When it comes to motivating their employees, it can be said without question that Google stands out from the rest. Google was named the 2014 “Best Company to Work For” by the Great Place to Work Institute and Fortune Magazine. The organization topped the list for the fifth time. True, in its short lifespan, Google has acquired for itself a huge and bright workforce (over 50,000 employees spread throughout the world) that serves millions of people all over the globe. However, what is even more exemplary is how Google heavily pampers its employees while still being able to extract one-of-a-kind and outstanding ideas and products from them.
This article will walk you through an 1) introduction to Google’s work culture, 2) employee motivation the Google way, 3) work still gets done, 4) benefits of Google’s way of employee motivation, 5) examples of Google products created by its employees within 20% of their “free time”.
INTRODUCTION TO GOOGLE’S WORK CULTURE
Google’s model of motivation and leadership topples traditional leadership theory which focuses more on results than on the people who deliver those results. The company’s work culture is true to its philosophy:
“To create the happiest, most productive workplace in the world.”
These words from the Vice President of people development at Google only serve to support that fact:
“It’s less about the aspiration to be No. 1 in the world, and more that we want our employees and future employees to love it here, because that’s what’s going to make us successful.”
While the company was in its early days, its co-founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin went looking out for organizations that were known to care for people, develop truly amazing brands and trigger extraordinary innovation. The objective of this search was to be able to draw and keep great talent. In their search, they found the SAS institute (which was then ranked No. 1 on the Great Place to Work Institute’s list of best multinational companies to work for) as one company that was worth modeling. Interactions with SAS executives led the Google founders to understand that people were really successful in their jobs and loyal too when they felt truly valued and thoroughly supported. The result was the Google work culture as we know it now with huge and plentiful perks, unconventional (or weird) office designs, and amazing freedom, flexibility and transparency, among other things.
EMPLOYEE MOTIVATION THE GOOGLE WAY
Uncommon Yet Affordable, Amazing Perks and Benefits
Just like other companies, Google offers the usual extrinsic benefits such as flex spending accounts, no-cost health and dental benefits, insurance, 401K plans, vacation packages and tuition reimbursements. However, Google is better known for some really distinctive and “more than just attractive” perks and benefits which just serve to show the very extreme lengths the company goes to to make its employees consistently happy. What follows are some examples of these remarkable perks and benefits.
- Reimbursement of up to $5000 to employees for legal expenses
- Maternity benefits of a maximum of 18 weeks off at about 100 percent pay. The father and mother of the newborn are given expenses of a maximum of $500 for take-out meals in the initial 3 months they spend at home with the baby (Take-Out Benefits).
- Financial support for adopting a child (Google’s Adoption Assistance)
- On-site car wash, oil change, bike repair, dry cleaning, gym, massage therapy and hair stylist are available at the company’s headquarters in Mountain View
- At the Googleplex, there’s an onsite doctor and free fitness center and trainer and facility to wash clothes among other benefits
- Lunch and dinner is available free of charge, In addition, an assortment of delicious but healthy meals are available every day, prepared by gourmet chefs.
Voice and Value
At Google, democracy prevails with employees given a considerable voice. Here are some ways how.
- The company hosts employee forums on all Fridays where there is an examination of the 20 most asked questions.
- Employees can make use of any of a number of channels of expression to communicate their ideas and thoughts. Channels include Google+ conversations, a wide variety of surveys, Fixits (24 hour sprints wholly dedicated to fixing a specific problem), TGIF and even direct emails to any of the Google leaders.
- Googlegeist, the company’s biggest survey seeks feedback on hundreds of issues and then employs volunteer employee teams all over the company to resolve the major problems.
- Employees are regularly surveyed about their managers. The results of the survey are used to publicly acknowledge the best managers and make them role models or teachers for the next year. The worst managers are provided with vigorous support and coaching, with the help of which 75 percent improve within a quarter.
As Google is a company that considers its people to be its biggest asset, everything that can be shared, is shared. In this way, they are able to show their employees that they trust them with confidentiality and trust their judgement.
After the first few weeks of every quarter, Google’s Executive Chairman shares with all Googlers, practically the same material that Google shared with their Board of Directors at their most recent meeting. The material includes launch plans and product roadmaps in addition to team and employee OKRs (quarterly goals) so that all Googlers are aware of what fellow Googlers are working on.
