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Google Cloud is experimenting with the ‘on-site off-site’ to fuel creativity

In the continuing public health emergency brought about by COVID-19, few companies have done more to encourage their employees to work from home than Alphabet Inc.’s Google. Over the summer, the search and advertising giant announced that it would let employees work from home until July 2021

But Google’s leaders are also keenly aware that creativity and cohesion can suffer when coworkers don’t share the same physical space. And as Google Cloud CEO Thomas Kurian explained in an interview at this year’s Fortune Brainstorm Tech virtual summit, his division of the company has begun experimenting with a solution: the “on-site offsite.” 

Pre-pandemic, tech engineering leaders have long used offsite excursions outside the office to kick off new concepts or develop product plans—”to find uninterrupted time,” as Kurian told Fortune’s Aaron Pressman. “But now with everybody offsite every day, how do you bring people together?”

To make that happen, Google Cloud is now trying out “on-site offsites,” in which staffers gather at company facilities to meet en masse in spaces where they can follow social distancing guidelines. “In some places, on campuses where we have lawns and other things, they sit outside,” Kurian said. “It allows them to have more of a physically intimate team meeting, rather than just doing everything digitally. And we’ve seen that that has helped a lot to bring greater cohesion to some of our teams, particularly for newer employees to meet their managers.”

Such meetings are currently happening only in a few locations where it’s safe and legal to do so and where employees are comfortable with the concept. Kurian characterized that approach as part of a broader Google policy of being ultra-flexible and ultra-local about work environments. “Some parts of the world are largely back to normal. Other parts of the world are still affected,” Kurian said. “And so rather than have a global policy, we’ve been very adaptive, letting leaders in our different cities and countries make decisions because people do work in a local context.” 

The global work-from-home situation has helped fuel a boom year for Google Cloud. While cloud services still account for a relatively small share of Google’s overall sales, the company reported $3.4 billion in cloud revenue in the most recent quarter, a 45% year-over-year increase. Research firm Canalys estimates that Google Cloud accounted for about 7% of global cloud infrastructure market share in the quarter, putting it at No. 3 worldwide behind Amazon Web Services (32%) and Microsoft Azure (19%). 

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