This year, Google yet again tops the Fortune “100 Best Companies to Work For”—a distinction it has achieved seven times in the last decade. That’s no small feat, yet is hardly news anymore. People have long known that Google is the place to work, particularly after the release of The Internship, a Hollywood flick depicting two middle-aged guys (played by Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson) trying their luck to get into the company’s hallowed fold. We saw the sprawling campus on Mountain View, along with the delightful college atmosphere, and the out-of-the-box ethos that most of us can only dream of in our shoebox cubicles while wedged tight in our niche on the immovable organizational chart.
Fortune cited Google’s ability to spark “the imagination of its talented and highly compensated workers, and by adding perks to an already dizzying array of freebies.” It quoted a Googler who said: “The company culture truly makes workers feel they’re valued and respected as a human being, not as a cog in a machine. The perks are phenomenal.”
Bright sunshine greets us as we alight the chartered bus. The Google headquarters, known as the Googleplex, is nestled in Mountain View at the heart of so-called Silicon Valley. It’s a little more than half an hour’s drive from San Francisco. With more than 11,000 people, Google is by far the city’s biggest employer.
It’s quite a chilly day so our gaggle of writers (with four from the Philippines) welcomes intervening minutes to bask in the sun by the driveway as our minders and handlers get the media delegation together. There’s also a few minutes to snap a few shots with the multi-colored “Google” sign on the building facade just across us.
A short walk later, we find ourselves inside the cafeteria. Gail Tan, Google Philippines country communications manager, leads us to tables reserved for the media, and we go on our merry way to secure grub at the vaunted Google café where appetites of Googlers and their guests are sated for free.
“I’ve never seen a line for salads before,” remarks one employee to his coworker. He obviously didn’t get the memo that a whole delegation of guests would be coming to savor a taste of the Goog ‘ol living.
Pizza, pasta, salads, Asian food, Western food, cupcakes, vegetarian… most anything you can think of is served up in the premises. Still a bit hopped up and full of strong coffee from our earlier press session at another Google location on Spear Street, I choose the path of least resistance and get some salad, soup, and a cupcake. The soda machine isn’t working today, so I settle for what the Google Food Team calls “spa water.” There’s orange, basil, and carrot. It’s basically the newfangled fruit- or vegetable-infused drinking water.
After lunch, we make our way back outside to the courtyard peppered with colourful umbrellas, waiting for our formal tour to commence. Unfortunately, our tour guide says we can only take photos outside buildings. Still, we relish our chance to catch a rare glimpse at corporate America’s favorite workplace.
Immediately apparent, aside from the pristinely manicured gardens and lawns, is the proliferation of lawn furniture. Google overtly encourages its people to seek inspiration outside the traditional office setup. Indeed, we spy Googlers hard at work under shade or sun. One of Google’s avowed strengths is a “workplace culture that encourages innovation and a healthy disregard for the impossible.” On its website, the company says: “When you want people to think creatively and push the boundaries of what’s possible, their workspace shouldn’t be a drab maze of beige cubicles.”
Beside a large tree is “Stan,” the life-size replica of a Tyrannosaurus Rex skeleton. Nothing too spectacular there, except that this T-Rex is attended to by pink flamingos, and other objects that don’t hew to a central theme. Apparently, this to remind Googlers about constantly striving for innovation, lest they go the way of the dinosaurs. Yup, some obviously Darwinian stuff going on around. So, while Google lavishes some pretty incredible benefits and perks on its people, the company doesn’t keep them on a tight leash and gives them all the latitude for creativity and inspiration.
And, oh, the food. “We have around 700 micro-kitchens. See, we never want to be too far from food,” shares our guide with a grin. At any time of the day, and wherever they are, employees can get raid the fridge or use the coffeemaker. It’s not all palatal indulgences, either. Fancy a game of ping pong? How about an old-school round of Frogger? Know of any other employer that invests on these and actually lets its people use them anytime? In another nook of the building are some huge washing machines—ready for use by any Googler who brought dirty clothes along. Wash and fold services are subsidized.
From fitness classes, health clinics, beauty salons, oil changes, to a spa truck, bike-repair truck, nap pods, and even an adobo food truck, Google has most everything covered. Should we even be surprised that the firm receives a staggering two million job applications yearly? A Forbes article quipped that it’s almost 10 times harder to get into Google than Harvard.