Google's CEO, Sundar Pichai, published a blog post this morning to highlight the release of the company's economic impact report. The report details things like the number of jobs Google has created, as well as the effect it has on small businesses through tools like Google Ads. 

For example, Pichai says Google contributed "$617 billion in economic activity for millions of American businesses, nonprofits, creators, developers, and publishers last year. In addition, the Android app economy helped create nearly two million jobs last year, and YouTube's creative ecosystem supported 394,000 jobs in 2020."

Numbers like that can be hard to fully grasp. What does it mean to provide "economic activity"? How do you count that?

I'm not arguing that Google doesn't contribute to the success of small businesses--it's maybe the most effective tool for reaching your customers that has ever been created. I'm just suggesting that companies like to publish big numbers like this, even if it's not always clear how they did the math.

There is one number in the report, however, that is very clear. Pichai says Google is spending $9.5 billion on offices and data centers this year. 

Not only is that real money, but it's also a little strange. With the current push for remote and hybrid work at big tech companies like Google, why would you invest that much money in buildings where you aren't expecting people to show up to work? 

Pichai admitted as much in his blog post:

"It might seem counterintuitive to step up our investment in physical offices even as we embrace more flexibility in how we work. Yet we believe it's more important than ever to invest in our campuses and that doing so will make for better products, a greater quality of life for our employees, and stronger communities."

It turns out, there are two reasons. The first is obvious: If you want people to come to the office, give them a place they'll want to work in. It's up to you to make working in the office better than not working in the office. As Pichai said, investing in the place where your team works improves their "quality of life." To that end, Google says it is investing in both new and current offices.

The second reason might be less obvious at first, but it turns out to be the best reason I've heard to return to the office. "Google's offices and data centers provide vital anchors to our local communities and help us contribute to their economies," Pichai wrote.

Look, I am fully on board with the idea that people should be given the flexibility to work according to the needs of their position and their personal circumstances. If anything, the last two years have shown that a lot of the jobs we thought had to be done in an office building, sitting in a cubicle, just don't. 

Millions of Americans have been productive while working remotely, proving it to be not only a viable way to work, but in many cases, the preferred way to work. Just because managers want people back in the office doesn't mean that's the best thing for employees or the company, for that matter. 

That said, there are plenty of reasonable arguments for bringing people back together for at least part of their workweek. Video meetings, as we can all attest, simply aren't a replacement for actual physical human connection. Not only that -- collaboration and communication happen differently when you're face to face without a webcam and a screen between you.

But Pichai points out another overlooked reason for returning to the office. The physical space your business occupies provides a "vital anchor" to your local community. It creates a connection that doesn't exist with a distributed team working in different places.

In addition, when your employees come to the office, they contribute to the communities where they work. They take public transportation, stop for coffee, eat lunch in restaurants, or stop for a few errands before heading home. 

All of those things add value to the community and the businesses around you. That might be harder to count, but that doesn't mean it isn't real or important. In fact, it might be one of the best reasons I've heard for bringing people back together.