Wow, I wish I could have taken pictures! Today, Frida, Martin's girl friend, took us for a visit at Google's Zurich office. And, oh boy, our own offices feel so dull now...
The offices itself are actually pretty generic and crammed with loads of people sharing a single room, and very little space for privacy. What makes the facilities so special is actually the space between the offices.
The fact that you have subsidized hair-cutter and massage facilities are probably not so special nowadays, but to have fireman's poles between floors that can be used by employees is special. Most of the poles that I have observed seemed to end in some kind of cafeteria or lounge which exist on any floor. Quick access to food is also provided by the slide which ends right in the middle of the main cafeteria, where we had lunch.
Lunch is provided for free to employees, at least I could not detect any kind of billing system. It was a bit of a special lunch in any case, as the kitchen celebrated Halloween, and we had chopped of feet, and liver from the kitchen chef, with bloody ice cream. Yummy :-).
In fact, food remained at the center of interest during that visit: There are plenty of lounges, each one themed differently (and often to match each floor's theme): We saw the Sky lounge in floor 7, overlooking Zurich, the Djungle lounge which has a true rainforesty feeling to it, with small seating spots in the wilderness. Any "ivy-league university library" lounge complete with leather fouteuils (bar the selection of computer books in the shelves). A tube-station-themed cafe, and plenty others, plus a set of "microkitchens" all over the place. What all of these facilities had in common was really nice espresso and coffee machines (as admitted by our connoisseur Stefan), plus fridges full of coke, Ben&Jerries, and Mövenpick ice crea & other snacks available for free. The "library" offers fresh bread and breakfast all day round. I would certainly grow fat there! :-).
TO work off the calories, you could always go to the gym, or the sports club for a round of table tennis. Having eaten too much, one might also enjoy the "water lounge": a cool, quiet, dark room, with one wall consisting of aquariums, and opposite a row of massage chairs and bath tubs to lie in (with styropor foam for a comfy lie in).
To compensate for the non-private, shared office space, there is plenty of possibilities for small meetings: each floor sports "phone booths", ie old skiing gondolas, decorated after the floor's theme. We enjoyed especially the Roger Federer cabin, whose seats had been covered with sliced tennis balls, and the soccer gondola, covered with fake grass carpets.
TV screens in these lounges display the status of various things: if daily builds of projects succeeded and whatnot.
A lot of tiny things show that the place has purposefully been decorated with a nod towards playfullness: two hidden mice roam the tube-cafe, the 20% room which has a "binary" carpet sports a Google logo in one corner, the "tech stops" (support facilities) are decorated with surf boards and have a relaxed look about them (being situated next to a lounge might help).
One of my favorite rooms was the cinema... A presentation room, with about 40 chairs, none of which looked the same. There were thrones, small sofas, fouteills, plush hairs, in all colors and sizes, and it looked amazing.
Overall, I suppose it is OK to cram people in shared offices if you offer social spaces to retreat to, meat, eat, and work in quiet.
It was an amazing visit (Thanks Frida), and I returned with a stomach full of Espresso and Ben&Jerries, and a head full of inspiration, awestricken from that trip. Can I apply to work at Google now?
P.S. And yes, there is the mythical 20% area, in which employees get to work on some extra projects, should they chose to do so (and have it granted). When we were there, only one lady with her dog was working there though (seen a couple of dogs there, BTW).