Lessons Learned From Visiting Google

 
 
By David Strom  |  Posted 2008-06-16
 
 
 

I had an opportunity to visit a friend of mine who works at one of Google’s satellite offices (not the main GooglePlex in Mountain View, Calif.). It was an eye-opening experience on several levels: the number of people still working late at night, the numerous perks, the free food, a fleet of bicycles that anyone could use for their errands, the evening exercise classes and  the on-staff masseuse.

What, you don’t have an on-staff masseuse? Well, that might be a bit much. But it got me thinking about ways that you can make your own shop more desirable and your staff more willing, and most of these don’t cost a lot, either.  Here are some suggestions.

Find someone in accounting that wasn’t schooled at Hogwarts.
I can’t tell you how many organizations where I have worked had accounting black holes or magicians working there.

You know the drill: You send in your paperwork, and nothing happens for weeks while someone has placed your paperwork at the bottom of their in-basket or, worse, lost it completely. Get accounts payable to actually reimburse the staff quickly, say within a day of receipt, and you will boost morale quickly and easily. No one likes to wait for checks, and you shouldn’t make your staff feel unworthy because they incur business expenses.  

Listen to your staff’s needs.
Sure all those free snacks and catered lunches and dinners help, but understanding what your team really desires is key. At the Google offices, an expensive espresso maker was the centerpiece of the kitchen, but what impressed me was the wall of snacks that rivaled Trader Joe’s in its range of offerings. But what really mattered was that the staff had input into how these items were selected, and their suggestions were acted upon quickly. 

Learn from how you communicate with your boss, and don’t make the same mistakes.
How easy is it to get your boss on the phone when s/he is out of the office? Or on e-mail? I remember at one place I worked it was rarer than some endangered species sighting, and when an e-mail arrived, it was treated like some artifact ala Indiana Jones.

There are some bosses who are too intrusive: They are on instant messaging, they subscribe to your personal blog and Twitter feeds, and they want you available 24/7 to respond to their queries. Find the best middle ground, and learn from your boss’ mistakes.
 

Hire someone to fix your desktop and laptop fleet in-house.
One of the best parts of the Google office was the room where you could bring your PC to have it repaired, upgraded or otherwise attended to. The room reminded me of my high school AV (audio-visual) squad days–of course, back then we barely had electricity, let alone computers. But what was more important was how this demonstrated the importance of having working machines for Google’s employees.

At many IT departments, the squad room is filled with antique parts and outdated supplies. Or worse yet, you outsource this function and your equipment disappears into that accounting black hole, never to be seen again.

Not at Google: You could get just about anything fixed while you waited, or a new machine if yours had a serious problem.

Finally, think of IT as managing creative people, not clock-punchers.
I have seen many different kinds of people working in IT, and the best companies understand that they have professionals who, let’s face it, are somewhat quirky and unpredictable. Understand these quirks and what motivates people, and you will attract the best and brightest.

Sure, it helps to have a stock that trades at several hundreds of dollars a share, and a cachet that you can’t buy for being at the center of the Internet revolution. And that masseuse, too. But start acting like a Google, and you will attract and keep the talent.