Tag Archives: Working at Google

Making our tech spill-proof, crash-proof—thank you, IT

They keep our laptops humming and our work flowing, and they’re often the first people we contact when there’s a problem: I’m talking about IT. Google IT teams can be found scattered throughout the company, perhaps most visited at Techstop departments which are located in every office. This is where we go to ask our system administrators—or IT experts—to help with damage control. These “tech EMTs” troubleshoot the simplest to the most complex of problems every day, just like at your jobs.

Google Tech Stop

To commemorate SysAdmin Appreciation Day (That’s today, by the way.), we stopped by our San Francisco Techstop office to say thank you to our own sysadmins and to ask them a few questions. Much to their surprise, they didn’t have to fix an issue for us. 

What’s one thing you wish people would do before they came to IT?

Emma: Basic troubleshooting, like restarting a machine. You’d be surprised how many problems are resolved with a simple reboot.

Charles: Another tip would be to clear your cache and cookies before stopping by. This can help if you force a shutdown while a program is trying to update. If the program closes before it saves whatever it was doing, it can cause issues—clearing cache can help sometimes.

If you could wave a wand and eliminate a recurring problem that you deal with, what would it be?

Emma: The blue screen of death when machines don’t run on a modern OS. It causes disruption and takes entirely too long to remediate. I wish it would just go away.

Charles: Resetting passwords or sign-in credentials, in general. I’d love it if we didn’t have to do this, but I understand that people forget. 

What’s your favorite Google product hack or tip?

Emma: If you type “chrome://restart” into your Chrome browser, it’ll restart your browser and re-open tabs. I use this if my connection is slow or if my browser doesn’t load properly.  

Charles: I like to save time with Gmail shortcuts. If you want to learn what shortcuts are available, click Shift + ? and you’ll see a list of shortcuts appear on your screen. Just make sure to enable keyboard shortcuts in your Gmail settings first! If you’re working on a Chromebook with Chrome OS, you can click CTRL + ALT + ? and they’ll appear.

What's the weirdest or funniest laptop mishap you've encountered at Google?

Emma: I once had someone come in with a clicking noise on their laptop. I opened the bottom case of their computer and found a piece of a plastic arm from a toy stuck within the base. The person laughed and said, “oh kids…”

Charles: Do you know those little silicon packets that come in packaging or new clothing items? We’ve had dozens of people come into Techstop because their headphone ports stop working. Apparently, these packets get left within backpacks, the beads burst and they jam headphone jacks. Look out for those pesky things.

If you could describe working in IT in just 3 words, what would they be? (Feel free to make them fun!)

Emma: Unpredictable. Exciting. Gratifying.

Charles: Fluid. Inquisical. Magical.

What do you think your job will look like in 5 years? 

Emma: In five years, almost all of our IT systems will be cloud-based. Since troubleshooting systems will be a thing of the past, I think we’ll work tighter with product and data analytics teams to suggest and test new systems and environments. 

Charles: We help thousands of employees fix IT issues, and we're able to do this efficiently by focusing on how to address problems that happen over and over again. We call this "root reduction.” Root reduction helps us scale our IT services, and it also frees up our schedules so that we can focus on more strategic work. In five years, I think we’ll use the time we save through root reduction to become internal IT consultants for teams. We’ll embed with individual departments to help them solve trickier problems or workflows specific to their needs. 

From resetting our passwords to debugging and fixing a system crash, we salute you “IT guy” (or gal!). Thanks for keeping us online, even when we drown our computers in coffee.

Inside the internship: Lessons from a summer at Google

Google interns come into our offices around the world for a few months, make a huge impact and then head back to school to continue their learning journey. These talented, helpful people make what we do at Google possible and without them, many of our projects and products wouldn’t be where they are today. 

Since July 25 marks National Intern Day, we’re taking the opportunity to thank and celebrate our interns from all over the globe. We sat down with six Google interns to learn about what they’ve learned so far, and what they’ll take with them when the summer ends. (Want to be part of our 2020 intern class? Applications open in just a few months.  You can find all the details on google.com/students.)

