What Your Business Could Learn From Google’s Office Design

A conference room at the Google New York offices set up to look like a New York apartment

At Google’s New York office, the space is designed to let you know exactly where you are: at Google, in New York. This conference room is set up to look like a New York apartment.

The Google offices are some of the most talked about in the world. In part, this is because they are, quite simply, incredibly cool. But a company this successful doesn’t do anything just to be ‘cool’ – its work spaces are carefully thought-out. So, what can your business learn from Google’s office design?

Pictures of Google’s offices have appeared all over the internet and have arguably become the workplace eye-candy of our generation. The response to these images, and much talked about features, such as the sleep pods, has standardly been resounding gasps of: “Oh my God, it would be so cool to work there!”

But this is Google, a company that’s worth a staggering $364.99 billion, and which is predicted to reach market capitalisation of $1 trillion by 2020. A business with that kind of power doesn’t do anything without careful consideration.

Every detail of Google’s office space is designed to get the most of the company’s employees, and of course, to make a statement to the world: “look how cool we are”.

Here’s what your business could learn from Google’s office design.

Private pods at Google’s Zurich office

Private pods at Google’s Zurich office.

Employees Need a Choice of Work Environments

We recently posted about the debate that has raged around the open plan office layout since its creation in the early 1900s. When it comes to offices, where the only option is to work in an open plan environment, current and historic research has found the effect on employees to be overwhelmingly negative.

So, what does Google do? The search engine offers its employees a choice of different environments to work in – a tactic which has been found to enhance performance.  At the New York offices, private ‘reflection rooms’ are hidden behind book cases, whilst other areas of the building are designed to encourage interaction between structurally separate teams.

Google implements both the distributed and the zone models of strategic space planning; with physically separate ‘quiet’ areas and conference rooms, as well as numerous open plan areas, interspersed with nested seating.


Caption: An inside look at Google’s New York offices, which offer employees a choice of environments.

An open plan area at Google’s Chicago offices

An open plan area at Google’s Chicago offices 

 Encourage Collaboration

For certain tasks, employees do need private environments to work at their most productive. However, the need for collaborative spaces (the major motivation behind the open plan layout and a top priority for many businesses) should not be overlooked.

Whilst many companies recognise the benefits of collaborative spaces, few of them execute them successfully.  At Google, open plan areas follow the distributed model, whereby private, stimulus-controlled areas are blended with areas for both individual and group work. This makes it easy for employees to shift between different work modes and encourages interaction, while still offering choice.

At the New York office, employee’s seats also regularly change, with careful attention paid to who’s close to each other and how those proximities are working.

A work area in a Google office

A work area in a Google office

Adopt a Nested Approach to Layout

Google’s offices are filled with spaces that have about eight seats in them. Coincidence? Not at all. The average and optimal family size around the world is seven, plus or minus two. Forbes contributor, George Bradt, highlights that anthropological research across cultures indicates that groups of this size best reinforce cultural norms and create the strongest trust bonds.

Another benefit is that groups of 6-8 don’t really need a manager, but can operate on the same level and guide each other. The small size of the group also means that there is no place to hide – both positive and negative behaviour is clear for all to see.

The Google office in Chelsea Market, New York

The Google office in Chelsea Market, New York

Workplaces should be designed to attract and inspire employees

One of the keys to Google’s success is this understanding: happy employees work harder. The company puts a huge amount of money and effort into making their offices a beautiful and fun place to work. Would they really do this if the design was detrimental to concentration? Not likely. Think about it: if you were proud of where you worked and enjoyed being there, wouldn’t you work harder?

Some of the perks of being a Google employee include nap pods (research has found that a noontime nap makes employees more productive), free gourmet food, onsite fitness classes and gyms, indoor slides and bowling alleys – to mention but a few.

OK, so partly Google lavishes perks on employees because it can afford to, but the fact remains – happy, well cared for employees work harder.

There’s no doubt about it, Google has some of the most impressive offices in the world. But they don’t just look good, they work well too. After all, a company isn’t worth billions of dollars, after less than 20 years of existence, without knowing what they’re doing.

What have you learnt from Google’s office design? Do you think these tips could translate to smaller businesses?


Image one by Marcin Wichary

Image two by Marcin Wichary

Image three by Marcin Wichary

Image four by Julian Stallabrass

Image five by Marcin Wichary