Life at Google

NY Times has an article about working at Google: Looking for a Lesson in Google’s Perks.

Among them:

  • private reading areas
  • comfy chairs (take your laptop elsewhere for a change of environment)
  • custom workspaces (let employees choose their equipment)
  • fitness classes
  • in-house courses (on a range of subjects)
  • free food/snacks

All of this is designed to make the workplace one that is both fun and productive. Of course, in a company with the size and profits of Google, such things seem to work very well. From the article:

Ben Waber, who has a Ph.D. from M.I.T. and is the author of “People Analytics,” is, at 29, the median age of Google employees. His company, Sociometric Solutions in Boston, uses data to assess workplace interactions. “Google has really been out front in this field,” he said. “They’ve looked at the data to see how people are collaborating. Physical space is the biggest lever to encourage collaboration. And the data are clear that the biggest driver of performance in complex industries like software is serendipitous interaction. For this to happen, you also need to shape a community. That means if you’re stressed, there’s someone to help, to take up the slack. If you’re surrounded by friends, you’re happier, you’re more loyal, you’re more productive. Google looks at this holistically. It’s the antithesis of the old factory model, where people were just cogs in a machine.”

The overall tone (and the article is written somewhat as a response to Yahoo’s recent clampdown on working from home), it seems that the goal at Google is to inspire people to enjoy work and collaborate more effectively. Google’s policy on working from home sounds fairly loose:

It should probably be obvious at this juncture, but Google doesn’t require employees to work from the office. It doesn’t even keep track of who’s there. The notion seems to have never occurred to anyone. “I don’t think we’ve ever had a policy on that,” Mr. Newman said, but “we do expect employees to figure out a work schedule with their team and manager. It’s not a free-for-all.”

So, it seems, coming into the office is something that is encouraged by creation of a great work environment, not as a forced mandate. I’ve been in a couple of positions where I worked from home a great deal (2 to 3 days, sometimes more). I love the option of working from home. It offers tremendous work-life benefits. Sometimes I had a sick child (and its my turn to stay home), sometimes I have someone coming to fix something or sometimes I just have a cough and I don’t want to spread germs around. There are those occasional times when an employee may want to work from home just so he or she can get work done without interruption.

Having been on both sides, I can honestly say that there is something important about being in the office, physically, with coworkers–Even if that only means a certain amount of connection to what is going on. Don’t get me wrong: I’m a big fan of working from home for a day here and there. Most of the work I do from home is after hours. Being a software engineer, there are times in a project that require long hours. If an employee can be home for dinner with his/her family, play some catch, go to gymnastics, watch the little league game and help around the house, putting in long hours suddenly doesn’t seem all that bad. So be together in the office during the day–and then go home! If a project requires long hours (and it will), we have VPN. The greatest measure of an employee’s contribution is not the number of hours spent sitting in the office… Its the amount and quality of output, and an employee who is frustrated about missing his daughter’s recital isn’t likely to be a happy coder.

We don’t all work for a company like Google. There are pragmatic reason that prevent most companies from being Google-like. But there are certainly lessons to be learned from their approach.


2 thoughts on “Life at Google

  1. Working using your brain or working long hours? It should be both. I don’t think that working from home versus working from office has anything to do with it. It is more about self-discipline for employees and trust for the management. We are all different — some can work from home and others only think they can. That being said, I don’t think that in general the ability to work from home is a plus or minus to the company. It is a properly that might seem nice to some, and bad for others. What is cool though is when companies allow working from home for those who really need that. Stack Exchange is one of the cool companies —

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