Googlers don't telecommute

BEN GRUBB
Last updated 12:41 19/02/2013
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OFF THE COUCH: Google Apps helps people work anywhere, but tech giants still prefer their staff in the office.

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Google believes working at home, or "teleworking", is not the best environment for ideas to flourish, according to its chief financial officer Patrick Pichette.

It's a startling opinion from one of the leaders of the company that made email universally available and encouraged businesses to adopt "Google Apps" so employees could work anytime, anywhere.

"The surprising question we get is: 'How many people telecommute at Google?' " Mr Pichette said at a talk in Sydney on Monday. "And our answer is: 'As few as possible'.

"It's somewhat counterintuitive. People think, 'Well, because you're at Google you can work from anywhere.' Yes, you can work from anywhere, but many just commute to offices... Working from the office is really important."

Pichette, who is in Australia to visit Google's office here and the local start-up community, made the comments to workers at Fishburners, a Sydney "co-working" space shared by technology entrepreneurs.

Pichette said he believed that working from home could isolate employees from other staff.

He cited a Dilbert cartoon in which Dilbert ends up working from home half-naked because those in videoconferences with him can only see him on screens from the waist up.

"There is something magical about sharing meals," Pichette said of working at an office. "There is something magical about spending the time together, about noodling on ideas, about asking at the computer 'What do you think of this?' These are [the] magical moments that we think at Google are immensely important in the development of your company, of your own personal development and [of] building much stronger communities."

Telecommuting, or "teleworking", has been touted by the federal government as one of the key benefits of the national broadband network, which will provide high-speed internet access using fibre optic cables to approximately 93 per cent of Australians.

Last year, Prime Minister Julia Gillard made a commitment to have 12 per cent of the Australian Public Service regularly teleworking from home by 2020. At the time of the announcement, Ms Gillard said about 4 per cent of the public service had a teleworking arrangement.

In 2011, Communications Minister Stephen Conroy cited Australian Bureau of Statistics figures, showing that just 6 per cent of Australian employees had telework arrangements.

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He said that businesses must change their attitudes about people working from home. "In Australia, the number of people with an arrangement with their employer to work from home has been low by international standards."

'NO ONE SHOULD HAVE TO DRIVE'

Pichette also told the Fishburners meeting about Google's self-driving car project. He said that, from an engineering perspective, there was a joke that "nobody should be driving cars".

"Look at factorial math and probabilities of everything that could go wrong, times the number of cars out there," he said. "That's why you have gridlock.

"It's [considered] just completely normal to be ... kind-of paralysed and in traffic. It makes no sense to make people drive cars."

He cited the high death-rate of American teenagers who texted on smartphones while driving as one of the main reasons why people should not be driving.

"In the US right now I think texting and driving kills more teenagers than anything else. Why? They shouldn't be driving. They're going to text. Yes, you can educate them, but in the first place if they weren't driving, they could text all day long, which is what they want to do."

This was where Google's self-driving car could help out, he said.

- FFX Aus

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