Google will spend $7 billion on new buildings and data centers in the U.S. this year, doubling down on a return to the office

Google was one of the first major U.S. companies to send its workers home in March 2020 as the coronavirus began to spread rapidly across the United States. It now plans to bring employees back to the office in September, but unlike Facebook and Twitter, it hasn’t given them the option for permanent remote work.

“Coming together in person to collaborate and build community is core to Google’s culture, and it will be an important part of our future,” chief executive Sundar Pichai said in a blog post Thursday. Last year, Pichai outlined a hybrid approach, where workers could work from home sometimes but come into the office regularly for in-person meetings.

Google has long been a pioneer in office design and culture. The wacky colors, whimsical design and free meals the company became famous for in its early years have been replicated by start-ups and big companies alike. In recent years, Google has commissioned sleek, modern buildings designed by world-famous architects.

Other major companies have begun outlining their post-pandemic work plans. Ford Motor Co. said Wednesday that it would let 30,000 North American employees work from home permanently, while other workers would move to a hybrid model, not unlike Google’s planned system.

Google also said it will hire 10,000 new full-time employees in the United States this year. At least 1,000 of those workers will be in Atlanta, Chicago, New York and Washington, D.C. — cities with higher populations of Black workers — as Google tries to increase the diversity of its workforce, according to the blog post

The company has been aggressively enlarging its footprint outside of California for several years. Even before the coronavirus pandemic, it built offices in Boston, New York and Seattle to tap into high-tech workforces outside of California. The sprawling data centers that host the company’s services and fuel the rise of its fast-growing cloud business now dot the country, from Georgia to Nevada.

Paying taxes and employing workers in many places nationwide also has the benefit of increasing Google’s political influence. That’s especially important as politicians scrutinize the company for its competitive behavior and how it moderates the content on its websites.

State officials are suing Google for using its position in the digital advertising market to freeze out competitors. Federally, the U.S. government claims that deals that Google has struck with companies such as Apple to make its search engine the default for most Americans are illegal. Conservative politicians want to cut back Google’s ability to police its platforms such as YouTube, while liberals want it take a heavier hand in banning racist content and harassment.

The $7 billion investment is down slightly from what Google has spent in recent years. The company won’t say exactly how much it invested in 2020 beyond confirming that it has spent $30 billion in the past three years. Given spending of $9 billion in 2018 and $13 billion in 2019, that total suggests that Google invested less than the $10 billion it had originally planned to spend before the pandemic began.

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