TOUR: Inside the Googleplex, Mountain View, California

With the release of statistics today showing that Google continue to
capture market share in the US search market (up from 63.92 percent one year
ago to 69.17 percent in June) I thought it was a good time to write
about my recent trip to Google HQ in Mountain View about an hour out
of San Francisco.

I wasn’t there for long but did pick up some bits of information which I thought were interesting.

Firstly
when you’re at Google you feel like you’re on a university canvas. But
a private university with lots and lots of cash. While the campus
itself isn’t ‘shmick
(for instance there’s no grand foyer nor any marble desks to greet
visitors) there is an air of expense and quality to it. But the quality
seems to stem from the company’s ethos and all the staff that walk
around smiling. It’s also obvious in the appreciation Google holds for the environment. For instance the stepped benches in
the internal foyer (once you’re past the ‘check-in’ area) are made from
recycled Amazonian wood. The lighting too is both energy efficient but
designed to be as natural as possible. And paired with the mostly glass
walls and roof the foyer feels airy and open.

Above
the stepped bench there’s a 10 meter long whiteboard filled with doodles lines and arrows and seemingly random bits of
text. According to my host Elaine Filadelfo
a PR exec with Google these drawings are generated over many months
and grow organically as staff take in what others have added and
contribute to it themselves. The end result is this dynamic flow of
ideas and communication within the company.

Above
the stairs you also notice a replica of the Space Ship One the first
private spacecraft capable of carrying people to 100kms above the earth’s surface. According to Elaine to get SpaceShipOne into the lobby Google had to rip the wall off the building. No expense spared. Remember this is the company whose founders fly around in a private 747 decked out with all the comforts of home … no Learjets here please (far too cramped.)

Upstairs
we wandered through the corridors – it’s the normal maze you’d find in
any office but each cubicle housed around three or four staff mainly
engineers who were pecking away at what ever they were doing. Every so
often the cubicles broke up in to a central meeting area – some filled
with kitchenettes and stocked to the brim with drinks fridges coffee
machines bowls of fruit and other various snacks – all free to all
Google employees. These areas also create informal meeting areas – an
idea Google seems to be big on. If there’s no couch or chairs for staff
to sit on then you’ll find them playing snooker or ping pong near by. Honestly if Google can make this much cash and still let staff play ping pong at work and sit on beanbags why can’t other employers offer the same? (Do they not realise that ordinary employees have timeout too… they just do it in a browser window that can be easily hidden!)

Next
we visited a few of the 17 cafeterias in the building – each
obviously with a different theme. One cafe nicknamed ‘150’ only uses
produce sourced within a 150 mile radius of Mountain View. The cafes
are open Monday to Friday (and some on Saturday too) and provide free
breakfast lunch and dinner to the Googlers.

In
the main eating area Elaine told me that every Friday one of the
founders or Eric Schmidt talk to staff – they’ll discuss anything that
happened during the week from product launches to issues. Once they’ve
finished talking the floor opens to staff who can and do ask questions
of the executives. They call it TGIF and it’s the one regular time a
week that Google provides its staff with beer and wine.

If
you’re feeling a bit run down at Google you can also visit the company
doctor or get a massage. And when you feel better again you can go to
the gym a space filled with the latest equipment and far larger than
any I’ve ever seen in Australia.

Because
Google encourages you to stay at work as long as possible it also makes
other allowances. For instance you can bring your dog to work get
dry-cleaning done on campus and there’s even childcare for young
parents (although this is provided at additional expense.)

If
you drive to work Google provides a rebate if you run a Hybrid car
and if you don’t drive at all there are additional bonuses to be had
in the way of ‘gift cards’. For workers that live in San Francisco
there is a free shuttle bus service that runs all day. When you’re on
campus Google provide free push bikes to get between buildings.

My
tour ended with a walk back through the main courtyard where I hadn’t
previously noticed the full size T-Rex fossil sitting on the side of
the lawn – apparently something that one of the founders ‘picked’ up at
an auction for charity.

With all of these
perks and what seems like a real commitment to create a better world
via a better workplace it’s no wonder Google was voted the number one
place to work in the US and is commensurately piling up the cash faster than it can shovel it into the bank vault.