Google Ireland boss: ‘We had to learn like everybody, how do you work from home?’

When Nick Leeder was named the new head of Google Ireland, it was in the midst of a pandemic that had shut down the country. Less than two weeks before, then taoiseach Leo Varadkar had stood in front of the press in Washington and announced that schools and non-essential businesses would shut in an attempt to slow the spread of coronavirus. Anyone who could work from home was urged to do so.

For tech companies, this seemed like the ideal moment to show what they had been telling people for years: that the idea that everyone needed to show up to work at the same place, and the same time every day was outdated.

Google had already begun working from home, after a suspected case of Covid-19 had caused it to shut its Dublin offices for what was supposed to be a temporary measure. More than six months later, Google employees around the world are working from home, with a concrete return date not set until mid-2021.

The pandemic has been an eye-opener for Leeder and for the company as a whole

So when Leeder stepped into the top job in Dublin in April, following Fionnuala Meehan’s departure, it was remotely.

But Leeder is no stranger to a bit of chaos. He has moved jobs – and countries – a number of times since joining Google in 2011.

Originally from Australia, he studied computer science in university and worked in media in Australia, with both Fairfax and News Corp. “I was working on the digital side of the house in both of those publishers, helping build new digital models,” he says. “It was a very interesting time to arrive in media, because it was just the start of digital and Google actually didn’t even exist.”

He became responsible for the companies’ respective relationships with Google. So when the opportunity arose to work with the tech giant looking after the Australian and New Zealand business in 2011, he seized it. Two years later, he moved to Google France.

The shift to the northern hemisphere had a personal dimension. Leeder’s wife is French, so not only is he fluent in the language, he is also a French citizen. The job itself, he says, was a once in a lifetime opportunity, and a “complete change of universe”. He joined the French unit at a time when tensions were high between the tech giant and the French authorities. Google had agreed to help French news organisations, as part of a dispute over whether Google should be paying them to display their news content in its searches.