Following annual surveys of employees in which 90 percent of them participate, not only do the employees see the results of their own group, they also see those of all the other groups (privacy is protected). In addition, when the company takes action on the collective feedback from their employees, the action(s) taken is also shared with everyone.
30 minutes of a weekly all-hands meeting hosted by Google’s co-founders and called TGIF are devoted to a Q and A session where almost anything can be debated or questioned from the founder’s attire to whether the company is proceeding along the right direction.
Freedom over How and When Work is Completed
One of Google’s strongly held beliefs is that they can get amazing output from people by giving them freedom. Indeed, research by Sir Michael Marmot, Professor of Epidemiology and Public Health at the University College, London is proof of that fact. From research that he carried out over a period of 4 decades into the health of government workers in Great Britain, he found out the highest mortality and poorest well-being were consistently associated with employees who had the smallest degree of control over their work lives.
Google’s employees are allowed greater discretion on their hours of work and also on when they can go and have some fun whether it involves getting a massage, heading to the gym or just indulging in volleyball. In addition, the firm allows each of its employees to give 20 percent of his time (1 day every week) to doing anything they like. This can range from assisting with another project to even just sleeping. Anything that is ethical and lawful is okay with Google.
In this flat hierarchy organization, engineers have plenty of flexibility when it comes to selecting the projects they work on. The organization also encourages its staff to pursue company-associated interests. In addition, instead of being trained by top management on the protocol for tasks, employees can approach tasks in their own unique ways. For example, employees are allowed to express themselves by scrawling on the walls. They can also arrive for work at any time they like, wear pajamas if they want or even bring their dog along. The relaxed, creative and fun environment psychologically benefits Google’s employees while giving Google the benefit of a more motivated, dedicated and productive workforce.
One of the reasons why people don’t feel motivated at their jobs is that the work assigned to them is frequently deficient in variety or challenge. The monotonous nature of the work with no growth in sight dulls employee enthusiasm.
At Google, things are different with the organization putting in effort to make sure its employees have inspiring work. The 20 percent allowance for projects of their own interest is one step in this direction. One Google engineer by the name of Chade-Ment Tan appears to have really benefited from this 80-20 rule. He had a desire to make world peace a reality in his lifetime. Though this may have seemed an impossible and strange dream to many, Google didn’t discourage him. Eventually Tan designed a very successful course on mindfulness with the assistance of a Stanford University professor, Daniel Goleman (author of Emotional Intelligence) and other leading lights in the business industry. Tan’s course is a great hit in his company. Tan is additionally credited with authorship of the New York Times best seller entitled “Inside Yourself.”
Fun is a Regular Aspect of Work
In keeping with Google’s philosophy, life at Google is not all work. There are plenty of opportunities for fun which help Googlers get out of their office and even interact more with each other. The opportunities include frequent breaks, facilities for wall climbing, beach volleyball or bowling; and personal creative sessions. In addition, there are pajama days, dress up days and a Halloween costume party. Every April Fool’s Day, Googlers are permitted to plan and implement some major gags and tricks to the world. Google’s office design too incorporates some fun with one example being that employees can literally slide down to the next floor with the help of a slide-type construction. Similar to that is a ladder in the Mountain View California office which employees must scurry up to get between floors.
Food is Pretty Easy to Get – 150 Feet from Food Rule
Wherever they are, Googlers don’t have to go far to get access to food. With respect to Google’s East Coast headquarters, not even a single area of the office is situated at a distance exceeding 150 feet, from sources of food, whether it is a restaurant, a micro-kitchen or a huge cafeteria. The convenience obviously makes it possible for Google’s employees to snack frequently and possibly even find their co-workers from other teams there.
Googlers benefit from free food and a great variety of food types to choose from. Food stocked in open kitchen areas includes waters, beverages, snacks and candy. The healthier options are more easily visible than their non-healthy counterparts showing how much Google cares about their employees’ health. For example, while sodas are somewhat hidden behind translucent glass, various kinds of waters and juices are visible straight away. Healthier snacks (such as almonds and dried banana chips) occupy transparent glass jars while the non-healthier kinds (such as Life Savers and M&Ms) occupy opaque ceramic jars with conspicuous nutritional labels.
