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Google's once happy offices feel the chill of layoffs| GuyWhoKnowsThings

When a coworker of Diane Hirsh Theriault returned from lunch at Google's office in Cambridge, Massachusetts, one October afternoon, his work badge failed to open a turnstile. She quickly realized that it was a sign that she had been fired.

Ms. Hirsh Theriault soon learned that most of her Google News engineering colleagues in Cambridge had also lost their jobs. More than 40 people They were fired in the news division, a company union said, although several of them were later offered jobs elsewhere within Google.

Hirsh Theriault's experience is increasingly common at Google, where there have been continuous job cuts in recent months, after a year of significant layoffs, they have employees nervous. The layoffs have slowed projects and led employees to spend work hours trying to figure out which work groups have been affected and who might be next, said 10 current and former Google employees, including some who requested anonymity. to be able to speak frankly about their jobs. .

What's more, the layoffs have changed the narrative that long defined work at Google; which was more of a community of fixers than an everyday office, where creativity and innovative thinking were encouraged. it was a fun and different type of place to work.

Google CEO Sundar Pichai said more than a year ago that the company would cut 12,000 jobs, or 6 percent of the workforce, describing it as “a difficult decision that will prepare us for the future.”

Those cuts have been spread out this year in what Pichai said could be much smaller, successive layoffs throughout the year. Since the beginning of January, the company has cut more than a thousand jobs, affecting its advertising sales division, Youtube and employees working on the company's voice-operated assistant.

Alphabet, Google's parent company, has said it is trying to cut expenses to pay for its growing investment in artificial intelligence. And Google is trying to reduce layers of bureaucracy so employees can focus on the company's most important priorities, said Courtenay Mencini, a Google spokesperson. The company added that it was not carrying out a company-wide layoff and that the reorganizations were part of the normal course of business.

“The reality is that to create the capacity for this investment, we have to make difficult decisions,” Pichai wrote in a note to employees on Jan. 17. For some divisions, “this means reorganizing and, in some cases, eliminating roles.” Teams could still eliminate additional roles during the year, he added.

Employees say the atmosphere in the workplace has become grim. Although Google has gone into overdrive to develop artificial intelligence products and keep pace with competitors Like Microsoft and startup OpenAI, some of the humans building the company's technology feel less important.

Now “the buildings are half empty at 4:30,” Hirsh Theriault wrote in a LinkedIn post. “I know a lot of people, myself included, who used to happily work evenings and weekends to finish the demo or just out of boredom. That no longer exists.”

Google's layoffs have been fewer than those of other large technology companies such as Meta. And as a percentage of the company's total workforce, they are much smaller than recent cuts at companies like photocopy and live streaming platform Twitch. Google's full-time workforce was 182,502 at the end of 2023, just 4 percent less than at the end of 2022. On Tuesday, the company said It made a profit of $20.7 billion in the last quarter of 2023, 52 percent more than the previous year.

But Google's job cuts have been accompanied by broader changes to the way the company operated, reorganizing work groups and eliminating layers of management. Workers complain that the reorganization has been carried out in a chaotic and poorly communicated manner.

When YouTube fired one of its teams of vendor managers, who are responsible for approving purchase orders so content moderation companies get paid, the company didn't notify other groups that report to the team, one person said. although some of the workers were offered the opportunity to get their jobs back.

When layoffs resumed in January, a Google worker in Switzerland started an internal document for employees to track job cuts, since the company had told them little about where it was making the cuts. The document has become an essential source of information, employees said, along with news reports, social media and old office rumors.

“From an HR standpoint, this is a nightmare,” said Meghan M. Biro, whose company, TalentCulture, creates content on best practices in HR. “This completely reverses his image as a desirable employer.”

Google said leaders have communicated clearly with teams when they are going through changes.

Workers warned in interviews that some of the cuts could prove detrimental to parts of the business already struggling to complete thorny tasks. In January, Google cut hundreds of employees from its central engineering organization, responsible for its infrastructure and tools used across the company.

One of the main priorities of the central division is helping Google deliver with the European Digital Markets Act when the law comes into force on March 6. The law will force tech giants to show consumers their options for online services, such as web browsers, and require them to obtain consent to share user data within the company. But employees working on the efforts fear the company is behind schedule and it could be difficult for Google to fully meet the deadline, two people with knowledge of the matter said.

Google said it had already started rolling out consent screens for European users in January and hoped to introduce more changes before the deadline. It added that recent job reductions at its main division would not affect the schedule.

Google employees have long been encouraged to work on experimental projects. But doing anything experimental over the past year has proven to be risky, said four workers who spoke on condition of anonymity. The company has practically closed Area 120its internal incubator that attempted to develop new products and services, and changed the strategy of X, the so-called “moonshot factory” that tried to build new companies.

Google said employees were consistently doing “ambitious and extraordinarily innovative things across the company.”

Employees are more reluctant to apply for so-called 20 percent, or side, projects, which used to be a way to explore an idea outside their regular work that they found compelling, five people said. That was an unfortunate change for Rupert Breheny, who spent 16 years at Google, mostly in Zurich, working on products like Google Street View in Maps.

“What brought you to Google was passion,” said Breheny, who was fired last summer. “You could have fun doing things. “It stayed that way for a long time.”

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