Google cites hardware shortage in internal documents

Google CEO Sundar Pichai

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Google has been scrambling to give its workforce the equipment it needs to work from home, slowing the company’s ability to bring new hires aboard.

Google recently told employees that hardware including computers, laptops and phones are in limited supply and that it has canceled all laptop upgrades that were in progress, according to internal documents shared with CNBC. A spokesperson said that equipment provisioning for new hires is now back on track, but acknowledged that the process of onboarding new employees has been slower since the company asked everyone to work from home starting in March.

The equipment complications show another wrinkle that large companies must manage as they transition their employees to working from home. Executives at Google and its parent company, Alphabet, have shifted its 300,000-person workforce to a remote working environment amid the Covid-19 pandemic, closing offices even as the company continued hiring and onboarding new employees. Last month, Alphabet CEO Sundar Pichai said in an internal memo that the company had added 4,000 new employees so far this year, but the company has slowed its hiring plans since the beginning of the year.

Employees said the documents describing equipment shortages were available on internal message boards as recently as early May.

“Remote onboarding is not a scalable process and essential equipment is not readily available in many locations,” one document read. “We’re doing our best to get as many laptops as we can, but it’s not currently possible to equip everyone with a laptop.”

“This is due to our major suppliers experiencing manufacturing shortages,” the document read.

A Google spokesperson acknowledged that the onboarding process for remote employees was slower than it was in person, but said it is now meeting targets for onboarding new hires. The spokesperson also reiterated that hiring has slowed.

“We’re slowing our pace of hiring and investment, and are not bringing on as many new starters as we’d planned at the beginning of the year. We’re continuing to invest in a number of strategic areas,” the spokesperson said. 

The documents also said that that equipment for TVCs (temporary, vendor, and contract employees), which make up roughly half of its workforce, is even more “limited.” The company is prioritizing requests for “Nooglers” — new full-time hires —  and those with broken, lost or stolen equipment.

“We’re finding that our capacity to provision new temporary staff and vendors with essential equipment, such as laptops, as well as our ability to properly onboard them has been significantly reduced,” the document said.

A Google spokesperson said this information about prioritizing gear for new hires over TVCs is out of date and no longer accurate, but declined to say when the change took place.

If full-time employees or interns need equipment but their “Work From Home Kit” delivery isn’t available, they may expense up to $300 (USD) or local limit on tech equipment pending manager approval, a separate forum entry stated. The company recently clarified its expense policies, telling employees they cannot expense perks, food or home office furniture, even if they have unused budgets for canceled activities like internal meetings and events.

In the documents, Google urged employees to be patient when it comes to feedback on equipment processes.

“We’re trying very hard to help as many Googlers as possible in this uncertain time, and understand that because we’re moving so quickly, we may have missed some use cases,” it states in one section. “It’s not intentional.”

Google is planning to re-open its offices slowly, beginning as early as June, prioritizing those whose jobs require them to be in the office and those who need access to special equipment, according to an internal memo Pichai sent last week. Employees who can work from home might continue to do so for the rest of the year.

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