first impressions of the Google-sphere


I was fortunate last night to attend a book release party/discussion at Google’s Chicago office. It was for the Harvard-based Beckman Center for Internet & Society’s Digital Natives study. Who are these comfortably online souls? The book does a good job shining light on them.

Besides getting to consort with all sorts of very smart people, eat catered Thai food served by American waiters in Chinese servant clothes, and drink fizzy Italian water, I got an eyeful. From the elevator lobby on, this is a very colorful, connected place.

I’ve heard people say this workplace is “among the best in America,” by which is meant that the owners of the company respect the workers. That would account for our meeting rooms, a complex of spaces at the windowed corner of the hi rise. This carpeted space had the colors and vibrancy of a big playroom. And indeed, it functioned as exercise classroom, lecture hall, cafeteria, chill zone.

There were large ledges for sitting on and overlooking the River North neighborhood. There were blue and red exercise balls and comfortable bean bag chairs. It was like a very cool rec room, only brightly lit and for grown ups. You had the feeling that good collaboration might break out at any moment.

Above, you saw the exposed but clean ductwork of the Centre Pompidou style, nothing hidden here–an honest work place. This same openness and connectedness was apparent in the office spaces beyond. They had the coolest partitions ever–office cubicles 2.0.

Instead of solid formaldehyde-based walls separating one worker from the next, these partitions made connection and openness a part of the separation. These partitions were alien. They appeared to be rectilinear metal frameworks, struts and supports functioning as shelves and storage spaces. Instead of sticking their family and friend photos on the inside of their foam cubicle like my generation did, workers in these Googlefied workspaces could place nick-nacks, plants and proud portraits of family members and friends for the rest of the office to see, even as they provided a boundary between one worker and the next. The office wall is no longer a one-way medium. The inward is outward now, but there’s a sense that each space is separate still too. It’s hard to describe at 12:34 am (as i finish this) but take my word on this: visually and architeturally, there is a high degree of information flowing at Google Chicago!

*By the way, you’ll have to trust me on all of this. There are no photos allowed in Google offices. I had to sign a non-disclosure contract to go to their New York office next week. Perhaps in a future post I’ll have additional Google field reports

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