“Being innovative is more than hiring the right people and buying the best technology. You’ve got to create a culture where space matters.” ~Tom Kelley.
I remember the first time I saw photos of Google’s offices in Zurich few years ago. It was a huge shock. I couldn’t imagine a workplace that could offer its employees that much comfort and fun and yet get them to do their job seriously. I understood later that the physical space reflects the whole culture of the enterprise and actually makes innovation happen. I understood also that placing your employee in the center and making his work experience more fun is ironically the only way to get him to do a better serious job.
But there is a huge difference between reading about things, seeing pictures of them and actually getting to experience them firsthand.
As part of TechWomen, an exchange program I was part of. we got to visit a number of tech companies for workshops and tech talks. And every time I set foot in their offices, it felt as though the enterprise culture could be smelt in the air. Here are some rather obvious examples to illustrate my case:
Youtube: we’ve got it covered!
Although we didn’t get to tour YouTube, the little I’ve seen gave me a great overview of the culture there. Simple and comfy spaces, massage chairs, basketball court, climbing machine, open cafeteria, snacks à volonté… the visual presence of the company was everywhere and in everything you touch. There are definitely this “make yourself at home” and “don’t worry about a thing, YouTube got it covered ” messages floating all around. The space emitted what I believe are the main characteristics of YouTube: simple yet efficient.
Facebook: 1% achieved, 99% to go
The TechWomen program assigns you technical and cultural mentors that would help make your experience a richer and better one. My cultural mentor happens to be Kinh Demaree, university recruiter at Facebook. So while we were invited to Facebook for a tech Talk (On which I’ll blog later), Kinh was awesome enough to grant us a private tour. Open, fun and abounding youthful power, Facebook’s offices have this funny way of reflecting the organization’s main philosophy: “our work is 1% finished”. When you walk in the offices, you’d think they are in the middle of a renovation project with their unpolished floors, electrical cables hanging from the ceilings etc. All of this is done on purpose to reflect the need of working consistently on creating add-value.
Facebook is also known for its HACK culture. Every now and then, interns and facebookers organize all-night hackathons that not only bring to life great ideas but nurture a culture of collaboration, prototyping and innovation.
Google: office is your second home!
Well, you have to give it to Google, they definitely go the extra mile. From nap pods to bicycles for traveling between buildings, Google not only seems to have thought of everything (they really really do your laundry…) but adds its own grain of creativity. The Dinosaur, the shark, the replica of the spaceShipOne, the mobile meeting room… a googly touch to prove that the world is the canevas of your imagination, all you need is dare! Google not only offers the best conditions possible for its employees but it also conveys strong messages: be comfortable, have fun, give way to your creative impulse…
Doping the culture
I could go on and on about all the great companies we had the pleasure to visit. But I’ll wrap up with my major takeaways:
– Your way to success starts by building your unique culture that best reflects your DNA, by living that culture, embodying it and breathing it in everything you do.
– Organization’s values aren’t to be framed in A3 posters and stuck on walls nobody cares to see or discuss. They have to be felt in every ounce of the organization’s building, maybe through the names of rooms (I particularly loved Facebook’s “all your bases are belong to us” and Twitter’s offices that had employees’ twitter handles on their door…), through color codes or innovative office spaces…
– Physical spaces don’t only reflect a culture that is reigning within the organization, they actually reinforce it. And guess what? The office doesn’t have to be extravagant it only needs to convey your culture in a set of messages and make them stick!
TechWomen : A professional mentorship program that pairs women from the Middle East and North Africa region with their counterparts from Silicon Valley. Mentees are paired to technical and cultural mentors from leading technology companies and assigned a four-week project in their hosting companies. Techwomen is an initiative of the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs (ECA), managed by the Institute of International Education (IIE), and implemented in partnership with the Anita Borg Institute for Women and Technology (ABI).
Googleplex photo by