Can technology be used to maintain a corporations particular work and office culture? Google Vice President of Engineering Douglas Merrill thinks so.
He recently suggested theres indeed a connection between the kind of technology a company stocks its offices with and the companys look and feel to employees.
The nexis is an unusual one and suggests that through some careful technology-buying decisions, corporations can control such intangibles as work ethic, employee energy levels, and most importantly, the amount of innovation.
Googles sentiment helps to further separate it from its chief rivals. Microsoft, Yahoo and others years ago traded in what Google describes as its "live-out-loud" work environment for something more businesslike.
Yet Google not only maintains a work environment reminiscent of its dot-com days of the late 1990s, but also tries to foster it through IT buying, Merrill said.
"We live out loud, and we protect that culture," Merrill said during a recent address to IT execs in Phoenix.
Googles in this mindset to try to capture lightning in a bottle, Merrill said. The company wants offices filled with high-energy, charismatic people disassembling robots, playing with their pets, shooting pool, playing ping pong, or eating lunch at its five-star cafeteria. And it wants everybody talking about the next great idea.
Out of this unscripted atmosphere at Google has come some of the Webs biggest innovations of the last 10 years, plus a $100 billion company. Google doesnt intend to fiddle with a successful formula, Merrill said.
Googles famously guarded about what it spends its money on and, true to form, Merrill offered very few details about what particular technology Google stocks its offices with. He did say that Google has come up with an office-in-a-box, which has boosted worker productivity, ensured that Google can offer any of its localized services anywhere, and "more importantly, kept our culture."
Each office also contains a data center, a workhorse for a search engine like Google.
But as Google expands facilities into more countries, theres less face-to-face contact, which is so beneficial for collaboration. Merrills convinced videoconferencing is the answer to Googles problems, but hes yet to find one thats easy enough to use.
"Theres a billion dollar idea," he said. "Good videoconferencing equipment."