In a recent New York Times article, “Looking for a Lesson in Google’s Perks,” author James B. Stewart recounts his colorful experience touring Google’s East Coast headquarters. His, “at times, dizzying excursion through a labyrinth of play areas; cafes, coffee bars and open kitchens; sunny outdoor terraces with chaises; gourmet cafeterias… [and] Broadway-themed conference rooms with velvet drapes…” served as an attempt to discern whether Google’s imaginative workplaces are responsible for the creativity and productivity of its employees.
One of Stewart’s observations about the Google offices particularly resonated with our team at Innovant: the open plan environment serves as the physical platform for Google’s intellectual advancements. In the article, Craig Nevill-Manning, “a New Zealand native and Google’s engineering director in Manhattan,” explains the philosophy behind Google’s office environment.“Google’s success depends on innovation and collaboration. Everything we did was geared toward making it easy to talk. Being on one floor here removed psychological barriers to interacting, and we’ve tried to preserve that.”
After his Google expedition, Stewart conferred with Teresa Amabile, “a business administration professor at Harvard Business School and co-author of “The Progress Principle,” about creativity at work.” What he learned from Amabile was that “there’s some evidence that great physical space enhances creativity.” She added that, “the theory is that open spaces that are fun, where people want to be, facilitate idea exchange. I’ve watched people interact at Google and you see a cross-fertilization of ideas.”
Another expert, Ben Waber, “who has a Ph.D. from M.I.T. and is the author of “People Analytics,” weighed in on 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.”
At Innovant, we understand Waber’s point that “physical space is the biggest lever to… collaboration.” For employees to thrive, employers must invest in an environment that breeds productivity and creativity. This type of investment in the workplace is sure to be an investment in the work that’s completed there.