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Workplace whimsy nourishes creativity

It’s the first question Google employees in Zurich must resolve whenthey want to go to the cafeteria or game room: Stairs, slide orfireman’s pole?

It’s the first question Google employees in Zurich must resolve when they want to go to the cafeteria or game room: Stairs, slide or fireman’s pole?

The next dilemma for so-called Zooglers: homemade pastry or exotic fruit juice? It’s all part of three free meals a day, with regular snacks, that Google serves at its new European tech centre.

Then there’s the phone call dilemma. Should you use a former ski gondola that has been converted into a private phone booth? Shut yourself inside a blue igloo or giant purple egg?

If you want to tap into the maximum creativity of everyone you hire, Google figures it might just take a whimsical mishmash of colours, shapes, textures, nooks and crannies to do so.

“To be effective in a short innovation cycle, you cannot just be sitting at your desk,” explained Matthias Graf, the company spokesman in Zurich.

That explains the pinball, foosball and pool tables, the Wii sports centre, the air guitar video game, the massage tables and the aquarium water lounge. Or the café next to the technical centre where you can eat, chat, read and play video games while you wait for your computer to be fixed.

Yet this is not dot-com déjà vu, when Internet companies wasted gobs of money on outlandish toys before burning through all their cash and firing everyone. The Internet giant worked with a psychologist and design team to interview all 350 employees and incorporated their ideas into a new workspace — yet insisted the new design should not cost more than an ordinary office building.

“Everyone says, ‘Google is wealthy, you can buy a fancy office.’ But we wanted to show what anyone could do with some imagination,” Graf said.

The result: Simple, neutral but small individual workspaces with lots of natural light are interspersed with stimulating, brightly coloured, wildly original communal spaces.

 
 
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