Google San Francisco: casual collaborative community

This post was written by Andrea Paoletti

The Google office in San Francisco is located on The Embarcadero with a beautiful view of the Bay Bridge and the Bay. From the design perspective it is not fancy at all, but it has a human touch and is simple and personable. I liked the way they applied the principles of collaboration to make them real. Maybe it’s better to speak about connection rather than collaboration. Right when you enter the space, all the systems are computerized through Google applications.  For example, you must enter your name on a screen, and a message is sent by text to the person who is waiting for you. They are pioneering new technologies and using these mobile services inside their offices to help people to do a number of tasks on their phones. The building is an old one, and inside it is like a two floor labyrinth. There are very few solo offices and people share cubicles, yurts and huddle rooms. I saw people using free tables for brainstorming or sharing ideas, and it looked like they worked. There are different areas for mingling, a social area with tables, armchairs, massage chairs and large inflatable balls are spread around and they are characterized by a particular image of the city.  Laptops are everywhere. The company developed a standard issue for mobile coding, email on the go and note-taking in order to facilitate employee collision and collaboration. There is an office healthy cafe, where there is open seating and allows employees to enjoy conversations with people from different teams. Photography inside the office is restricted so I am showing pictures that I found online. Google’s playground slide installed into one of the stairways is the most shown feature, and people are proud of that, but this is what make me upset because these types of recreational activities (an employee can take a break to play and enjoy foosball, pool tables, volleyball courts, assorted video games, pianos, ping pong tables, etc) make the people feel satisfied but I am convinced that it is not the case. I have read different web sites and heard that these activities work to motivate workers and give them a sense of community, and that such an environment boosts productivity. In this way they want to encourage teams to come out and play with new ideas. They try to change the paradigm, but are we sure that this is the right answer? Google was built around the idea that work should be challenging, and the challenge should be fun, but is this the right translation for fun? Employees are continually fed, break rooms are packed with a variety of snacks and drinks kept Googlers going, and then they are encouraged to make use of a free onsite gym including trainers, free weights, exercise machines, yoga and dance classes. I think it is a strange mechanism. They are treated like robots that have just to think about what they are working on and not about what they really want to do. In my opinion it is a great control of behavior instead of giving freedom. Google says that they are focused on people and this is the reason why they look after them offering a variety of “games” to play, free time, a nice atmosphere, all the food they want, but is that the real meaning of being people focused? I think that their environment, giving a positive first impression, makes users comfortable, assures them that the company is reliable and professional, and encourages people to give their best. But then living inside they loose control of their real needs. Google’s workspace is designed as a casual environment to get from inspiration to action in a quick way, and its value is providing this community feel. They offer private services, such as onsite massages and onsite haircuts, in order to simplify life and make it more comfortable, but are we sure that this is the way to make people are more creative, productive and focused? Or is it just a way for the company to make people feel more protected and therefore make them loose activity, independence and personality?

Pictures taken from the www. Thanks.

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