The Way We Work Now

The Google Employee Who’s Fleeing Silicon Valley

When Google announced we’d be working remotely until at least the summer of 2021, I decided it’s time to pack up and leave

The Way We Work Now is a series chronicling how people’s lives and careers have fundamentally changed because of the pandemic.

This anonymous software engineer is in their twenties and works for Google. They spoke with Mai Tran about the tech company’s decision to extend remote work for at least a year.

I moved to the Bay three years ago for the tech industry. I wanted to be a part of that and to learn more about the software ecosystem around there. Google definitely epitomizes that culture, good and bad.

I think Google was one of the first companies to go fully remote, starting early March. In the beginning, I saw it mostly as an opportunity to see my family in Ohio. My dad is in pretty good health, he’s a physician, and I have one brother who’s a little bit younger than me. I definitely did not see my grandparents, who also live in the same community, but it was nice to be at home for a few weeks, which is pretty rare. We’re all getting older and don’t really get to do that anymore.

My plan is to just wing it, and we’ll see how it goes.

When Google announced last month it was going remote until the summer of 2021, both my roommates and I planned to move out. My lease is going to be up at the end of the year, and I think it’d be a good opportunity to just get an Airbnb for a month in a couple different cities, to see all my old friends from college, and explore some new places. I still don’t quite know how I’ll do it, but you sort of learn to wing it when you move out here. I’m a bit used to Silicon Valley now, it’s for sure stressful and the housing sucks. So my plan is to just wing it, and we’ll see how it goes.

For now, I’m still based in the same area in San Francisco. I have two roommates who work at other companies, and it does get cramped. It’s a tiny apartment. I pay around $1,400 a month. We moved the furniture around and made a kind of open office area, and we have this ad hoc room to take meetings. All three of us have our desks set up, and we all work together throughout the day. That alleviates some of the loneliness.

I have to make time to get out of the apartment in the mornings, to make sure I take breaks, but I work on and off throughout the day a lot more. I might have to take on-call shifts, and that has to be responsive 24/7. Most of my interactions are with my immediate team, and even then, it’s mostly purely in the context of work. I’ve only been at Google for about a year, so I still have a lot of things that I want and need to learn. Figuring things out by yourself and not being able to ask questions is harder. In the office, there’s just an energy you get from other people.

I think by extending the remote work out until July, what Google is doing is setting expectation.

Google is pretty flexible when it comes to taking time off for your mental health. I’ve felt my mental health suffer, at least the first couple months of Covid, just from being stuck in one place for a long time. I think Google recognizes that, and they let you set expectations with your manager about what is expected of you. But at the end of the day, it’s still a workplace; you’re still trying to do your job and there are still pressure-filled situations. It’s a struggle for a lot of people.

For people like me, in their mid-twenties, it’s the communities and cities that have things you can’t really get anywhere else that I still want to be a part of, once things return somewhat to normal. When I first got to the Bay I relied on informal networks to find a place to live. I found some room on a Facebook group and did one month’s rent there for a while, to get my bearings. Then once I’d made some friends I moved into a better situation with them. But I think it’s this process that you have to be here a few years already to figure it out, to manage it at all. Now it’s such a logistical mess to bring everyone back, and there are so many people who are at risk. I think by extending the remote work out until July 2021, Google is setting expectations, making sure that people take the time off they need to. It’s a good decision, but it’s definitely hard for everyone.

writer based in new york

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