The No. 1 thing is to listen to what employees need. We found that they need a lot of diversity. There are so many ways to work—as a team, solo—and so many kinds of workers, from introverts to extroverts and so on. We create many different places so people can be as productive as possible—from formal and informal conference rooms to open spaces to stretching and yoga areas and gyms. One trick is to design spaces with a diversity of scale, light, and mood. It’s really hard to do, and it looks like we’re just making up these crazy spaces, but it’s very scientific. We have information from Googlers on what works and what doesn’t, we do post-occupancy surveys, we ask questions, and we listen very closely. When we design a space, we usually offer a few solutions people can react to. We go back to the drawing board, go down to two or three options, and pick one. Next we define aspects like mood, lighting, and furniture. Then we build it, and people are happy—hopefully.
With all this input, they’re basically designing their own space. One of the earlier amenities we provided were micro-kitchens. It was an amazing, vibrant place where people connected before they started their workday. Now we have micro-kitchens that are libraries, micro-kitchens that are game rooms. Also, health is very important. A few years ago we introduced sit-stand desks, and they’re used extensively now. It changes the worker’s environment all through the day and gives them flexibility to work how they want to work.
We look at every single detail through the Living Lab, which is a space where the Real Estate and Workplace Services team can experiment with innovative ideas for the office. We’re trying out three ventilation systems, six lighting systems, and furniture from 10 manufacturers. In the end, though, we’re actually very frugal in our approach to design. It’s more about creating character than money spent. —As told to Venessa Wong
• Coleman is global design director at Google (GOOG).