Google intern Grant Bennett

Grant Bennett

Role: BOLD Intern (Building Opportunities in Leadership and Development), Equity Programs team
University: Morehouse College
Office:Mountain View, California
Project:Career Progression Toolkit, a website to find onboarding, mentorship, performance management and coaching resources for Googlers. Also building out a separate toolkit to facilitate further connections between Employee Resource Groups and Staffing.


What's something you learned during your internship that you'll take with you? 

"Google has taught me the importance of leaving an impact in any space you occupy. Working for the Employee Engagement team has been great because I know the work that I produce will be used to increase equitable outcomes for all Googlers."

Google intern Diogo Rodrigues

Diogo Rodrigues

Role:Software Engineering Intern, Search
University:Universidade Federal de Pernambuco
Office:Belo Horizonte, Brazil
Project:Improving Google search results around medical conditions and information.


What's been your favorite part of your internship? 

“Because of the internship, I moved to a different city for the first time. This allowed me to enjoy different experiences that weren’t available back where I lived. As a result, I discovered what is now my favorite hobby and sport — climbing.”

Google intern Kalaivani Kumaran

Kalaivani Kumaran

Role: Software Engineering Intern, Apps
University:Sri Sivasubramaniya Nadar College of Engineering 
Office:Bangalore, India
Project: Improving the G Suite reporting and insights experience for G Suite IT administrators.


What's been your favorite part of your internship? 

“This will be my second summer as an intern. In 2018, as a sophomore, I participated in the Summer Trainee Engineering Program (STEP) internship. My favorite part of both summers has been connecting with fellow Googlers and sharing wonderful experiences like Tech India Intern Connect (an intern-hosted event for interns from other companies to drop by Google India for a day of networking and learning), Google Serve,  and a Post-it Art competition.”

Google intern Alice Wu

Alice Wu

Role: Software Engineering Intern, Hotel Ads 
University:Brandeis University
Office:Cambridge, Massachusetts
Project:Creating a dashboard for Hotel Ads advertisers which displays customized opportunities for improvement.


Tell us about your path to Google.

“I did not have a lot of exposure to computer science growing up, so I actively sought programs that I could be involved in as a high school student with minimal computer science experience. I am an alum of Google’s NYC Computer Science Summer Institute (CSSI)class of 2016.”
Google intern Patrice Maxwell

Patrice Maxwell

Role: Information Technology Intern, Operations
University:Georgia State University
Office: Boulder, Colorado
Project:Building plugins that provide more operating system signals used for troubleshooting and diagnostic information for our internal support teams.


What's been your favorite part of your internship? 

“Even before interning, I was part of an apprenticeship for Google through a program called Year Up. I’ve learned a lot, but I have really enjoyed the opportunity to learn a new OS scripting languages. I typically code in Java or Python, so being able to rethink how I structure my solutions, has been an enjoyable challenge.”
Google intern David Cheikhi

David Cheikhi

Role:Software Engineering Intern, Operations Research 
University: École Polytechnique
Office:Paris, France
Project: Vehicle routing, working on how to make a fleet of vehicles (like Street View cars) cover as much ground as possible in a given length of time.


What's something you learned during your internship that you'll take with you?

“I learned to dare to ask questions whenever I wasn't understanding something.”


Google employees take action to encourage women in computer science

When she was a teenager, Andrea Francke attended Schnupperstudium, or “Taster Week”—an event aimed at high-school girls to give them a taste of what it’s like to study computer science and work in the industry. That moment changed the course of her life. “As a teenager, Schnupperstudium was a game changer for me. That’s when I decided to study computer science,” says Andrea, who is now a senior software engineer at Google in Zürich.

This year, Andrea went back to Schnupperstudium, this time as a volunteer, to share her experience as part of a collaboration between employees at Google Zürich and the computer science department at ETH Zürich (Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zürich). “Offering other girls a glimpse into life as a software engineer is a cause that’s very dear to my heart,” Andrea says.

