Google Asks All U.S. Staff To Work From Home As COVID-19 Spreads

Google’s NYC offices, March 2018. (Photo: Spencer Platt, Getty Images)

Google has asked all of its North American employees—well over 100,000, counting all those working under parent company Alphabet, and a similarly massive number of contractors—to work from home due to the novel coronavirus outbreak, Business Insider reported on Tuesday.

The request applies to all workers who are able to perform their jobs from home and will extend until April 10, 2020. It’s one of the broadest remote work orders implemented so far in response to the coronavirus outbreak (now essentially a pandemic) spreading around the globe, resulting in nearly 114,000 confirmed cases and over 4,000 deaths as of World Health Organisation data for March 10. In the U.S., there have been around 973 cases and 30 fatalities spread over 37 states and Washington, DC, according to the New York Times.

The novel virus first emerged in Hubei province, China, and causes a disease known as COVID-19. A large study in China recently concluded that some 81 per cent of COVID-19 cases result in only minor symptoms, though some 14 per cent experienced moderate symptoms, and five per cent experienced critical symptoms such as “respiratory failure, septic shock or multiple organ dysfunction.” There remain many unknowns associated with COVID-19 such as mortality rate (WHO data pegs it at somewhere between 2 per cent and 3.4 per cent, though it could be much lower due to unreported cases), but it’s known that the elderly and individuals with some preexisting conditions or who have compromised immune systems are at higher risk. With a high likelihood of rapid and sustained spread throughout the states, social distancing measures and event cancellations are ramping up.

In a tweet, Alphabet and Google CEO Sundar Pichai boosted an Axios article on the company’s work from home advisory and urged companies and members of the public to contribute “to social distancing if you are able to.” That would help spread out the impact of the virus and prevent health care systems from becoming overloaded, Pichai added.

Google and other big tech firms have also said they will compensate workers affected by office schedule reductions, with Google also announcing on March 10 that it was starting a fund to provide paid sick leave to workers for contract companies that do not yet have it. The company’s offices will remain open for staff that cannot perform their duties remotely, according to Business Insider.

“Out of an abundance of caution, and for the protection of Alphabet and the broader community, we now recommend the you work from home if your role allows,” Google vice president of global security Chris Rackow wrote in an email to staff, according to CNN. “... The goal of businesses moving to work from home (WFH) arrangements is to significantly reduce the density of people and lower the health risk in offices, and also reduce the burden on the local community and health resourced, enabling those in need to get quicker support.”

Other tech companies including Apple, Amazon, Microsoft, and Facebook have begun asking some staff to work from home during the outbreak, restricted international travel, and cancelled events. Google is the only company to extend those requests nationwide, however, and its announcement will likely jolt other firms into following through in the next few days. Schools across the country have already begun shutting down or transferring to online classes, while Democratic presidential candidates Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders have cancelled rallies. Donald Trump has not, and in fact announced an extra one in Wisconsin on Tuesday.

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