individuals accessing our sites, because it's one of the most important ways we can keep our workforce safe and keep our services running," Erickson noted.

Unvaccinated employees who are approved to enter offices will still need to follow additional protocols, including testing and wearing a mask, Radcliffe's note stated.

"Preparing for 'hybrid' and return to HQ

Radcliffe also wrote that the company is reopening amenities such as fitness centers without appointment and massages; restoring full shuttle service; adding more places to eat free breakfast and lunch; and opening "all informal spaces" such as lounges, game rooms, music rooms and massage chairs.

"We're at the beginning of a journey, so the office experience will feel pretty similar to what it was like pre-Covid," Radcliffe said. "We're designing and piloting options to support new ways of working together and we'll gather insights, data and feedback to help us learn as we go."

Radcliffe added that in-person business meetings and events are also "ramping back up."

"We're giving employees who welcome the chance to come into the office the option to do that wherever we safely can, while allowing those who aren't ready to keep working from home," Erickson told CNBC. "Based on current conditions in the Bay Area, we're pleased that our employees who choose to come in now have the ability to access more onsite spaces and services to work and connect with colleagues."

The San Francisco Bay Area has the highest concentration of Google offices, with dozens of buildings across several cities in the region, including its Mountain View headquarters. Radcliffe said 30% of Google employees in the area came into the office over the past week, but the return remains voluntary.

The company has still not determined a new date for the mandated return since it last pushed off its Jan. 10 expectation amid the omicron surge. But under a line titled "What Happens Next?" Radcliffe notes that it is preparing to begin its 30-day transition period to the hybrid work week if conditions continue to improve. He said his team is planning "celebrations" to welcome back employees.