Google has backtracked on plans to welcome most workers back to its sprawling campus in September, becoming the latest Silicon Valley company to delay reopening amid a surge in Covid cases.
The company announced Wednesday it is postponing a return to the office until mid-October and rolling out a policy that will eventually require everyone who returns in person to be vaccinated.
The decision sees Google join Apple and Netflix in postponing calling employees back to the office due to concerns about the highly transmissible Delta variant, which now accounts for more than 80% of new cases in the US. Twitter also halted reopening plans and closed offices last week due to the Delta variant.
In an email to Google’s more than 130,000 employees worldwide, chief executive officer Sundar Pichai said the company is now aiming to have most of its workforce back to its offices beginning 18 October instead of its previous target date of 1 September.
Google’s delay also affects tens of thousands of contractors who Google intends to continue to pay while access to its campuses remains limited.
“This extension will allow us time to ramp back into work while providing flexibility for those who need it,” Pichai wrote. This marks the third time Google has pushed back the date for fully reopening its offices.
Pichai said that once offices are fully reopened, everyone working there will have to be vaccinated. The requirement will be first imposed at Google’s headquarters in Mountain View, California, and other US offices, before being extended to the more than 40 other countries where Google operates.
Facebook announced a similar policy on Wednesday, saying it will make vaccines mandatory for US employees who work in offices. Apple is reportedly also considering requiring vaccines.
“This is the stuff that needs to be done, because otherwise we are endangering workers and their families,” said Dr Leana Wen, a public health professor at George Washington University and a former health commissioner for the city of Baltimore. “It is not fair to parents to be expected to come back to work and sit shoulder-to-shoulder with unvaccinated people who could be carrying a potentially deadly virus.”
Because children under the age of 12 aren’t currently eligible to be vaccinated, parents can bring the virus home to them from the office if they are around unvaccinated colleagues, Wen said.
The delays from these companies could influence other major employers to take similar precautions, given that the technology industry has been at the forefront of the shift to remote work triggered by the spread of Covid-19.
Even before the World Health Organization declared a pandemic in March 2020, Google, Apple and many other prominent tech firms had been telling their employees to work from home. Many others in the tech industry have decided to let employees do their jobs from remote locations permanently.
Google’s decision to require employees working in the office to be vaccinated comes on the heels of similar moves affecting hundreds of thousands government workers in California and New York as part of stepped-up measures to fight the delta variant. Joe Biden is expected to announce a mandate that all federal government workers be vaccinated.
The rapid rise in cases during the past month has prompted more public health officials to urge stricter measures to help overcome vaccine skepticism and misinformation.
While other major technology companies may follow suit now that Google and Facebook have taken stands on vaccines, employers in other industries still may be reluctant, predicted Brian Kropp, chief of research for the research firm Gartner. Less than 10% of employers have said they intend to require all employees to be vaccinated, based on periodic surveys by Gartner.
“Google is seen as being such a different kind of company that I think it’s going to take one or two more big employers to do something similar in terms of becoming a game changer,” Kropp said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report