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Sundar Pichai on WFH: Why it currently works for Google, ‘too early’ to determine lasting impact

Tech companies are well-positioned to work from home, with Mark Zuckerberg this week announcing a permanent remote shift for Facebook. Those plans were praised by some and debated by others. In another interview this week, Alphabet/Google CEO Sundar Pichai shared his outlook for work at Google.

Speaking to Wired, Sundar Pichai does expect the nature of work to change due to COVID-19, but thinks “it’s still too early to tell how much.” He makes the case that initial WFH success is “based on a foundation of all of us knowing each other and having the regular interactions we already had.”

I’m curious to see what happens as we get into that three-to-six-month window and we get into things where we are doing something for the first time. How productive will we be when different teams who don’t normally work together have to come together for brainstorming, the creative process?

For example, early on in the pandemic, Google’s onboarding process for new employees was waylaid by equipment shortages. The company will turn to research and, ultimately, data to “learn what works.”

Pichai very much expects the need for physical spaces to congregate when asked by Wired about whether Google is having second thoughts about new campuses in Mountain View and New York:

We have a lot of growth planned ahead. So even if there is some course correction I don’t think our existing footprint is going to be the issue. I am positive we will put it to good use and I’m anxious to see some of those projects get done.

When questioned about the Alphabet parent company structure, Pichai gave an ardent defense of the organization, noting that he was closely involved with its inception in 2015. That said, some new and spun-out divisions have have returned in recent years:

He makes the case that not everything Google — at the time — was interested in fit under the “internet space,” thus requiring a separation as to not overload one management team with very different issues.

The bet was we were investing a lot in foundational deep technology, but not everything would fit in what I would call the internet space. And Alphabet was set up to be able to do that and to have separation from Google because some of the problems are very, very different where you’re applying technology.

Lastly, Wired’s Steven Levy posed a very interesting question about how Google — in its early days — would not pursue a product unless it was 10x or 100x better than competing offerings. When Pichai was asked what he thought Google’s last product to meet that criteria, he cited Assistant as a product in “early stages” of being scaled up.

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Avatar for Abner Li Abner Li

Editor-in-chief. Interested in the minutiae of Google and Alphabet. Tips/talk: