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.