An office slide

Creating a Google-esque workplace

In this blog, our Assistant Workplace Consultant – John O’Mahony – explores what it is about Google’s offices that appeals to so many people and explains how businesses can create an office with a similar vibe…

You would be hard pressed today, to find someone who hasn’t heard of Google. Whether it’s from using its leading search engine, finding your way in a strange city with its often lifesaving maps, or watching your favourite artists and clips on YouTube.  The tech giant has its finger in nearly every pie. (Let’s face it it’s not every day that a company name becomes a common verb!)

So, we know how invaluable Google is to us on a daily basis but how do the people who make Google work, work?

One of the exercises Where Workplace Works undertakes is a series of interviews as a follow up to our space utilisation survey. During this process we identify what it is about their office space that works for them, and of course doesn’t. Time and time again when asked of an office that they find inspiring, Google’s name crops up, but why? In some ways it’s almost reached mythical status as a company that put’s it’s employees first and strives to create a workplace environment that caters to every need -although most people never ventured through its doors. The legend lives on!

So, on further questioning I wanted to get to the nut’s and bolts of why Google is the office of choice for so many. Overwhelmingly the responses where that Google offers a ‘sense of fun’ as opposed to the grindstone of being overworked and unappreciated. From beanbags and ball pits to free food and drink.

I often ask people if having a slide in the office (or something of that ilk) is an effective use of the space, and although most agree that it’s a gimmick (and may not be used too regularly), it doesn’t hurt them either. It’s the illusion of fun that makes for a happy workforce but most importantly it’s backed up with strong evidence of making their environment a positive one.

I had the opportunity to conduct a workplace survey for one of their London offices a few years back and spent a fortnight combing every inch of its space. It was a novel experience and it was clear from the moment you walk through the doors that Google want to give the impression that they dominate the happiness market. I was bowled over by a giant screen in the entrance that operated Google Earth and a large joystick to work it. It became apparent that I was not going to be satisfied until I’d had myself a little play. Right from the start something different had become my primary focus and it occurred to me how well they had managed to incorporate their own brand as a source of entertainment. I constantly ask people if they feel connected with their company’s brand in the office and many don’t. Too often branding is used purely for externals and this leaves a disconnect with staff. In this instance Google used this effectively in a dynamic way to advertise their own brand. Impressive.

The overall all layout was a colourful one, dotted with telephone boxes, dodgem cars and wendy house’s each with the facility to bring your laptop and charge your phone. Plenty of beanbags (naturally) and zones to unwind and switch off. It was spacious and uncluttered and every area offering something unique. It was overwhelmingly cooky and fun and throwing traditional office stereotypes to the wind. I could feel myself being drawn in.

Lunchtime on my first day arrived with ease and I thought I’d make use of the in-house canteen facilities which were decorated with the charm of a rustic kitchen with the appropriate smells to boot. Plenty of chefs running around making fuss, there was a real foody vibe with plenty of culinary energy. Now imagine my astonishment on discovering the food was free! This made my duck l’orange taste all the more sweeter. I know this isn’t a new idea, providing food for your staff and certainly not one that’s easy to implement, but it was a huge draw for me and with the ample space provided in the canteen and throughout, I got a real sense of not needing to leave the office. Was I being brainwashed? Is this manipulation? I thought for now I would put those questions on a back burner and get a bowl of ice cream instead.

Lunch finished, and with the afternoon calling I observed some of the more informal seating areas and these spaces had a steady stream of human traffic. (One of the areas now WWW covers in our space utilisation surveys is the flow of human activity, which gives us an idea of trending areas throughout the office and a sense of how we can maximise lesser used areas usage).

Later, I managed to join in on an off the cuff demonstration on (the now canned) Google Glass and what I took from that was not so much the product itself but the enthusiasm this employee was showing.

This was something I had noticed quite frequently throughout my first day, I hadn’t received a pass as yet, so I was being constantly questioned as to who I am and if my intentions had sinister undertones. I didn’t mind this at all as it showed a level of care for their own workplace security. It was clear that their company was a part of them rather than they a part of it, a place where their creative ambitions where allowed to flourish. An innovative club that welcomes and listens to suggestions on how to keep evolving to offer the best for its employees. This environment only served to make its workforce more productive and impressively loyal.

So how do you become Google without the world dominating budget? Well it’s far simpler than you think…

How about linking your internal space with your brand more? You don’t need a giant screen with Google Earth but a simple projector highlighting your companies reach or achievements or even some very simple art would have a similar effect. Colour works!

For me it’s key to have a space that’s away from your desk to take your laptop. This can indeed be a dodgem car in that’s what you desire, but I would settle for a comfy chair in order to make your working day a little more agile.

Equally important is to have an area to forget about work, unwind and catch up with colleagues. This space doesn’t have to dominate your entire office but a zone that’s clean, efficient with supplies for eating and drinking. I recently visited an office where staff still had to pay for tea and coffee! This archaic method is only going to raise the temperature on the grumpy meter and there’s such value in conversing whilst waiting for the kettle to boil.

Who needs free food when you are strapped for space and in all honesty I don’t know if I want a heavy meal day in day out, my waistline was certainly more rotund in those two weeks I visited Google. A simple basket of fruit is a cheap and healthy alternative or even a cereal bar for the mornings, I’ve seen the latter a few times and it really encourages early morning interaction and inexpensive to implement.

Listen to what your staff need, most will not want a slide or see the value in it but their fairly inexpensive suggestions, if listened to, could make a real difference in productivity.

In short, it’s clear that Google have done incredibly well in making their offices world class, but they are a giant and they’ve sold the image of the happy worker by some fairly straightforward techniques. Smaller companies can easily achieve Google-style happiness with some very inexpensive changes.

Believe the hype, a happy worker is a great employee!

John O’Mahony- Assistant Workplace Consultant for WWW

CLICK HERE to subscribe to our newsletter and read our blogs as soon as they go live!