Google bets on return to office with $1bn purchase of London building

Google has said it will spend $1bn to purchase its office building near London’s Tottenham Court Road, in a big bet on its employees coming back to work.

The Silicon Valley giant is making the move even though it is also building a huge new headquarters in nearby King’s Cross because it believes in the office “as a place for in-person collaboration and connection”.

When put together with its other offices across the UK, the purchase of Central St Giles will give Google the capacity to host 10,000 workers. It currently employs 6,400 people in the UK, but said it had added nearly 700 positions in the past year and currently had 165 open roles.

The investment in Central Saint Giles comes despite uncertainty around the willingness of workers to return to the office.

In England, vacancy rates have edged up during the pandemic and millions of square foot of office space has been shuttered or converted to other uses, such as residential, as demand for workspace contracts.

Estate agencies expect that a shift towards more flexible work will make a large chunk of the market redundant in the next few years.

But high-end offices with strong environmental credentials have remained in demand from tenants and investors who have to meet more stringent emissions targets and compete in a war for talent.

Within Google, the company said, “some” UK employees had already decided to shift to remote work permanently. Globally, about 20 per cent of workers have been given permission to work from home full-time.

The company’s policies on remote work have seen several revisions and postponements during the pandemic. Most recently, it told employees it was aiming for a three days per week in the office model.

The search giant’s leadership has also taken a firm stance on vaccination, announcing a series of measures such as paid and then unpaid leave for those refusing the jab.

Google said part of its investment would include repurposing its existing office space, including the creation of “campfire” spaces with a view to “deintensify” the office.

“We have been privileged to operate in the UK for nearly 20 years, and our purchase of the Central Saint Giles development reflects our continued commitment to the country’s growth and success,” said Google’s chief financial officer, Ruth Porat, in a statement.

Google will become a landlord to the existing businesses at Central Saint Giles, including NBCUniversal. Google said it anticipated no changes to the tenants as a result of its purchase.

Its campus in King’s Cross, which will cost a similar amount, broke ground in 2017 but does not have a completion date.

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