Home / Technology / The futuristic Googleplex features a privacy robot, a conference tent, and your very own balloon wall.

The futuristic Googleplex features a privacy robot, a conference tent, and your very own balloon wall.

An outdoor space called Camp Charleston is tested for a team meeting at the Google campus in Mountain View, Calif., March 3, 2021 (Cayce Clifford / The New York Times).

An outdoor space called Camp Charleston is tested for a team meeting at the Google campus in Mountain View, Calif., March 3, 2021 (Cayce Clifford / The New York Times).

Mountain View, California – Google’s first office was a garage in the messy Silicon Valley and had a table on top of a saw.

In 2003, five years after its founding, the company moved into a sprawling campus called the Googleplex.The open, airy offices and quirky common areas set the standard for what an innovative workplace should be. Over the years the facility has been accumulated. Free food, and so are the buses to and from work, getting to work and staying there all day is easy.

Now, companies that used to redefine how employers treat their workers are trying to redefine their offices.Google is building a post-epidemic workplace that will accommodate employees who have been accustomed to working from home over the past year and don’t want it. Stay in the office all the time anymore.

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The company will support – but not mandated – to have their employees vaccinated when they start returning to the office, possibly in September. At first, Google’s building interiors may not be all different, but next year, Google will experiment with redesigning offices in millions of square feet, or about 10% of the global workspace.

The job creation plan that began before the coronavirus crisis sent a team at Google home when the company asked a diverse group of consultants, including sociologists who study “Generation Z” and how middle school students socialize and learn – to imagine. What the future workers want

The answer is probably Ikea met Lego. Instead of a desk next to a cookie-cutter conference room, Google designed “Team Pods”. Each pod is a blank canvas: a chair, a desk, a whiteboard, and a storage unit on wheels. They can be arranged in many ways and in some cases rearranged in a matter of hours.

To deal with a mix of remote and in-office employees, the company also created a new conference room called a campfire, where self-employed attendees sit in circles, alternating with large vertical displays that cannot be ignored. The display shows the faces of the people calling in by video conferencing, so virtual participants are on the same level as who appeared.

In a few locations around the world, Google is building outdoor workspaces in response to concerns that the coronavirus is easily spread in traditional offices at Silicon Valley headquarters, where weather is favorable year-round. Change the parking lot and lawn area to The “Camp Charleston” has four gated grass and wooden floors the same size as four tennis courts.

There are tables and chairs tufted beneath open tents in larger teepees, a furnished meeting area of ​​a California nature retreat and state-of-the-art video conferencing equipment. Each tent is named after a camp theme, such as “kindling,” “s’mores” and “canoe.” Camp Charleston has been open since March for teams looking to get together. Google says it is building an outdoor workspace in London. Los Angeles, Munich, New York and Sydney, and possibly more locations.

Employees can return to their permanent desks on a turnover schedule assigned to people in the office on a particular day to ensure that no one is there on the same day as their deskmates immediately.

Despite the company’s independent corporate culture, coming into the office regularly is one of Google’s enduring rules.

That’s a big reason Google offers so many benefits, says Allison Arieff, an architecture and design writer who studies corporate campuses. “They want everyone to be on campus for as long as possible, and they’re keeping people. At work, ”said Arieff, a contributing writer in The New York Times opinion section.

But since the Google team employs more than 100,000 people worldwide, collaboration one-on-one is often impossible. Employees find it harder to focus on the many distractions within Google’s open office.

In 2018, Google’s real estate group began to consider what it could do. Turn to the company’s research and development team for the “Built Environment” group of architects, industrial and interior designers, structural engineers, builders and technology experts, led by Michelle Kaufmann, who worked with renowned architect Frank Gehry before. Will join Google a decade ago

Google has focused on three trends: Work can happen anywhere, not just in the office. What employees want from work are changing all the time. And the workplace must be more than just a desk, conference room and facility.

“The future of work we have in mind is ten years from now,” said Kaufmann. “COVID leads us into the future now.”

Two of the most stringent elements in office design are walls and heating and cooling systems.Google is working to change that. It is developing a variety of movable wall arrays that can be packaged and shipped flatly to offices around the world.