Andrea Francke and Tahmineh Sanamrad, Google software engineers, delivering a career panel for high school girls at Google Zürich.

Andrea Francke and Tahmineh Sanamrad, Google software engineers, delivering a career panel for high school girls at Google Zürich.

After this year’s Schnupperstudium event, surveys showed that seven in nine girls agreed they could learn computer science if they wanted to, said they had an interest in the subject and believed computer science could help them find a job they would enjoy. “While stereotypes about computer science abound, events like Schnupperstudium can often counter them by showing what it’s really like to work in this field,” Andrea adds.

Something as simple as having a good role model can help to encourage girls to pursue their aspirations. A study Google conducted showed that encouragement and exposure directly influence whether young women decide to go for a computer science degree.

As we look into the skills needed for the current and future workplace, we see that there will be an increased demand for workers in STEM jobs, which will greatly affect the next generation. Yet only around 30 percent of women go into STEM programs in college, so not all young people may end up represented in the field. Somewhere along the way to choosing a career path, women are losing interest in technology. 

That means there’s more to be done, especially at the stage when women are making decisions about their futures. That’s why here at Google, our employees are getting involved with events that encourage young people, and particularly women, to follow through on a computer science degree. 

In 2018 alone, more than 300 Google employees across Europe directly worked with 29,000 students and 1,000 teachers through a range of volunteering activities. These initiatives are part of Grow with Google, which gives people training, products and tools to help them find jobs, grow their businesses or careers. In Europe alone, 48 percent of the people we trained in digital skills were women, thanks to programs like WomenWill and #IamRemarkable.

As we celebrate  World Youth Skills Day and the achievements of 1.8 billion young people from age 10 to 24, we will continue working to help them prepare for their futures.

Mariate Arnal wants everyone in Mexico to get online

When you enter Mariate Arnal’s office, you can feel the energy. Her whiteboard always has a work-in-progress idea, her agenda is fully packed and new folders, papers and documents show up on her desk at all times. Despite her daily tasks as managing director of Google Mexico, her energy always stays high, so much so that she walks up and down the office stairs every day. 

Mariate describes herself as restless and passionate. She studied to become an engineer, and enjoyed math and questioned how things worked since she was a little girl. Born in Venezuela and a recent Mexican citizen, she is constantly examining how to make things better, not only inside the office, but also outside it, brainstorming how to make an impact and solve the problems the country has.

She has a challenging mission: creating two different strategies for one single country. “Mexico has a very Dickensian quality: it’s a country of two tales,” she says. “You have the technologically advanced Mexico, and the left behind Mexico.”

With the first edition of Google for Mexico happening this July, it was the perfect time to sit down with Mariate for the She Word and learn about her the challenges of her role and her vision for empowering women with technology. 

Make digital access inclusive. 

Mexico has a population of over 119 million people, 63 percent of which is online. “Mexico is a top 10 market for core Google products such as YouTube, Chrome, Search and Gmail,” she says. “However, the thing we need to focus on is how to bring in the rest of the people who aren’t yet online. And to do so we need to have a different approach.” An important challenge to get the remaining 37 percent of Mexicans online is that connectivity is quite expensive, so Mariate pushes Google to design products for a country where data is very costly.

Learn from other countries. 

There are 11 countries that will account for a significant share of the next billion new internet users in the world, and Mexico is one of them. Each Next Billion User (NBU) country launches different Google products, but Mariate believes it’s important to examine what other countries are doing about issues that are similar to Mexico’s. 

Mariate considers Google Pay’s launch in India a great example, since both countries have very low levels of bank usage. Another example is the investment on the Indonesian startup GO-JEK, which addresses technology issues many of these countries have, like a lack of affordable connectivity. “Despite the differences each market may have, we can learn a lot from each other, take in the best experiences and explore new opportunities in our country,” Mariate said. 

Become a helping hand for small businesses.   

