Office Life: Google Hits it Out of the Park

By: Guest | February 5, 2013 | 

Today’s guest post is by Ralph Dopping

When you think of Google, the last thing you probably consider is how their office space looks.

We have all heard about the crazy stuff they do for their people.

I had an opportunity to tour their new Toronto offices recently and got a firsthand peek behind the curtain.

As of today, Google has approximately 53,546 employees. That’s a jump of around 21,000 people from 2011 data.

That is significant expansion in just two years, and regardless of the growth those are some serious numbers to consider when it comes to maintaining workplace standards, employee satisfaction, and employee productivity.

You have to wonder how they do it. Well, the rumours are true.

The Google Playhouse

The shelves are stocked with goodies, there are tons of spaces for play, and the place is totally tricked out with technology. As an interior designer I was like a kid in a candy store looking for the golden goose of office design. What I realized is if you take away all the kitsch – the bookcase that reveals a hidden lounge, the soundproof music room, the funky furniture, the swing (yes, I said swing), and all the swag, the resulting office space, while simple and basic, is still well planned for its business practice. Strange but true.

In their 2012 workplace forecast CoreNet Global Corporate Real Estate 2020 team predicted, even with the growing use of technology offering the opportunity for us to work anywhere now, most people still prefer to go to the office.

The nature of how we work is what has changed and corporate office space is starting to change along with it.

Top Soft Skills

According to the forecast, there are three leading reasons that drive the emerging changes in office space. Coincidentally, they are also the top three soft skills identified as gaining in importance in the workplace of today: Relationship building, strategic thinking, and cross-functional collaboration.

Google is an excellent example of this.

With 67 corporate offices (21 in the U.S., alone) they are certainly not pushing away from having physical office space. Instead, they have created space that suits their culture.

Google Goodies

Their culture appears highly collaborative and their project-based team model also seems to rely heavily on forging strong inter-personal relationships. At first glance, the workspace seems gimmicky and fun, but it’s not all frivolous window dressing. They understand a vast expanse of ‘one size fits all’ open office space (cubicle farms) does not promote their work style or culture.

The funky flexible furniture is an opportunity for people to change things around to work that works for them. The tricked out technology in their meeting rooms allows teams to share information around the world without leaving the office.

The hidden lounge, enclaves, and meeting rooms have walls you can write on. You can record ideas anywhere, share them, or leave them there for future inspiration.

The mini snack bars and full-service cafeteria promote interaction and the wide variety of services such as massage therapy and a tech bar help keep the focus on productivity. Googlers don’t have to stray far from the office to get what they need.

It certainly works for them. So, how do you find out what works for you? Google did a couple of things any company can do.

Ask and Receive

Many office spaces are designed with a one size fits all mentality because it gives the impression of efficiency and that’s where the greatest opportunity lies.

It’s not difficult to poll a workforce to gather some basic metrics which can help determine what works best for the specific needs of an employee base. Google did exactly that and then established committees to address specific workplace needs. The management took a mature and inclusionary approach. What’s great about today’s cheap and easy-to-use technology is any organization can self-actualize and address the specific needs of their employees.

Recognizing simple things such as the need for heads-down private spaces, flexible open office spaces, appropriate amenities, and a focus on the technology employees require to do their jobs effectively can offer simple, cost-effective gains to address the changing nature of any workforce.

Take a look around your office space.

Do you have what you need to do your job effectively? What would you recommend changing to make it work better for you?

Ralph Dopping has called the architecture and design community home since 1987. He builds professional teams for a variety of project types, most recently as a workplace strategist. He currently plies his trade at DIALOG where his quirky, dry sense of humour allows him to maintain a strong results-oriented focus which relies on fun, passion, and hard work.

  • Great post Ralph! I’ve read about the Google work environment recently in Inc and didn’t know you could get a haircut there? I mean, really, who needs a haircut?! But I agree, cubicle farms aren’t for everyone. I love that Google established committees to address workplace needs. I’m lucky in that I get to create my own office space that works for me.

    • rdopping

      @yvettepistorio Did I say haircut? Yeah, I suppose they have that too. That place was amazing that way but you know, you’re right, the best part is the committees of employees working with their colleagues to sort out what they wanted. That’s gold!

  • Thank you so much for bringing your perspective, Ralph! While I had considered what space brings in an educational setting, I had failed to generalize that to the business environment. Thanks for making me think!

    • rdopping

      @RebeccaTodd N worries. I am not used to your business speak voice. It kinda threw me. Maybe bring some of these concepts to your employer for the next round of renos. Consider, however, that you may not get an office next time. Yikes! 😉

      • @rdopping Hah I was so sick and Neo Citraned, so I fell back on *real* language!

    • @RebeccaTodd Did you send me some Jelly Bellys?

      • @ginidietrich Yes! Didn’t you get them? Because I certainly did not eat the whole bag…

  • What fun to have been able to be inside “The Google” or part of it. Your description helps me visualize what the inner workings must look like and it’s fun to think of that aspect of Google. I’m not at all surprised at the picture you paint either. But your question about my office space? Hmmnn…that wants some thinking! I think I suffer from having waaaay too much stuff crammed in too small an office, frankly.

