Google research

“Our research shows that people consume 40 percent more water if that’s the first thing they see,” Dr. Welle said.

The story is on how Google structures its workplace.  And here is a good article on Googie — not Google — one source for much of the architecture in The Jetsons, via Tim Harford.


I wonder why most other businesses haven't followed Google's lead? On reflection, even Google itself is starting to revert back to the corporate mean. One of things I remember from Steven Levy's excellent book "In the Plex" is how Google had had to cut back on all the freebies in its Mountainview campus ...

Probably because they don't have trendy flagship products that people want to work on, nor billions in excess cash to blow on spendy digs in Chelsea.

The whole article reminded me of the height of the tech bubble, and you know how well the exciting, creative, collaborative spaces helped those companies stay afloat.

Reading an article about "what its like to work at Google" feels a lot like reading an article about working for Microsoft in the 90s – employees of both have/had (different types of) generous benefits that were unheard of at other workplaces due to the enormous revenues generated by their flagship products (Google search/ads and Windows respectively).

It would be great to receive a junket to visit Google’s offices, whether in New York or California, to see what they look/feel like in real life. Based on the pictures that I have seen they give off an extremely kitschy vibe. But that might not be the ambiance they give off on the ground, maybe it all comes together when you look at it right. And call me a jaded, cynical European, but the whole idea of fun/caring for each other at the workplace (at a company that by now has tens of thousands of employees) would have the opposite effect on me. But then again I guess these things are cultural.

Most other businesses don't have the same type of workforce as Google. It's worth a lot of money for Google to get their employees to come in for 10 hours a day and be engaged for all those hours. Of course there's some excess, but I bet many offices where people work more than 40 hours a week could benefit from in office food good enough so people don't go off campus for lunch and dinner. Total hours in office seem to have gone up at the office I work at after we moved to a building with a decent deli downstairs, and I'd imagine the effect would be even greater if it was free.

Other side: part of this is a recruiting effort for Google to get the best employees, and you can't get the NYT to print your press release about how you pay your employees a ton in cash benefits.

Looking into the future, Google may have realized that free food isn't going to be a long-term benefit. Many people can't resist free food, and obesity is a major risk factor for heart disease, type 2 diabetes, etc. Sooner or later, the health effects of free food would hurt the business.

Google has a large enough workforce that they should consider starting their own HMO. That's a big industry, and it would be a good laboratory to test innovation. Current application of technology in existing HMOs like Kaiser is abysmal -- on my last encounter the doctor who saw me gave me the wrong date for my next appointment and failed to order the tests I needed. I had the paperwork, which was prepared with a computer, but there was a total disconnect between the paperwork and the arrangements. If computer technology had been competently applied, it would not have been possible to generate that paperwork without also making an appointment for the same date and time shown on the paperwork and ordering the correct tests from the lab. When I showed up at the lab, they told me that no tests had been ordered, and that that happens every day. Kaiser is an utterly incompetent organization, but probably not much different from other HMOs. If Google merely implemented computer technology in a competent way for the basic everyday things, they would be making major innovations in medicine and by doing so would lead the whole industry out of the mess it's in.

As a former KP policyholder, I have to say, if you think Kaiser is badly run you should really try... any other insurance company.

Good suggestion. I'd like to see Google revolutionize the health insurance paperwork morass.

But, it's probably not high on Google's radar because Google's workforce is younger and healthier than just about any other in the country.

It should be high on their radar because it's a big lucrative industry and they're a big consumer of it. Their toolset includes the sort of technologies that could revolutionize health care data management, so it is an opportunity to apply their skills on some low-hanging fruit. Plus, acquiring people's personal data and monetizing their privacy is Google's main business, and data doesn't get much more private than medical data.

HIPAA's treatment of data is the polar opposite of how Google treats data. It's not impossible, but it would be a weird culture shift to have things which are locked up by default.

Few businesses large or small can duplicate Google perks, unless the business's profit margins are very high.

However, most businesses can afford to offer staff free beverages such as filtered water, tea, and coffee. Pod coffee makers make it easy to keep everyone's favorite in stock. Single serve snacks, including nuts, and dried- and freeze-dried fruit are easily available and don't take up much space. I know of a small business (less than 10 employees) that loans a Kindle to every employee who wants one and they all share a company account with (at last count) more than 500 books.