Building digital skills is essential to close the gap between the tech-savvy and the yet-to-be-connected parts of Mexico. That’s clear when you look at small businesses, and how many of them have yet to take advantage of digital solutions like online shopping. “Small and medium sized businesses are the backbone of the country’s economy,” Mariate says.  “However, most of them are not betting on online opportunities.” There are over 5 million small and medium businesses in Mexico, which represent more than 50 percent of the country’s GDP. Many of those businesses don’t know how to bring themselves online, and those who do invest less than one percent of their budget in digital marketing. 

Mariate thinks trainings like the ones Grow With Google offers can help small business owners learn more about the importance of digital skills and how to use them for their businesses. She also believes that products like Google My Business can keep growing to solve wide-ranging problems, from helping customers discover businesses to allowing customers to make transactions, such as shopping or making a reservation.   

Open up more opportunities for women. 

In an industry that’s majority male and in a country with a large gender gap, Mariate is an advocate for women both at Google and across Mexico. Most recently, she was on a panel at the Women’s Forum for the Economy and Society, one of the most influential global events focused on inclusion and women’s empowerment. 

During the panel, the main topic was to discuss what’s next for women in business, and the current challenges that prevent them from reaching  leadership positions. “What many companies are still not realizing is that it’s not just bringing women into the organizations, but working on a true inclusion,” Mariate said during the panel. “If they don’t include women, they are just going to leave.” 

In the office, she’s an executive sponsor of Women@Google, the company’s largest employee resource group, which is focused on women’s inclusion and empowerment. There, she has recently helped create alliances with nonprofits so that Googlers can help unprivileged girls have access to STEM classes. 

In many communities in Mexico, women are the breadwinners. But half of them have a very limited education, so they turn to the informal economy to support their families. Mariate, as a fighter for gender equality, wants to help women join the formal economy. “As a woman, when you are close to technology you can make a leap in every sense,” she says. “Technology can also give you more economic opportunities.”

Three mindsets to navigate ambiguity as the world changes

Consider medieval maps. Back then, the world didn’t know what existed beyond the horizon. Would you drop off the edge of the earth? Did unknown sea creatures lurk in these uncharted lands?  When faced with the unknown, most people resort to fear; mapmakers depicted fearsome sea creatures on the outskirts of the world. But it’s only when you steer the proverbial ship past the edge of what is known that you uncover all that could be. 

Today, advances in technology, like self-driving cars and computers we can converse with, catapult us to the edge of the map—the line between the known and unknown. Innovators need to be able to solve for problems of tomorrow, and navigate all the ambiguity that comes along with that. To thrive on this edge, we have to stay curious, empathize with different perspectives and experiment with solutions.  

Embrace a curious mindset  

Approach the unknown with curiosity rather than fear. The wildest questions can create the biggest opportunities. A phrase I embrace to shift myself into a mindset of curiosity is “What if…” 

Take voice-powered assistants for example. Just recently, millions of people started having conversations with their devices, completely changing how they interact with technology. Initially, there was some uncertainty. People questioned things like the utility, the security and the effectiveness of voice-powered technology. However, if you lean into curiosity and consider new possibilities, rather than pitfalls, then you can work through pending challenges more effectively. For example, you might ask: What if we had an assistant that could help us with everyday tasks? What if people no longer had to type to interact with technology? What if you could have a natural conversation with your computer? What if we had the capability of 10 assistants at our fingertips? This phrase can help spark optimism and fuel innovation.

Take multiple perspectives 

Once you’ve embraced a curious mindset, it’s time to start solving. Great solutions require empathy, or a walk in someone else’s shoes. I’ve found that the fastest track to empathy is to focus on the user. 

I recently taught a Stanford University class on inclusive product design. The class was made up of Stanford students, Googlers and students from the School of the Blind in Fremont, CA. Inclusive design demands that designers use the diversity of their users to challenge what’s possible, so to give all of the students a better understanding of the challenges they might solve for, we took part in a blindfolded breakfast. While it was no substitute for truly understanding the challenges of impaired vision, it helped to shift the perspective for students who had never experienced impaired vision and gave them an opportunity to empathize with the people they were designing for. Similarly, having a diversity of backgrounds, ability, upbringings and more on your team helps you to collectively see multiple perspectives. 

