Photos by Camilla Pucholt
Google is where you work if you’re a genius who occupies the psychic sphere of Tom Hank’s character in Big. The Toronto headquarters is spread over five floors (one soon to be filled) at 111 Richmond. Google gleefully shirks the stultifying mores of the traditional corporate model, offering a much lighter take on the work day. This is within spitting distance of neighboring professionals who thought perhaps that their boxes of donuts and casual Fridays were the pinnacle of fun.
I enter the ground floor and see no numbers on the elevator buttons. I trail in after a random woman and try to look like I know where I’m going. I get off on the wrong floor and then realize that I simply have to punch in the digits of my destination floor and it takes me there.
When I get to the reception, I sign in by punching in my name on a touch screen. An official-looking nametag pops out. In the waiting area, a djembe is perched on the coffee table. Plants crawl up the walls. Dove Hot Chocolate packages are splayed sluttily before me. A massive interactive 3-D ‘Liquid Galaxy’ screen featuring the whole goddamn world can be accessed by guiding a big joystick mounted on a podium.
Wendy Bairos of Google’s Global Communications and Public Affairs greets me. As she uses her scan key to access each floor, signs adorned with pictures of an alligator warn us: Anyone could be a tail gator. Ask for a badge. In addition to security factors, it occurs to me that people would sneak in just to pretend they work here.
Throughout all floors, the desks are located along the perimeter of the building. This is so that everyone gets lots of natural light and are spared the indignity of operating out of a murky basement in a defunct wing of a community college. Swings and coloured tuffets are situated throughout the office. If those are too public, you can always take to a tent.
“When we design Google spaces, they all feel like Google, mostly because of the primary colors and the openness. But they always survey the people that work here to find out what it is they want. You don’t want to design the space just for the sake of design, you actually want it to be functional and useful,” she says, as we scan a foosball table and an Extreme Hunting 2 arcade game. “Some offices will have certain games, or different distractions than others, because it’s based on what people will do and how they use the space. Otherwise it’s all a waste.”
As we enter another room, Bairos pulls at a book on an immense bookcase. The bookcase swings open, revealing a secret room complete with leather furniture and an operational fireplace. Google’s Toronto site houses a DJ lounge, a soundproof music room (complete with drum kit, electric guitars, keyboard and big-screen videoconference connection with the Montreal office for ‘Jam Sessions’), and ping pong tournaments.
There is also a wellness room, “that’s basically used for naps,” says Bairos. The massage room houses both table and chair massage. “You sign up online, and its subsidized by Google. It ultimately increases productivity,” says Bairos. I can’t really argue, having no grounds for comparison throughout my storied positions as bartender, dishwasher, highway flagger and telemarketer. The whole space is a sweeping testament to progressive, holistic solutions, including hydraulic desks that move up and down at the push of a button — if you feel like working while standing up. “Studies have shown that it’s better for your health, your creativity, all of that.”
As we pass through the halls, she calls attention to the drab grey floor. “The carpets are actually made of recycled fishing line from the bottom of the sea.” In addition to write-on white walls, they house a variety of works by Toronto-based artists. There is an entire mural of a zombiefied staff by Byron Rempel, a Lego table, and an Android constructed entirely of Rubik’s cubes made by CubeWorks.
Every floor has a micro-kitchen. “As a general rule,” says Bairos, “Googlers can’t be more than 150 feet from food. So every office where there’s a collection of desks, chances are there will be a micro-kitchen there. The way we’ve designed our microkitchens is they’re all themed. This is the candy kitchen. Upstairs is ice cream, downstairs for the healthy hut. It’s really to encourage movement.” Each has its own arcade games and a distinctly Canadian feel. “Instead of being Canadiana where you feel like you’re in a souvenir shop, it was more about these little whimsical tributes.” Instead of immersing us in a scene that looked like a beaver threw up, they installed a screen wall consisting of hockey sticks. Another screen wall consists of “orphaned bikes we saved from the city.” I scan the mass for my piece of crap bike carcass that was unceremoniously removed by the city after nearly rusting to dust outside, but I can’t see it.
We enter the main cafeteria, which contains all manner of food containing color-coded signage bridging from green (healthy) to red (delicious but horrible for you). “There’s mini-golf outside on both of the terraces,” says Bairos as we step onto the deck. There are five holes of golf, one extends beneath a mini-replica of the Dufferin Gates at the CNE. “There’s a BBQ outside so the chef really takes advantage of that. We have a garden outside that we plant seeds and grow. We looked into getting honeybees out here. It’s something where the whole office gets involved in.”
As the tour winds down, we pass the IT help desk. Its very existence surprises me, but the Toronto office is devoted mainly to the marketing and PR end of things, who need tech help from time to time. “We need a LOT of help,” Bairos laughs. “Whether it’s equipment we need, or help me, my computer’s not working, they take care of us.” And really, you can’t Google “Google” for help.