There are prototypes of fabric overhead air ducts that attach to the zipper and can be moved over the weekend for different seating arrangements.Google is also trying to put an end to the office temperature battle. This system allows every seat to have its own diffuser to control the direction or amount of air blowing in.

If a meeting needs privacy, a robot that looks like the innards of a computer on wheels and equipped with sensors to detect its surroundings will inflate the walls of translucent cellophane balloons to keep the eye out.

“A key part of our thinking is a transition from our original office,” Kaufmann said.

Google is also trying to reduce distractions. There is a leaf-shaped partition design called “petals” that can be attached to the edge of the table to reduce glare. Office chair with speakers, the headrest direction emits white noise to mute the neighboring sounds.

For those who no longer need a permanent desk, Google also creates prototype desks that are tailored to the personal preferences of their employees by swiping up on job badges, a useful feature for workers who don’t have their desks assigned to them. Seldom thrown into the office, adjust the monitor height and tilt, bring family photos on the display, and adjust the temperature nearby.

In the early days of the epidemic, “it seemed to be scary to move an organization of 100,000 people into a virtual system. But now it seems difficult to find a way to get them back safely, ”said David Radcliffe, Google vice president of real estate and workplace services.

In the current office configuration, Google says it will only be able to use one of the three tables to keep people 6 feet apart, Radcliffe said, that 6 feet will remain an important criterion in the event of the next pandemic, or even the flu. Yearly

Psychologically, he says, employees don’t want to sit in a long line of desks, and that Google may have to “reduce density” in offices with white spaces such as furniture or trees. It took companies years to defuse the theory of open office plans. Popularized by Silicon Valley, where cramming more workers into smaller spaces and giving up privacy will lead to better collaboration.

The company’s real estate costs are not expected to change much. Although there are fewer employees in the office But need more space

There will be other changes, the company’s cafeteria, famous for its free meals, will switch from the buffet style to the boxed meal. Snacks are packaged individually and are not scooped up in large bins. Massage rooms and fitness centers will be closed. The shuttle will be suspended.

The small meeting room is transformed into a private, bookable workspace. The office uses only fresh air through the vents controlled by the building management software, without outside and recirculating air.

In larger bathrooms, Google is reducing the number of sinks, toilets and urinals available and installing more sensor-based devices that don’t require hands to touch the surface.

A pair of new buildings on Google’s campus, now under construction in Mountain View and expected to be completed early next year, will give the company more flexibility to integrate some of the experimental office plans. part

Google is trying to deal with the way employees respond to so-called hybrid jobs. In July, the company asked workers how many days a week they would have to come to the office to take effect. The answers were split evenly, in the range of zero to five days a week, Radcliffe said.

Most Google employees are in no hurry to return. In an annual employee survey called Googlegeist, about 70% of the roughly 110,000 employees surveyed said they had a “good” view on working from home, compared to about 15% with opinion. “Unfavorable”

The other 15% had a “neutral” view, according to The New York Times survey results. The survey was sent out in February and the results were announced at the end of March.

Many Google employees have gotten used to life without a long commute and more time for their family and life outside the office.The company seems to realize that employees may be reluctant to return to their traditional lives.

“Work-life balance is not eating three meals each day at your office, going to the gym, going there, completing errands there,” Arieff says. The more you take out of that, the more difficult it will be. “

Google has offices in 170 cities and 60 countries around the world, and some have reopened. In Australia, New Zealand, China, Taiwan and Vietnam, Google’s offices have reopened, allowing more than 70% of the guest’s occupancy, but the 140,000 employees who work for Google and parent company Alphabet are in the United States, about half of them. Located in the Bay Area

Alphabet Chief Executive Sundar Pichai said at a Reuters conference in December that the company was committed to making hybrid jobs possible because of the opportunity to “Significantly improved” productivity and the ability to bring more people into work.

“No company at our level has built a fully hybrid workforce model,” Pichai wrote in an email a few weeks later to announce a flexible work week. “It’s interesting to try.”

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.

Copyright © 2021 The New York Times Company.

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