A typical hall of power was once dominated by suits, harbour views, boardrooms and a hierarchical system of who gets what office. But then Larry Page had to invent Google and change all of that.
Now, some of Australia’s most powerful offices — indeed some of the globe’s most powerful companies — are reinventing the rule book when it comes to what a place of power should look like. A place where decisions are made that ultimately have an impact on the rest of us.
And never has the change been more obvious than at the head offices of Google Australia and New Zealand.
Much has been written about the free lunches, the “cubby house” style tear-drop pods where employees can disappear with their laptops into a world of self-imposed isolation, and the games room. But it’s not so much the brightly-coloured play areas that are housed in Google’s Sydney’s headquarters that sparked The Power Index‘s interest, as the fact that within this environment, a group of people are building Google into an even more dominating player in determining just how Australia runs.
On a warm October day, these employees appear more like they should be heading to the beach than to a day at the office. The uniform of choice includes t-shirts, boardshorts and thongs (that is, for those who chose to wear shoes at all).
At the reception area, visitors are directed to a touch-screen computer to print off their individual name tags, while the receptionist sits in front of a wall of green shrubs. There’s a tyre hanging from the roof (we’re not sure why either).
In the lunch room, people were actually talking about work — The Power Index kept an ear out to hear if the “build it and they will come” mantra of offering workers a free lunch really was resulting in good ideas.
Then there’s the games room. A place where the engineers can take some valuable timeout — remembering, we’re told, that they don’t work to strict business hours. We weren’t disappointed. Two boardshort-clad men were playing pool, another two were playing an Xbox while another was picking at his acoustic guitar (he was actually pretty good, too).
In a world of no offices, where employees can retreat to lounge chairs, park-style benches and to little pods reminiscent of hiding under the staircase as a four-year old, we’re told that management — no matter how high up the chain — will also spend their days wandering the floors with their laptops, helping out their staff.
But it’s difficult to determine from Google just what their management structure looks like. The PRs say they don’t like to discuss it, that they prefer to instead acknowledge that the “user always comes first”.