Googlers are jolted by life without free lunch as hundreds of thousands work from home — but insiders say 'nobody could be more prepared' than their company for COVID-19 (GOOG)


Google office food

  • Google is recommending nearly all of its hundreds of thousands of employees and staffers around the globe work from home due to COVID-19.
  • The coronavirus outbreak has forced the California tech company to put new restrictions around routines at company offices and to take steps to protect its workforce.
  • Workers told Business Insider they were largely positive about the steps Google has taken. One said “nobody could be more prepared.”
  • The biggest impact for many Googlers is the loss of the company’s famous free lunches.
  • The remote-work order means workers are now having to cook and provide food for themselves.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

Coronavirus is causing chaos for businesses around the globe — and even Google’s legendary free lunches have been affected.

The spread of the deadly viral outbreak has prompted the majority of its hundreds of thousands of workers to work remotely, cutting them off from the company’s lavish complimentary food options and reducing the variety for those still in offices.

At one of its North American offices recently, an employee standing in line for food complained to his colleagues that their employer should make up to its workers financially for the reduced food options. “We should be compensated for not having the usual selection,” he said, according to a kitchen staffer who heard them.

The comment prompted eye-rolls from the culinary workers who heard it. “Dang near broke my jaw keeping a straight face,” the staffer said.

Google has been proactive in its response to the outbreak of COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, which has sickened more than 118,000 people around the world and killed more than 4,200. Over the past few weeks the company, like many others, has progressively locked down its workforce and offices, and taken escalating steps to protect workers from the threat.

Business Insider spoke to four current workers at the company, who were largely positive about the steps Google is taking, and hailed its technical and organizational readiness for a period of unprecedented uncertainty in the global economy — barring certain worries about food.

Google, which has around 119,000 employees and a similar number of contract workers, is now recommending that all employees in North America, Europe, the Middle East, and Africa work remotely if they are able to because of the outbreak. It previously barred all of its employees from traveling internationally for work after an employee in its Zurich office tested positive for the coronavirus.

A Google spokesperson declined to comment on specific support being offered to staff, saying it can vary by location and may change over time.

In a statement, the Google spokesperson said the company was taking steps to protect workers who do need to continue to go to the offices: “To serve our users and keep our products running, some work, performed by Google employees, temporary staff and vendors alike, can only be done by people physically present at offices. We’re taking all necessary and recommended precautions, including increased sanitization and social distancing, a public health best practice.”

‘Nobody could be more prepared’

“We’ve been preparing for weeks, with company-wide communications daily, sometimes multiple times a day,” a Canadian employee said. “Bottom line: nobody could be more prepared or execute on such a massive scale like this except Google.”

Google has run office shutdown drills in Tokyo and Seattle, they added, and the company is providing employees who need them special kits for working from home — including a loaner computer monitor, keyboard, and mouse.

Another employee from in the US hailed Google’s prep, though questioned whether some of it was overkill. “I do think the company is prepared … Everything I’ve read on the disease tells me we don’t need to go into mass shutdown mode but we are prepared for it. It seems like there has a been a great steady stream of updates and behind the scenes work,” they said.

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There has been greater uncertainty about the status of Google’s contract, part-time, and temporary workers and vendors — who collectively make up around half of the company’s total workforce. 

It wasn’t initially clear, for example, what the work-from-home orders would mean for contract shift workers like cleaners and cooks, but Google has since said that these workers will continue to be paid full wages even if they’re working reduced hours. “Morale is high and upbeat,” the kitchen staffer said. “Not looking forward to scrubbing down the cafes from top to bottom, but no one ever looks forward to that.”

There has been similar uncertainty around the status of Google’s other contract staffers, some of whom complained that they were not being offered sick leave by the contract firms that directly employ them. Google has now said it is creating a new fund to provide sick pay benefits to all contract workers, but this hasn’t fully alleviated complaints. Some contract technical workers have still not received approval to access the Google computer network remotely, meaning that they can’t work from home and need to continue to commute into their offices daily, one worker said.

‘Losing free food is a blow’

And then there’s the free lunches.

Food remains a topic of frequent discussion among Google’s newly remote workers, some of whom are irked about having to cook and prepare food themselves, sources said — but people don’t seem to be freaking out about it.

“Losing free food is a blow,” one employee said. “I don’t personally stock a fridge so it drastically alters my life in that sense and budget. Being single me and some coworkers tend towards the strategy of eating out when we don’t work. Cooking for one sucks.”

“The biggest fear Googlers have in all this is not having access to free food,” the Canadian employee said. “I’m only slightly kidding. But real concerns are super minimal.” 

And the kitchen staffer added that most Google employees are entirely pleasant, and thank the culinary workers for their help. “I’d harp on the naysayers, but it’s par for the course in this industry… not everyone can be pleased.”

Do you work at Google or Alphabet? How is the coronavirus outbreak affecting your workplace? Contact this reporter using a nonwork device via encrypted messaging app Signal (+1-650-636-6268), encrypted email (, standard email (, Telegram/Wickr/WeChat (robaeprice), or Twitter DM (@robaeprice). PR pitches by standard email only, please.

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