As an Xoogler from the NY Office, I can attest that the free food and perks are amazing. And the people are wonderful. Having said that, I am much more productive and happy in my current job because my current employer has stronger management, clearer goals, and less politics. In other words, the basics count more.

Don't you love Libertarians who gush over an employer subtlely controlling their workers lives in the name of productivity and good health.

Hate a win-win Bill?

This line in the article explains much: He said he wouldn’t go so far as to say cost is no object, but software engineers “are incredibly productive on a square foot basis,” he said. “Their value is enormous. It doesn’t cost that much to make them happy.”

I don't think these perks necessarily cost the company that much, and there may be some behavioral biases that cause employees to value the perks at more than the equivalent cash value, i.e., employees with the right perks might be more satisfied than if they had no perks and higher salaries (where the difference in salaries between the two cases equals cost of the perks to the company). First, perks are tax-free to the employee, so there is a rational reason for employers to offer perks that employees would have otherwise bought with their own money. Second, perks are highly visible, where salary might be "forgotten" after a while. At the time of hiring, one may be very sensitive to salary, especially if one has multiple offers. However, after working for a few years, one doesn't necessarily know down to the last dollar what one could be earning at another firm. So, employees might believe that they are getting the perks "for free" rather than at the cost of lower salary. The counterfactual is unobservable. Finally, certain types of perks, especially if they are differentiated from perks that other firms offer, may foster an emotional response in employees that the company "cares" about them, even if the company is actually saving money relative to what it would cost to foster the same level of employee satisfaction through higher salaries. For example, in non-work social situations people often value in-kind gifts (Christmas, birthdays, Valentine's Day, etc.) more than the cash equivalents.

We already believe that employees have trouble accounting for inflation when looking at nominal wage changes. It doesn't seem too far fetched to believe that they may overvalue certain types of perks. There may even be a certain signalling value from perks. As we often joke about on this and other econ blogs, non-economists don't always appreciate economists' explanations of how rational people ought to behave. Giving perks instead of higher salaries may signal that the employer does not expect its employees to behave perfectly rationally. Employees may place a value on a company culture that is not "overly rational". :)

In a book on Bill Gates, or maybe a book on early Microsoft - it was mentioned that Bill Gates also found the value of his programmers' time so high that he started providing free drinks/snacks (maybe lunch?) so they wouldn't leave the office. I read this long ago - and from what I remember Gates's environment was a much more hard driving than what is described at Google, but he did what he could via freebies to keep employees in the office also.

Dear Tyler:

Are you going to link to your new New York Times column about how economists are ethical exemplars because economists are for Open Borders? I'm looking forward to the comments.


Dear Tyler:

You should write a column about how Harry Dexter White epitomizes the highest ethical standard -- cosmopolitanism -- of the economics profession. Sure, White, in effect, embezzled about $250 million from his employer, the United States government for the benefit of the Soviets, but as you ask, "So why report cost-benefit results only for United States citizens or residents...?"


"And here is a good article on Googie — not Google — one source for much of the architecture in The Jetsons, via Tim Harford."

Googie is my native style. Here's another good source on Googie architecture:

Googie began in Southern California, and although it spread (in numerous forms) across the nation, its heart always remained in its birthplace. Los Angeles and Orange County, California remain some of the best places to see what remains of the style.

Googie has also been known as Populuxe, Doo-Wop, Coffee Shop Modern, Jet Age, Space Age and Chinese Modern. In some cases it has been grouped with its cousin, Tiki architecture. It is also sometimes identified as part of a larger overall movement of space-age industrial design. Googie often seems like a joint design by the Jetsons and the Flintstones.

Alan Hess, the author of Googie: Fifties Coffeeshop Architecture, traces Googie back to three Coffee Dan's restaurants designed by John Lautner in the early forties.

Lautner originated the style that would be refined and reinterpreted by many others. Unintentionally, he also gave the style a name when, in 1949, he designed Googie's coffee shop at the corner of Sunset Boulevard and Crescent Heights [Laurel Canyon] in Los Angeles.

Seems like Bloomberg listened to the New York Times' suggestion to hide sugary drinks:

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