Google’s withdrawal from docklands deal unlikely to spell end of its Dublin empire
Tech giant’s decision to back out of Sorting Office deal makes sense in Covid pandemic
Google’s European headquarters on Barrow Street in Dublin’s south docklands. Photograph: Paul McErlane/Bloomberg via Getty Images
While the precise reasons behind Google’s decision to withdraw from plans to take on an additional 202,000sq ft (18,766sq m) of office space at the Sorting Office in Dublin’s south docklands remain unknown, the move has unsurprisingly given rise to speculation and concern both within the commercial property sector and wider business community. It has also, disappointingly, been greeted with a certain degree of schadenfreude by those opposed to the exponential growth over recent years of Dublin’s so-called Silicon Docks.
All three responses have one thing in common. They are equally unhelpful and do nothing to advance our understanding of the matter.
So is Google calling the end of the office or an end to the expansion of its Irish operations?
When one considers the available evidence, the answer to these two questions may well be a straightforward “no”.
In the first instance, Google already owns or rents some 725,000sq ft of office space between its European headquarters on Barrow Street in Dublin’s south docklands, Eastpoint Business Park, and Sandyford. That footprint is set to grow to 1.12 million square feet through the addition of the 397,000sq ft under development currently at new Boland’s Quay campus.
When taken together, Google’s office estate will be capable of accommodating in the region of 11,000 workers, or some 3,000 more than the 8,000 people the company currently employs in the capital.
As impressive as these numbers are, however, they have of course been rendered redundant for now by the impact of the coronavirus pandemic, and Google’s communication to its employees that they can continue to work from home until June of next year.
Given the likelihood that any return to the office by Google employees will be incremental after that, the company’s withdrawal from the Sorting Office deal would appear to make sense as its existing office estate will be more than capable of accommodating these reduced numbers, even with coronavirus social distancing requirements.
For those asking if the work practice changes prompted by the pandemic might become a more permanent feature of Google’s operations both here and internationally, it should be noted that the company’s CEO, Sundar Pichai, has made it clear that offices will remain an integral part of its operations into the future.
Commenting on this in an email sent to Google’s global workforce on May 26th last, Pichai said while the company was “looking to develop more overall flexibility” in how it works, its [office] campuses are “designed to enable collaboration and community – in fact, some of our greatest innovations were the result of chance encounters in the office – and it’s clear this is something many of us don’t want to lose”.