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Fun with a Purpose

A quarterly look at creative approaches to setting up work environments.

Friday, March 2, 2007
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Welcome to "Googleplex," a place where dogs (but not cats) are welcome and a game of foosball or beach volleyball is just as likely to be going on as an appointment at the hair salon or a high-level lunch meeting at one of many upscale eateries or coffee bars.

Colorful lava lamps silently greet people at the main visitor center. Masseuses offer stress-relieving rubdowns under soft lighting, just as 24-hour tech-support staffers keep the whole operation running smoothly.

With all the diversions around, one wonders how any work ever gets done here. But at this 1-million-square-foot Google campus set among the trees and meadows beside San Francisco Bay, having fun is part of the job description.

"Google is designed to encourage collaboration and the exchange of ideas," says company spokesperson Sunny Gettinger. "From our open-floor plan and shared offices to the cafes and recreational areas, the physical space serves as a facilitator for group work. The bright colors help to stimulate creativity.

Great ideas aren't only generated behind a computer, and Google works to make sure that Googlers have great spaces to meet, discuss and innovate."

Creating a comfortable space for Googlers to dream up the next big idea is high on the company's priority list, and to that end, the Internet giant goes to great lengths to allow employees to get comfortable in their surroundings. Upon assignment to new office spaces, employees are encouraged, and even funded by the company, to decorate their offices in fun and exciting themes. Workers can eat lunch in cafeterias featuring artwork created by fellow employees.

Googlers are even allowed to bring their favorite four-legged friend to work with them, provided it is the right species. According to the Google Code of Conduct: "Dogs can be a valued and important part of employees' lives and their ability to keep a dog in their workplace may enhance the quality of their work life . . . . We have nothing against cats, per se, but we're a dog company, so, as a general rule, we feel cats visiting our campus would be fairly stressed out."

To help make life easier for employees, contracted hairdressers often pull their trailer salons into the Google parking lot and offer haircuts. A jet-powered lap-swimming pool (lifeguard included) is even available for those wishing to get a few strokes in between meetings. For those who don't like to get wet, pool tables can also be found in the many lounges.

The layout, which was reportedly modeled after the campus of Stanford University, was bought for $319 million earlier this year by Google after years of leasing.

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The redesign was completed in 2004 and "was overseen by the founders, Larry Page and Sergey Brin, to their specifications," says George Salah, director of the Mountain View, Calif., facilities. "They really prioritized green building practices: For example, whenever possible we use 'cradle to cradle' finishes and materials. At the end of their functional life, C2C materials can be easily broken down into pieces that are then reincorporated into new products. Now our carpets, cubicle fabrics, task chairs and window shades will never have to touch a landfill. Instead, they are simply sent back to the manufacturer to be broken down and reworked into new materials."

To further the going-green goal, the company expects this spring to be generating 1.6 megawatts of electricity, enough to supply power to about 1,000 homes, through the installation of 9,200 solar panels on the campus. The company hopes the project will eventually generate as much as 30 percent of the power needed to keep it pushing the envelope of the Internet giant's capabilities.

"We hope corporate America is paying attention," Google's vice president of real estate, David Radcliffe, recently told The Associated Press. "We want to see a lot of copycats [of this project]."

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