This past month we noticed that a company started moving into the empty office space adjacent to ours. We’re located in Texas, inside the great Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex. The office space in the strip of buildings next to us has been vacant a long time. Some of our customer-care folx stopped and asked the electricians who was going to be moving in: it’s Google.
A few of us in management were a bit concerned, because it was entirely odd that Google would choose, out of the entire, huge, gigantic, sprawling metro area, to park themselves *smack* next to us! We couldn’t help but wonder if they were planning to lure away some of our advertising specialists! After all, we knew that they apparently had a small office in nearby Irving where they had AdSense optimizers, so it was conceivable that they might think that poaching our employees might give them skilled people quickly. There’s so much office space in the entire metro area, that it virtually defied reason to consider that they only coincidentally located offices next to us.
However, one of our marketing staff finally came back with the intel that this was to be offices for Google Radio  (aka “Google Audio Ads”)Â — not something all that related to what we do. So, maybe it is coincidence, and not a snarky attempt to leach away our talent.
The workmen appear to’ve mostly finished setup, and it seems like people are starting to work in the building. So, I strolled over there after work and took some pics through the windows. I was stunned to see that Google’s cubes are actually smaller than ours!
Read on for more description and more pics.
Naturally, I’ve seen Google’s cubes at the Googleplex in California, but I don’t recall them being this small. Also, I knew they went for that trendy “open office” arrangement where work cubes actually don’t have dividers between employees’ desks — you can see that clearly in the pic above. I’ve heard the theorists of work process efficiency claim that open environments improve productivity. I don’t really believe in that, myself — not for all types of workers.
I have what’s probably a very high tolerance of moderately open work environments — when I started out as a content developer / designer for Superpages, there were few employees so we were all stuffed into a small office space which also served as a call center for us. If you’ve never worked in one, you’d likely find working in a call center environment to be pretty loud and distracting. Loud, beeping ACD (automated call distribution) monitor boards. Sales reps or customer care people talking to customers. People shouting questions over cube walls. Temps scurrying by with piles of paperwork. People loudly chanting corporate mantras or getting groups to vocally acknowledge someone’s achievements.
Even though I’d moved from a corner suite office of my very own (midway up a skyscraper) into a far smaller cube when I came to the company, I adapted and became used to work inside the call center. So, as office workers go, I’m pretty accepting of environmental noise and some degree of openness.
Even considering this, I’m quite shocked at the relatively tiny size of Google’s cubes: claustrophobic people would freak out! Also, Google’s cubes have very short dividing walls — to the point of being virtually nonexistent — giving no privacy. Some of their cubes are divided from each other, but a lot of them were set up in little four-cube work-group clusters with no dividers at all between them. The size is even more surprising, considering that THIS IS TEXAS! The one commodoty we have in spades is SPACE! Space, and land in Texas are generally cheap compared to Califoria or the East Coast.
For contrast, check out my spacious cube in the building next door:
Now, THAT’S a Texas-sized cube! I stood up on a chair to take that pic, so the tops of my cube walls are not really at eye-level, they’re well above average height.
– Clerestory windows — there’s a cool little trim of windows around the top of my cube which extends the height of the walls while allowing light to leach over. Since there are glass walls all the way around our building, this allows some natural light to filter over the walls.
– Indirect lighting fixtures along the ceiling.
– Two guest chairs with room to hold small conferences inside the cube;
– A rolling section of wall with cloth on one side and white markerboard on the other — handy for sketching flowcharts, and leaving “away from my desk” notes. Most folx in the building also use these as sort of doors for their cubes.
– I also have TONS of storage space! Multiple filing cabinets, and lockable shelves.
– And TONS of desk surface area! (Yeah, yeah, yeah — you can see my stacks of papers and stuff — I’m a bit cluttered.)
– The coolest feature is what my team and I refer to as “The Cones of Silence”  , like out of the old Get Smart TV show. Basically, every cube in our building is equipped with an individual white noise generator which one can adjust to help mask what one may be saying on sensitive phone calls, so that other people in our version of “open office” environment can’t accidentally eavesdrop. Here’s a picture of one of the two Cones of Silence speakers in my cube:
Okay, so I do have to admit that we have multiple sizes of cubes in our building, depending on one’s title/role. So, my cube is actuallyÂ the largest size (I’ve been here a decade, so I certainly have enough files to fill all the storage space!).
But, even our smallest size cubes appear to be larger and more private. Here’s a pic of a typical exemplar of the smallest-size cube in our building:
That’s a cube used by one of the contractors on my team. Notice the space — it is equipped with The Cones of Silence, shelves and file drawers, a small rolling file cabinet, a small peanut table, and some of the small cubes have one of the rolling wall sections. Oh, yeah — the walls: they’re higher than Google’s cubes! You’re not constantly rubbing elbows with your coworker neighbors with each keystroke like in the Google building.
I believe that people who do IT work need time/space to be able to focus, concentrate, and think about what they’re working upon. Yes, collaboration is necessary, but quality of worklife is also important, and not everyone wants to be forced into a constant Vulcan mind-meld for eight hours every day. So, small cubes and no walls at all is just not considered cool for the majority of IT workers out there.
Here’s some more pics of the GoogleÂ Audio AdsÂ offices, if you’re interested:
– Row of small cubes 
– Little relaxation corner  – equipped with multicolored balls and is that a massage chair?
– Another corner lounge  – there are the characteristic scooters all over the building
– Front reception desk  – don’t all these bouncy balls get in the way?