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How Google Designed an Office Where You're Guaranteed to Meet Your Neighbors

Does it matter how often you run into your coworkers at the office? Probably so: studies say that the farther away you are from someone, the less likely you'll talk. If someone works just 20 feet away, you're drastically less likely to communicate with them than if they're next door or at the next desk. In a study of a dorm at MIT, students knew the person living next to them 41 percent of the time, but when someone lived just two doors away, that dropped to 22 percent. (Other studies have shown that the "proximity effect" applies in apartment buildings and neighborhoods, too).


How can an office be designed to help people run into each other more? It's a question that Google considered with the design of their brand new Googleplex, set to begin construction this year. As Vanity Fair wrote earlier this year, Google has some of the most famous offices in the world—complete with slides and green roofs—but until now, has never designed their own building. When they finally decided to go for it, they based their design on data: a careful study of how their employees interact now, and what they wanted to change.

They kept several features from the old building, including mixing social areas with quieter work spaces, and plenty of cafes. But one of the unique features of the design is the bent rectangle shape. It wasn't an aesthetic choice, but one to make it more likely for employees to see each other. From the Vanity Fair post:

The layout of bent rectangles, then, emerged out of the company’s insistence on a floor plan that would maximize what Radcliffe called “casual collisions of the work force.” No employee in the 1.1-million-square-foot complex will be more than a two-and-a-half-minute walk from any other, according to Radcliffe. “You can’t schedule innovation,” he said. “We want to create opportunities for people to have ideas and be able to turn to others right there and say, ‘What do you think of this?’”

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It makes sense, and seems like the kind of design trend in architecture that will continue to grow. Think of your own office: how much more do you talk to the person next to you than someone across the room or down the hall?

Image courtesy of NBBJ

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