Google executive Urs Hölzle moving to New Zealand angers employees denied flexibility

A Google senior vice president's decision to move to New Zealand and work remotely has reportedly caused irritation after his opposition to remote working for other employees at the company.

Urs Hölzle, who joined the technology giant in 1999 as its eighth employee, announced via email last week he's moving to Aotearoa as an "experiment".

According to his biography on Google's organisation chart at, Hölzle is renowned for his red socks and his Leonberger dog, Yoshka. He is the senior vice president for technical infrastructure at the company, in charge of design and operation of Google's servers and data centres.

But his moving plans angered lower-level workers, reports CNET. They consider it special treatment for executives while others have to go through a long and uncertain process to apply for similar flexibility.

Laura de Vesine, a senior site reliability engineer, is one employee who resigned after going back and forth with Google over relocation.

Her team were told last year they had to relocate to North Carolina from Sunnyvale in California, avoiding both sky high housing costs in the San Francisco area and long commutes. 

But it also came with a 15 percent salary cut, which later increased to 25 percent. And then the whole move itself was scrapped, prompting de Vesine to hand in her notice.

"This feeling that I can't realistically leave the Bay Area and work for Google is enough for me to have decided to leave," de Vesine told CNET.

"It's the fact that Google doesn't prioritise the needs of human beings. The fact that we have lives outside of work, that people actually have families."

The company unveiled new remote working policies in May with CEO Sundar Pichai saying most employees would need to be in the office for at least three days per week from September, with salary adjustments for those who relocate to new locations.

Those policies have been causing tension and even growing anger among employees, reported CNET. Some even indicated that it could potentially lead to the breaking up of their relationships.

Further upset was caused by Hölzle's communication.

"We've decided to spend a year in New Zealand and see how we like it. To be clear: I am not retiring, just changing my location! We're considering this an experiment; if things go well, we may decide to stay longer," Hölzle wrote in the email.

"Despite its geographical remoteness, New Zealand is only offset 3-5 hours from California depending on the time of year, so I'll continue to work in my existing roll (sic). I'll continue to work on California time," he continued.

De Vesine said Hölzle had a policy of not considering remote work for people who hadn't reached a certain level of seniority, adding to the feeling of double standards.

A Google spokesperson told CNET Hölzle's relocation was approved last year, prior to the new policies being put in place - but the move had been delayed by travel restrictions.

After CNET's story was published a spokesperson said employees across all levels of Hölzle's organisation would be approved for remote work or office transfers.

"As a result of COVID-19, border restrictions are in place for most travellers apart from New Zealand citizens and residents and people who have a critical purpose to travel to New Zealand and are granted an exception to come here," Nicola Hogg, general manager border and visa operations at Immigration New Zealand (INZ) told Newshub.

"Border exceptions criteria are in place and determine who is able to travel to New Zealand. INZ can confirm that Mr Hölzle met the border exception criteria to be granted a visa under the COVID-19 Support instructions."

A spokesperson for New Zealand Trade & Enterprise confirmed to Newshub it had supported Hölzle's application for a visa but "it was not involved in securing an MIQ place for him".