Unconventional Office Designs
Google is known for its unusual and often wild office designs. The designs are done to serve several purposes including casual collisions for creative people and engineers to come together, idea generation and the triggering of maximum creativity while also ensuring employee happiness. Thus, rooms for Googlers include a meeting room that resembles a pub, in Dublin; ski gondolas in the Zurich office, and a sidewalk café in Istanbul.
If one were to take the organization’s Mountain View, California campus as an example, conversation areas resemble vintage subway cars. In addition, there are conference rooms which are Broadway-themed with velvet drapes, and a labyrinth of play areas.
Google permits its software engineers to design their own work stations or desks out of what look like huge Tinker toys. While some of the engineers have standing desks, a few others additionally have attached treadmills that enable them to walk while working.
To create the perfect workspaces, everything from ceilings and floors to the impact of different colors of paint are analyzed.
Google – New York
WORK STILL GETS DONE
With all the fun, flexibility, freedom and perks that seem to be an employee’s heaven, one can’t help wondering if any work really gets done at Google. The truth is that not only does work get done but, Googlers usually surpass management expectations for delivering brilliant work. In the first place, Google is very choosing when it comes to the people it hires. The organization intentionally employs ambitious people with established track records of elevated achievement. In addition, Google is able to make sure that its employees do not get carried away with all the perks and fun by way of a two-year deadline that it institutes on every project. At the close of each week, Googlers are reminded of their being 1 percent nearer to the deadline.
With Google having such a distinctly and exceptionally employee-friendly workplace environment, Googlers usually feel like arriving for work and performing their responsibilities industriously.
BENEFITS OF GOOGLE WAY OF EMPLOYEE MOTIVATION
More Innovative Products
Google’s work culture and environment is such that it triggers maximum creativity. The organization knows well that great ideas cannot be forced. Strategies such as accidental meetings between creative people and engineers, the freedom to explore, tailored work stations to help them feel more relaxed and a heavy dose of independent time are all fuel for the creative process and ultimately, for more innovative products.
Employees Become More Entrepreneurial (Hence More Productive)
Google’s workplace culture and environment is proof of how strongly it believes that innovation and invention cannot be planned. All one can do is hope to be lucky by hard work and trying to be in the right place. Google organizes its entire firm to support and cultivate unplanned entrepreneurship and innovation. The efforts in this direction include the “20 percent policy,” powerful, open development environments, a data-driven and flat organizational structure, tools and services that assist with launching, testing and acquiring user feedback at the earliest; and liberal recognition and rewards for successful innovation.
The result of this entrepreneurial environment that enables engineers to practically run rampant, is increased productivity.
Less Company Risk
As mentioned earlier, Google provides its employees with 20% of their work time to be spent on their own projects. Google employees test their different business models (and there are hundreds of them). Google owns those projects and has the potential to decide which projects to scale. So this means, less risk for Google in terms of failed projects.
EXAMPLES OF GOOGLE PRODUCTS CREATED BY ITS EMPLOYEES WITHIN 20% OF “FREE TIME”
Google’s allowance of 20 percent of free time is responsible for the introduction of some of Google’s innovative and brilliant products. In fact, by 2009, half of all the tech giant’s products had had their origins from the 20 percent program. Two examples of Google’s products that resulted from the 20 percent of free time are given below:
Who hasn’t heard of Google’s no-cost advertising supported email service? As of June 2012, Gmail was the most extensively used email provider, with its number of active global users exceeding 425 million. This project was initiated by a Google developer by the name of Paul Buchheit. When asked to create a kind of email or personalization product, he came up with the initial version of Gmail within a single day, reusing the code from Google Groups. Paul Buccheit had already investigated the concept of web-based email in the 1990s, when he was a college student and engaged with a personal email software project. That was before the launch of Hotmail. Gmail was introduced to the public in 2004.
In one of his shuttle trips from San Francisco to Google’s Mountain View headquarters, Gibbs built the URL predictor. So, when a person began typing a URL into a browser, the browser would auto complete the URL by studying Google’s considerable corpus of web content. A co-worker said to Gibbs “That’s cool. What if you did it for search?” and that is how Google Suggest was born. The name “Google Suggest” was contributed by Marissa Mayer, an executive at the time. The product was introduced to the public in December 2004.
With Google’s very successful formula for employee motivation, it is no wonder that the employee rating for Google on a prominent company review website is 4.1 out of 5 stars and that 95 percent of Googlers approve of their CEO.