MOUNTAIN VIEW, Calif. The first Google office was a cluttered Silicon Valley garage with tables on saw horses.
In 2003, five years after its founding, the company moved to a large campus called Googleplex. Open, open offices and exotic common spaces set the standard for what a creative workplace is supposed to look like. Over the years, comforts have piled up. Free food, buses coming and going too: Getting to the office and being there all day, it’s easy.
Now, companies that redefine the way employers treat their workers are trying to redefine the office itself. Google is creating a post-pandemic workplace that will accommodate employees who have been accustomed to working from home for the past year and don’t want to be in the office all the time.
The company will encourage – but are not obliged – to have employees vaccinated when they start back in the office, possibly in September. At first, the interiors of Google’s buildings may not look that different. . But over the next year, Google will test new office designs on millions of square feet, or about 10% of its global workspace.
The plans built on the work that began before the coronavirus crisis brought Google’s workforce home, when the company asked for a diverse team of consultants – including sociologists studying on “Generation Z” and how high school students communicate and learn – to imagine what future workers will want.
The answer seems to be that Ikea met with Lego. Instead of the rows of tables next to the meeting room to cut cookies, Google is designing a “Team Group”. Each group is a blank canvas: Chairs, desks, whiteboards, and wheel storage parts can be rotated into a variety of arrangements, and in some cases rearranged in a matter of hours.
To cope with the expected mix of remote and office workers, the company is also creating a new meeting room called Camp Fire, where in-person attendees sit in a circle. interspersed with large vertical displays cannot be ignored. The display shows the faces of the people who dial in the video conference so that the virtual participants have the same point of view as those who are present.
In several locations around the world, Google is building outdoor work areas to address concerns that coronaviruses easily spread in traditional offices. At its Silicon Valley headquarters, where the weather is most pleasant of the year, it transformed a parking lot and lawn area into “Camp Charleston” – a combination of grass and parquet floors. fence the size of four tennis courts with Wi-Fi throughout.
There are clusters of tables and chairs under exposed tents. In the larger teepees, there are meeting areas with the décor of a natural California getaway and modern video conferencing equipment. Each tent has camp-themed names like “kindling”, “s’mores” and “canoe”. Camp Charleston has been open since March for teams wanting to meet. Google says it is building outdoor workspaces in London, Los Angeles, Munich, New York and Sydney, Australia, and possibly more.
Employees can return to their permanent desks on a rotating schedule assigning people to the office on a specific date to ensure that no one is there on the same day as their immediate neighbors. surname.
Despite the company’s freelance culture, going to the office regularly is one of Google’s few enduring rules.
Allison Arieff, a design and architect who has studied company campuses, says that’s the main reason Google offers its lavish perks. “They can keep people in school for as long as possible and they’re keeping someone at work,” said Arieff, a contributor to the New York Times Opinion section.
But when Google’s workforce reaches 100,000 worldwide, direct collaboration is often impossible. Employees find it harder to concentrate with a lot of distraction inside Google’s open offices. The company has outgrown its longstanding set-up.
In 2018, Google’s real estate conglomerate started looking at what they could do differently. It turns to the company’s research and development team about the “built environment”. It’s an eclectic team of architects, interior and industrial designers, structural engineers, builders, and technology experts led by Michelle Kaufmann, who have worked with ants. Famous architect Frank Gehry before joining Google a decade ago.
Google focuses on three trends: Work is everywhere and not just in the office; what employees need from an ever-changing workplace; and workplaces need more than desks, meeting rooms and amenities.
“The future of work that we think is 10 years from now,” Covid said, “brought us to that future now,” said Ms. Kaufmann. “
Two of the hardest elements in an office design are the wall and the heating and cooling system. Google is trying to change that. It is developing a series of different portable walls that can be packed and shipped flatly to offices around the world.
It has a prototype of an overhead air duct system made of zippered fabric and can be moved over the weekend to different seating arrangements. Google is also trying to end the war on office temperature. This system allows every seat to have its own diffuser to control the direction or amount of air that is blown into them.