Another tool that helps you look at problems from new angles is what we call the “Why-How Ladder.” For example, you might begin with a problem statement like “How might we help more girls pursue STEM careers?”, and then ask “Why is that important?” This question helps you think about the bigger picture. Conversely, the question “How might we accomplish that?” helps to narrow the scope of the problem. 

The road to success is paved with experimentation

Once you start to see the challenges as possibilities, you can get into the process of experimenting. More than a decade ago, I was teaching English to a group of six-year-old children in Shanghai. I found myself staring at a room of 45 kids who did not speak English, and I did not speak Chinese. But I knew that if I got it wrong on the first attempt, I could just try a new tactic. So I started experimenting with ways to teach the kids a whole new language. After a few fumbles, we started singing songs, reciting the alphabet and drawing pictures to share simple personal stories. In order to take action and thrive in this scenario, I had to be fearless in taking action—even if that action resulted in a failed attempt. Failing is all about getting feedback early on. 

The world is changing faster than ever before, and innovation is inherently ambiguous—we simply don’t know what the future is going to look like. But with these three mindsets you can navigate the waters of ambiguity and steer past the horizon of what is known to what is next. 

How the San Francisco 49ers spent a day as Google “interns”

Editor’s note: In April, the San Francisco 49ers visited Google for a day as part of their player engagement and development program. This program gives players life and career skills they can use to set themselves up for success after the NFL. Quarterback Nick Mullens walked us through what he learned as a “Google intern for the day.”

For basically my entire life, all I’ve known is football. I grew up loving sports, and I played basketball and football in Hoover, AL. I played football in high school, then at Southern Mississippi, and now for the 49ers. That’s why I was so excited when I received the team text from our player engagement director: “Opportunity to go visit Google, sign up sheets are in the office.” We all signed up right away, to get a glimpse of life outside the next football practice.

Our player engagement program gives us all the resources we might need for life outside of football. They take rookies through a series of classes and talk about just the adjustment into the NFL. There are so many new things that you have to learn: dealing with money, dealing with family, dealing with fame, dealing with stress. Recently we realized, hey, we’re in the Bay Area around all these big companies, so why not learn something great—from Google?

So after workouts the other day, we got on the bus and headed to Google. We walked in a building and immediately we saw a sign that said, “Welcome San Francisco 49ers” and this cool light-up floor.

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We had a YouTube presentation that shined a light on how our whole generation is changing and how social media affects fans and people around the world. I mean, shoot, I view myself as a regular dude, but I learned there are people out there who would love to see what I and other professional athletes do on a daily basis.

Then after that there was a VR and AR demo. You always hear about virtual reality as the new thing, but I really had no clue what augmented reality was before the presentation and now I can’t wait to see what else comes out of that field—there are so many possibilities.

But my favorite part of the day was hearing from Chase Williams, a former football player and Googler. It was really cool to see an athlete make their way into the tech industry and to be successful after football.

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Google recruiter Chase Williams talks transferable skills.

The biggest struggle when leaving the NFL is that you’ve surrounded yourself with this game your entire life, doing the exact same thing over and over. When it’s over, what are you going to enjoy working on? What will you love more than the sport? What else will we be good at? During Chase’s presentation one of my teammates asked the question, “I’ve been playing in the NFL for so long, what skills do I have for the workforce? I’ve just been playing football!”

When it’s over, what will you love more than the sport?

Chase’s talk helped many of us realize that we’ve been developing ourselves for life after football all along. We know how to perform under pressure and have our work put under a microscope. We know how to communicate—with our teammates, our coaches, our higher-ups, our fans. After playing in the NFL for years, you have a lot of other skills, you just have to realize you have them.

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When I was a senior in college, I honestly didn’t know how long the NFL would last. I was actually applying for jobs at the same time that I was pursuing the NFL. At that point I wasn’t looking at tech, because I just felt like I didn’t know enough about it to get into it. That’s changed now.

