Fiona Smith Columnist

Fiona writes on workplace issues, including management, psychology, workplace design, human resources and recruitment. She is a former Work Space editor at The Australian Financial Review and has also covered property, technology, architecture and general news.

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Working from home can isolate employees, says Google

Published 19 February 2013 15:45, Updated 10 April 2013 07:40

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Working from home can isolate employees, says Google

Google’s Patrick Pichette says just because Google is an online company doesn’t mean people have to telecommute. Photo: Michele Mossop

Google has always been famous for bucking the teleworking trend - believing that there is nothing like face-to-face contact to get good ideas flowing.

It has even been known to measure the lines at its staff canteens to make sure they are long enough for people to have time to chat, but not so long that they will give up and walk away.

The tables are also closer than you would think necessary, so that people have to brush by with their plates and an “excuse me” or “ooops sorry” can be enough to start an introduction.

Yes, you can work from anywhere, but ... working from the office is really important

In Silicon Valley, biodiesel-fuelled shuttle buses take Googlers to and from work, which means they can be on their laptops or chatting as they commute. Car pooling also encourages people to mix.

So the company’s chief financial officer, Patrick Pichette, was absolutely “on message” when he spoke of his opposition to telecommuting in Sydney on Monday.

As reported in the Sydney Morning Herald, he said: “The surprising question we get is: ‘How many people telecommute at Google?’ And our answer is: ‘As few as possible’.”

“It’s somewhat counterintuitive. People think, ‘Well, because you’re at Google you can work from anywhere.’ Yes, you can work from anywhere, but many just commute to offices . . . Working from the office is really important.”

Pichette said working from home can isolate employees. “There is something magical about sharing meals. There is something magical about spending the time together, about noodling on ideas, about asking, at the computer, ‘What do you think of this?’,

“These are [the] magical moments that we think at Google are immensely important in the development of your company, of your own personal development and [of] building much stronger communities.”