Labor Productivity: Google

by Elaine Schwartz    •    Mar 17, 2013    •    1753 Views

I suspect the whole Yahoo inspired debate about whether we work at home or at the office is taking us in the wrong direction.

Instead, I started thinking about what author Daniel Pink suggests in Drive. Discussing incentives, he says that once we are sufficiently paid at work, we need autonomy (directing our own lives), mastery (desire to get better and better at a task), and purpose (“yearning to do what we do in a service larger than ourselves”).

Pink’s ideas took me to Google’s NYC offices. Formerly a shipping complex, Google’s East Coast NYC headquarters occupies a full city block. Software engineers can design their own offices (see below), dogs can stay with their owners (below), and breakfast, lunch and dinner and snacks are free and taste good. During the workday, yoga is available as well as an occasional talk from people like Toni Morrison. Not quite your typical library, shelves open to reveal “secret” rooms and reading spaces. One hallway is lined with a Pacman arcade.

You see where this is going. The spirit and structure at Google generate the autonomy, mastery and purpose that inspire productivity. While Google employees can work at home or at work, most choose work.

But does Google have the only good answer to the home/work debate? Not necessarily. It all depends on the incentives.

A Google Office (photo credit: Marsten NY Times

A Google Office.(Photo Credit: Karsten Moran for the NY Times)

A Google Office (photo credit: Karsten Moran/NY Times)

A Google Office.(Photo Credit: Karsten Moran for the NY Times)

A Google Conference Area (photo credit: Karsten Moran/NY Times)

A Google Conference Area.(Photo Credit: Karsten Moran for the NY Times)

Sources and Resources: My description of Google’s NYC offices is based on a NY Times article, a slide show, and the Google website. To learn more about Daniel Pink’s ideas, his book is Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us and he did a popular TED talk, but I thought his interview with Russ Roberts for Econtalk was my best source. Also, the first part of our econlife discussion of the Marissa Mayer Yahoo mandate to work at the office is here.


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