I didn’t know just how many things Google could do. It’s not just a search engine—there’s so many different things Google is involved with. It was interesting for me to see just how many people have to contribute just to make the company go. The second I stepped on the Google campus I sensed the open atmosphere and work environment that Google has. Everybody’s just “Googley”—bright, respectful and it looks like they’re enjoying their work. They’re not “going to work,” they’re enjoying what they do.

I’m so glad I signed up, because visiting Google was probably the coolest thing we’ve gotten to do—outside of football.

Little kid, big campus: reporting live from Take Your Child to Work Day

It was the start of just another work day for thousands of Googlers at our headquarters in Mountain View. But for the hundreds of fidgeting kids lined up on the sidewalk at the Googleplex, a special day was about to begin. The sun was shining, the Kidz Bop was bopping, the bubbles (not that kind) were flowing. This year’s Take Your Child to Work Day at Google had officially arrived.

Well, almost. As the minutes ticked by until the gates opened, I waited with Peri, our 6-year-old reporter (daughter of a Googler and aspiring YouTuber) who led the coverage of this year’s event. As she quietly looked down at her sneakers, perhaps she was asking herself—as many of us do on a Tuesday morning—what the day would bring.

Turns out the secret recipe to managing first-grade talent is part one-on-none soccer, part floss (the dance move, not dental … come on, Mom!), and part completely unscripted and unfettered access to a microphone. Hold the organic snacks. Who knew?

Minutes later we were off to the races. Building Legos, sticking our hands in water tanks, petting a four-foot alligator (wait, what?), diving in colorful ball pits (this *is* Google, after all) and of course learning just a little bit more about what Mom or Dad really does at work all day long. Guess those few hours away from school weren’t so bad after all.

Finding my authentic self, from the outside looking in

As a child growing up in West Virginia, I have a distinct memory of looking at all of our silverware. Our forks, knives and spoons had the letter “S” engraved on them. I asked my mother why, and she said, “Oh, that’s because that’s our last name.” (My maiden name was Sui.) It was only later in life, after I went to college, that I realized where the S really came from.

My parents immigrated from China via Taiwan during the Cultural Revolution. They both came from very modest backgrounds and my father came to the U.S. with $5 in his pocket. He was a dishwasher at the Sheraton at night while he was doing his PhD at the University of Pennsylvania. And the Sheraton gifted them the silverware as a wedding gift.

My mom and dad worked incredibly hard to support us as a family. And as one of two Asian families in my town, assimilation was important to them. They wanted us to fit in, not stand out. They wanted us to only speak English, and now I speak Chinese very poorly. But my parents' emphasis on assimilation didn't stop me from facing adversity because of who I am. I had to fight to get the recognition I deserved, and that fight served me well through the rest of my career.

The plus side of being in a small town is everyone knows you. But the downside is that people are deeply critical about anyone who is different. I was on the student council, and would walk into another homeroom to make an announcement and have a whole bunch of kids make racist comments. Sadly, the teacher would do absolutely nothing.

All of us have that moment of being the “other.” Being the “other” meant that I had to work harder to be treated the same as everyone else. I had to work harder to get the same awards because of prejudices that I couldn’t articulate at the time.

It scars you. I repressed much of it and was very angry about it which drove me to think, “I'm going to show you all.” The best thing I did was deciding to go to Stanford. It was a gift to go to a place where I could meet people from all walks of life, and all types and sizes and religions and colors. You start to rethink who you are.

All of us have that moment of being the 'other.' Carol Carpenter

I think it’s critical to learn from the past and to determine what is authentic to you. And now that it’s Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, I’ve had a chance to reflect on how my past, how that's affected my path, and the lessons I've learned along the way. If you've been a high achiever, you've been around other high achievers and you have beliefs about who you should be or what you should be doing. I’ve had team members come into my office and say, “By the time I’m 30, I want to be a CEO.” These are extrinsic beliefs, not intrinsic beliefs. You need to know for yourself: Where are your lines? Which lines are you not going to cross? What really matters to you? What are you going to go to bat for and fight for, even if your job is on the line?” That's when you can be the best you can be. That's when you'll do your best work.