    • rdopping

      @allenmireles Yep, it was a hoot! A swing, really? Well, not the “average” corporate office space but fun. It would have been a great project to work on. The consolation is a friend did. Small industry, you know?
      We deal a lot with the dynamics of people’s preferences when it comes to work style. There are always interesting challenges with the folks that somehow “need” to have everything close by.
      Purge, my friend, purge. 🙂

  • Man o man, you sure do clean up nicely when visiting Gini’s place. Is that your high school photo? 
    Good post sir; I’ll bet it was neat to see behind the curtain. Did you meet the wizard?

    • rdopping

      @bdorman264 I did meet the wizard. Turned me into a responsible business oriented designer. Shook it off in no time flat. 😉
      High school? Na! That was a mere 3 years ago. Lovin’ the glamour shots!

    • belllindsay

      @bdorman264 Right? The pic was too much. 1989?

      • @belllindsay I need an ’89 glamour shot for my Avatar…….:).

        • belllindsay

          @bdorman264 Oh my god – me in 1989 – I was just a baby! LOL

        • rdopping

          @belllindsay  @bdorman264 Me too! A baby with long curly Robert Plant hair, tight acid wash jeans and a series of classic rock band jerseys. Oh, did I mention the Converse high tops?

        • @belllindsay I’m still a baby BTW…..

        • belllindsay

          @bdorman264 Riiiight. Me too.

        • belllindsay

          @rdopping  @bdorman264 I must confess. In 1989 I was far removed from baby’dom. Sadly.

        • @belllindsay  @rdopping I had babies in ’89….well, not me physically, but I helped….:). And one of those babies is now working with me at lanieruupshaw…..

        • belllindsay

          @bdorman264  @rdopping  lanieruupshaw…..  I could have had babies in ’89. Thank GOD I wasn’t that stooopid. Er, no offence Bill.

        • @belllindsay  I’m Teflon….

  • PattiRoseKnight

    I would get no work done in the Google Playhouse – sounds awesome!

    • rdopping

      @PattiRoseKnight I wondered that myself…..imagining the swing…..

    • trainwithcts

       Agreed.  I have ADD and I would get…Oh look somebody tagged me on Facebook… 🙂  Just kidding, I know how I work and I think I would be distracted and not productive in that environment

      • PattiRoseKnight

        @trainwithcts I hear ya – I would play all day

      • @trainwithcts  This made me laugh out loud.

      • rdopping

        @trainwithcts  @PattiRoseKnight You make a very interesting point. We are studying people’s behaviors now to determine the right type of work space for them. Introvert/extrovert, demographics, culture, age, etc all play into your work style. This job is turning me into a psychologist.
        Google’s committees and the staff are clearly 80% extroverts across the board. Have you seen the images of Google’s Tel Aviv office? Astounding. I could never work in that environment.

  • Gini Dietrich

    I love this photo of Ralph!

  • Ralph Dopping

    Awww thanks. Blushing.

  • I took a look around my office space. I have a typewriter that is more than 100 years old, thousands of books, some fresh tulips, and Jack Bauer is sleeping under my feet right this second. It’s not Google, but I think it helps me do my job effectively. The only thing I would like is a wider desk.

    • rdopping

      @ginidietrich That’s the cool thing about personal work space. The home office is not an area of study that we have explored much but it certainly brings its own set of criteria. One of the big struggles a lot of companies experience is the personalization of work space in an office environment. Imagine your office in a corporate environment?
      A wider desk? I wonder why? Is it because you need more work space or is it because you should spend some time decluttering? 😉

      • @rdopping I’ll send you a picture of my desk. It does not need decluttering. Ask @belllindsay or @allenmireles . They make fun of me because I am OCD about keeping things clean and decluttered.

        • belllindsay

          @ginidietrich  @rdopping  @allenmireles O to the C to the D.

        • rdopping

          @belllindsay  @ginidietrich  @allenmireles bou-yah!

        • rdopping

          @ginidietrich  @belllindsay  @allenmireles Why am I not surprised?

        • PattiRoseKnight

          @ginidietrich  @rdopping  @belllindsay  @allenmireles Her desk is super organized – I can attest to that!

        • @PattiRoseKnight  @rdopping  @belllindsay  @allenmireles All part of my charm!

  • belllindsay

    I love this post @rdopping – I think perks are importent – and as I’ve said before – they don’t have to be huge to impress a workforce! 🙂

    • rdopping

      @belllindsay Thanks. The interesting this is when your workforce is virtual (i.e. there are no offices). The perks then become less physical or shared as they may be personal or individual. I wonder what company might make a good case study to test that theory?

  • Gini Dietrich

    This is how you provide compliments!

  • No one is getting into my office; it’s an embarrassment. Truly. I need major help. I like this…we can all aspire to be like Google or Mike.

    • rdopping

      @Soulati | B2B Social Media Marketing Hahahha…..I just asked you if you saw this post on my response to you at home. Man, I am so behind the curve this week. Embarrassing. 
      Everyone likes to work in certain ways and since your clients likely don’t see behind the curtain you have the luxury of treating your work space as an organic beast. I love that. BTW, who’s Mike?