Google Scales Back Its Culture of Transparency, as All-Hands Meetings Become Monthly

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Google CEO Sundar Pichai, in a companywide email Friday, said Google is making its weekly all-hands meetings, known as TGIF, a monthly event, scaling back what has been the hallmark of Google’s claim to a transparent work culture.

The weekly meetings will be narrower in scope, in addition to being less frequent, according to a copy of the email viewed by The Washington Post. TGIF will now be “focused on product and business strategy,” Pichai wrote.

“TGIF has traditionally provided a place to come together, share progress, and ask questions, but it’s not working in its current form,” Pichai wrote in the email. He noted a “coordinated effort to share our conversations outside of the company after every TGIF.”

Some Google employees who have been opposed to the company’s growing crackdown on dissent say this is just the latest roadblock preventing employees from voicing their concerns in front of executives. Google declined to comment.

The TGIF meeting has historically been a way for the company to make employees feel more informed about what is happening across the company. But Google, employees say, has been limiting disclosure from the top, including monitoring internal forums and issuing reminders that the workplace is no place for discussions about politics.

The Post last month reported on one TGIF in which company executives addressed a controversial hiring of a former Homeland Security Department official, as well as Pichai’s efforts to be more transparent with employees. Some employees had expressed concern that new internal software was designed to monitor them and hinder their ability to gather in large groups. Google has denied that.

This week, Google’s senior vice president for global affairs, Kent Walker, reminded employees of the company’s policy around accessing internal documents, which he first highlighted in May, sending a chill through the workforce accustomed to Google’s openness within the company. In an internal blog post Tuesday, followed by a reminder in the company’s daily internal newsletter, Walker said it was not a fireable offense for employees to accidentally access documents.

Walker also mentioned recent leaks to the press, and again emphasized Google’s policy on classifying documents as “need to know,” such as if an employee required the information for work purposes. Google’s data security policy allows the company to determine which documents are classified according to internal categories like confidential or “need to know.” The classification system has been a source of confusion for some employees, as well as the subject of a lawsuit about Google’s confidentiality policies, which alleged that the company’s practices were overzealous and infringed on employee rights. Google has since made some changes to its practices.

In recent weeks, two Google employees have been put on administrative leave.

Google said that one employee was put on leave while the investigations team looked into why the employee allegedly searched for, opened, and shared a range of documents marked confidential or need-to-know that were outside the scope of their job, after the employee had been warned not to do so. Google said the other employee was put on leave while the company investigated actions, such as allegedly tracking calendars and setting up email calendar alerts for Google personnel in human resources, communications, and Google’s community platform team, which oversees internal communications tools, such as Memegen, a Reddit-like forum where employees upvote memes.

Google said neither employee was put on administrative leave just for accessing and opening a single document marked need-to-know.

© The Washington Post 2019

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