If a meeting requires privacy, a robot that looks like the internal parts of a computer on wheels and equipped with sensors to detect its surroundings will inflate a wall of clear cellophane. blurry to avoid prying eyes.
“An important part of our thinking is moving away from our traditional office,” said Ms. Kaufmann.
Google is also trying to reduce distractions. It has designed various leaf-shaped partitions called “petals” that can be attached to the edge of the table to eliminate glare. Office chairs have directional speakers in white noise headrests to block out nearby sounds.
For those who may no longer require a permanent desk, Google has also built in a prototype workbench that can be adjusted to employee personal preferences by swiping the work badge – a feature Useful for workers who do not have a designated desk as they only fall into the office once in a while. It corrects the height and tilt of the screen, displays family photos on the screen, and even adjusts temperatures nearby.
In the early days of the pandemic, “it seemed difficult to move an organization of more than 100,000 people to virtual, but now it seems even more difficult to figure out how to get them back safely,” said David Radcliffe, Vice President. Google citizenship said. real estate services and workplaces.
In its current office configuration, Google says it will only be able to use one of the three desks to keep people six feet apart. Six feet will remain an important threshold in the event of the next pandemic or even the annual flu, Mr. Radcliffe said.
Psychologically, he says, employees won’t want to sit in long rows of tables, and Google may also need to “densify” white-space offices like furniture or plants. Essentially, the company is pulling back years of Silicon Valley’s open office plan theory – that cramming more employees into smaller spaces and taking away their privacy leads to. better cooperation.
The company’s real estate expenses are not expected to change much. Although there will be fewer employees in the office, they will need more space.
There will be other changes. The company’s cafeterias, best known for their free catering, will transition from buffet to take-out meals. Snacks will be individually packed and not scooped from large boxes. The massage rooms and the fitness center will be closed. The shuttle bus will be suspended.
Smaller conference rooms will be turned into private workspaces that can be reserved. The office will only use fresh air through vents controlled by its building management software, eliminating the usual mix of outdoor and recirculating air.
In larger bathrooms, Google will reduce the number of existing sinks, toilets, and urinals, and install more sensor-based devices without touching surfaces with your hands.
A pair of new Google campus buildings, currently under construction in Mountain View, California and scheduled for completion early next year, will give the company more flexibility to incorporate several office plans. Currently testing.
Google is trying to deal with how employees will react to so-called corporate jobs. In July, the company asked employees how many days a week they need to be in the office to be effective. The responses were evenly divided between 0 and 5 days a week, Mr. Radcliffe said.
Most of the Google employees are in no hurry to return. In the annual Googlegeist employee survey, about 70% of the approximately 110,000 employees surveyed said they had a “favorable” view of working from home compared with about 15% of the ” unfavorable”.
Another 15% are “neutral”, according to results viewed by The New York Times. The survey was submitted in February and the results are announced in late March.
Many Google employees are accustomed to a life that doesn’t waste time at work and more time with family and outside of the office. The company seems to realize that its employees may not want to return to their old lives.
“Work-life balance is not about eating three meals a day at your office, going to the gym there, getting all your errands done there,” Ms. Arieff said. “Ultimately, people want flexibility and autonomy, and the more Google loses it, the harder it gets.”
Google has offices in 170 cities and 60 countries around the world and some of them have reopened. In Australia, New Zealand, China, Taiwan and Vietnam, Google offices reopened with capacity exceeding 70%. But the majority of the 140,000 employees work for Google and its parent company, Alphabet, is based in the United States, with about half of them in the Bay Area.
Sundar Pichai, the CEO of Alphabet, said at a Reuters conference in December that the company is committed to making combined work possible, because there is an opportunity to “significantly improve” capabilities. productivity and the ability to attract more people into the workforce. .
“No company of our size has ever created a fully integrated workforce model,” Pichai wrote in an email a few weeks later announcing a flexible workweek. “It will be interesting to try.”