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One step into the Google office in downtown Ann Arbor, and you can tell that this isn’t your typical company. A well-stocked kitchen with on-demand chefs can whip up nearly any meal or snack. Brightly colored, Michigan-themed rooms are stocked with comfortable and movable furniture. The employees are in jeans and most don’t look a day over 30.
On April 17, the Google Ann Arbor office invited local high school students to attend the “Kickstart Your Career with Google” event. Twenty-two Ann Arbor Public Schools students got the chance to learn the philosophy behind the company’s unconventional working environment and connect directly with Google employees about their career paths. The juniors and seniors from Huron, Pioneer, Community and Skyline gathered for a tour of the office, a presentation on scholarship and career opportunities with Google, a career panel and career exploration conversations with Googlers.Happy and relaxed employees are more productive employees, explained facilities coordinator Jay Uzoigwe as he led a small group of students through Google’s four floors.
“There’s food everywhere,” Uzoigwe said. “In the cafe, where we have a full kitchen, they’re cooking healthy meals—everything you pretty much would ever want, they can create. And here we have micro kitchens where we try to keep fresh fruit out, water, coffee and tea. We know that business gets done over meals, so we work to make our kitchens and lounges a very collaborative setting.”
The micro-kitchen was near a bustling open space full of elaborately decorated cubicles– another example of the nontraditional and creative work environment.
“Googlers get very creative,” Uzoigwe said, motioning to an enormous University of Michigan flag and a large inflatable animal hanging near fake palm trees. “That way when you’re at your desk, you can still enjoy some freedom and have a sense of ownership over your space.”
Surrounding the room were floor-to-ceiling windows that provided a birds-eye view of downtown Ann Arbor.
“We deliberately designed the buildings this way,” he said. “Unlike other places, no one has a corner office, no one has an office with a window view—the view is for everyone to share and enjoy.” Beanbag chairs are often placed next to the windows. “You don’t have to be at your seat all day,” he said. “Meetings can take place anywhere in our offices and we want to build a diverse setting that facilitates collaboration and creative approaches.”
One meeting room was recently redesigned to resemble a campfire setting. “Instead of sitting at your desk or in a cubicle, Googlers are able to sit around a campfire, sharing ideas. You never know, maybe the next new Google tool will born right here,” Uzoigwe said. “That’s why we give these spaces for people to start interacting, communicating, sharing ideas. It’s can be more creative this way as opposed to being in a closed-off room or at your desk.”
Each Google office is equipped with a game room. Ann Arbor’s game room boasts a ping pong table, video games, a TV, and access to a large tiled roof deck built last year that overlooks Liberty and Division streets. The company has used the game room to host visitors such as Governor Rick Snyder and U-M President Mary Sue Coleman.
“There’s one misconception though—that at Google all they do is play and goof off,” Uzoigwe said. “That’s not true. It’s time to come down and blow off some steam. Then you get back to work.”
Google also takes steps to keep everyone healthy. The building has its own Spin studio and a basement exercise room with weights, ellipticals and treadmills. Nearby is a bike garage. Google incentives self powered commuting by allowing employees to donate money to charity based on how many days they bike or walk to work.
“These things are incorporated into our business model to make sure you’re healthy, happy, and productive,” Uzoigwe explained.
After the tour as they waited for a speaker to share scholarship and career opportunities, the students said they were impressed.
“Mostly when you think of business you think office space, really strict parameters, things like that. So it’s really nice to see something different like this,” said Daniel Huang, a Pioneer student.
“They’re all about thinking of new ideas, and they add all these tools to help you think of new things,” said Lindsey Ressler, a student at Community. She said that the feel of the work environment reminded her of her school.
Christopher Shepherd from Skyline put it this way: “I want to work at Google one day!”
The visit to Google was arranged by the Ann Arbor Public Schools Partners for Excellence. The office connects units of the school district with local businesses and organizations, providing enhanced learning opportunities and support.