For employees of the company behind the world’s most inescapable search engine, the explosion of 2019 novel coronavirus has been felt in a variety of ways.
No dry cleaning. No office barista. No gourmet meals.
Google has advised all its employees in North America, Europe, Africa, and the Middle East to work from home until (at least) April 10 to curb the spread of COVID-19, the disease that has infected more than 121,000 people worldwide, killed 4,300, and been declared a pandemic by the World Health Organization.
That means no office perks. And the company’s 120,000 employees are hurting from the deprivations. Sort of.
“I miss the cafes and gym at the office, but that’s totally first world problems :),” Matt Cowger, who splits his time between working from home in Oakland and Google’s San Francisco office, told The Daily Beast via Twitter.
Cowger leads a team within Google Cloud that recruits and retains startups as clients for the cloud computing business, according to his LinkedIn. He said his team was distributed across the globe, and that he found Google’s communication tools amidst a global health crisis to be effective.
Google was one of the first tech giants to establish the work culture of a friendly, sometimes zany office full of niceties that came to define Silicon Valley for much of the past two decades. The amenities employees enjoy today would fit in well at luxury hotels: gyms, onsite cafeterias with free lunch and dinner, onsite doctors and masseurs, financial advisers, and free classes, according to Google’s own jobs site.
Even satellite offices enjoy ritzy perks. One Google employee told The Daily Beast that the company’s Boulder office, an engineering and support hub, had a gym, a cafeteria that served two meals a day, a free coffee bar complete with barista, and a pickup and dropoff point for delivery dry cleaning. There’s also an onsite garden, per Google’s site.
The disruption of working from home has elicited grumbling complaints because the virus hasn’t threatened Colorado as severely as elsewhere, the employee said.
“The folks here are a little salty about it—there have only been a few cases in Colorado, and none yet in Boulder,” the employee told The Daily Beast. (There were fewer than three-dozen reported cases of COVID-19 in Colorado as of Wednesday morning, and none in Boulder County, according to the local public health department). “Most folks here have kids, some with stay at home spouses, so they'll have to balance that.”
But things weren’t so drastic, she added: “It’s just whining.”
An engineer at YouTube, a subsidiary of Google, echoed those comments when describing the mood at the company’s San Bruno headquarters.
“There was a bit of joking about lack of food and of course memes, but it seemed more jokey than truly salty,” he said.
Describing the internal discussion, the YouTube employee added, “There’s some Bear Grylls ‘drink my own piss’ out there, that's a throw back,” referencing the outdoorsman’s outlandish and seemingly unnecessary antics on his survival show, Man vs Wild, which became a meme nearly a decade ago. The engineer declined to share the memes themselves, citing corporate punishment for past meme leaks.
The second Google employee and YouTube engineer spoke on condition of anonymity as they were not authorized to talk to the press. Google requires employees to sign non-disclosure agreements that generally forbid them from providing information to the media without approval.
Meanwhile, a commenter who claimed to work for Google caused a stir when he wrote on Hacker News that the absence of perks meant he couldn’t do his job well.
“My productivity has gone down as well. Because (a) I didn't have a coffee machine at home, and ended up either having to take a mile-long walk to Starbucks or fight against my morning drowsiness; (b) I now need to cook, do the dishes, etc, which are previously handled by the office cafeteria; (c) I tried to reduce my screen time by not having external monitors at home, and now I code on a small 13-inch laptop display.”
Twitter denizens and fellow commenters roasted the poster for being unable to fend for himself and for relying so heavily on his employer for basic functions. He didn’t see what the fuss was about.
“I honestly don't see why people see a need to mock me, when I'm pointing out the fact that at my home I don't have the amenities that I enjoy at the office. I'm not even complaining about anything,” he wrote.
He later tried to explain himself, “The reality is [Google] does pamper its employees, making it unnecessary for me to do a lot of things people do. I haven't proactively solved the problems because they didn't need to be solved. It was privilege, for sure, and now it's inconvenience.”
The explanation elicited little sympathy, and when contacted by The Daily Beast, the commenter declined to comment for this story. Google did not respond to a request for comment.
It’s not all sour grapes, though. Some Googlers even seemed to be excited about how they might cope with epidemiological banishment.
“My team is currently excitedly discussing the best stews, breads, and long running recipes to make while we're stuck at home,” the YouTube engineer said.