I’m grateful to be at Google, which is an extraordinary company when it comes to accepting all the “others” and working actively to promote respect and inclusion. As a leader, I have a desire to mentor and help others find their sweet spot and thrive, and it’s important to me that no one feels like the “other” on our team. No doubt, we have work to do in our workplace and community, but I see green shoots of progress every day. I’m so excited to see the green shoots blossom!

How a Google office became a sticky-note art gallery

At one of Google’s offices, windows have become canvases...for art made from sticky notes. The “pixel art” is not only a way to decompress after a long day of work, but also a way to make the office personal—and a lot of fun, too.

The decorations all started when a neighbor wanted to say hello. A company located across the street used brightly colored sticky notes to spell out a greeting in their windows. Googlers decided to join in on the fun and reply with art of their own. Their initial response was a shyly-assembled team logo, but soon after, a massive pink pixelated pony took shape on the windows of the office.

And they weren’t stopping there. Their office centers around a glass atrium, and they wanted to make their new home a place they could personalize. What started with a handful of Googlers creating their favorite cartoon characters took on a life of its own. Applying the principle of 10x, that a creation should be ten times better than its predecessor, Googlers upped the ante quickly.

A group would construct a pixelated Mario and Luigi, and see Pikachu popping up across the courtyard. Overnight, a colorful unicorn would appear. Soon, the characters from “Doctor Who” and “Mega Man” were presiding over upper floors. For Chrome’s 10th birthday, the local Chrome team assembled a large-scale Chrome logo—and a sidekick dinosaur—that spanned two entire floors.

Jakub Gielzak and Tyler Wagner, early members of the crew of sticky art enthusiasts, say there’s no organized structure to the notes. No team presides over planning, and no one says what can or cannot be posted where and when, as long as Googlers use their best judgment. (And not take too much time from their actual work, of course.)

But there are some guidelines: Use an outline of black sticky notes to make an image pop. Beware of glass that is frequently exposed to the sun’s glare, because heat can take the “sticky” out of “sticky note.” Keep a strict two-sticky note distance between the art and the floor, because a well-mopped base can be deadly, even to lightsaber-wielding Yoda. And, most importantly, obey the sticky rule of thumb: To prevent curl, pull a sticky note down directly from the stack, instead of to the side or, heaven forbid, up.

Animated GIF of pulling a sticky note off a pad

There are multiple Google offices that embrace windows as canvas. Back in 2015, Googlers in San Francisco once replied to a “hi” in a neighbor’s window with a sticky-note “yo” and a huge QR code which, when scanned, played Rick Astley’s “Never Gonna Give You Up.”

What’s next for these pixel artists? It’s anyone’s guess. Googlers are often the first to take their own pieces down, in eager anticipation of what someone will make of the available space. Sticky-note art is designed to be temporary and adaptable, just like the stack of notes you keep at your desk.

Working together when we’re not together

As the manager of Google’s People Innovation Lab (PiLab) team, which researches making work better in and outside of Google, I regularly find myself performing what’s called “Distributed Work;” collaborating with teammates who aren’t based in San Francisco with me. It’s not unusual in a single day to be emailing with Googlers in Tokyo or Boulder for a quick chat or setting up weekly meetings via video chat with people in our New York offices. Coordinating these meetings can be difficult. Teammates in Asia often have to get up earlier than usual to join video chats and we try not to ask our East Coast colleagues to stay too far into their evening for meetings with the teams in Mountain View, California.

Outside of logistics, building relationships with teammates I don’t casually bump into in the hallway is a bit challenging. It feels natural to ask about after work plans or swap movie reviews when you’re meeting face to face, but it takes more effort to form that bond when you’re mostly seeing each other on a video screen.

With nearly 100,000 Googlers spread out over 150 cities in more than 50 countries, I suspected other teams face similar situations, and they are:

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In order to better understand the impact of distributed work, my team sent out a survey to 5000+ Googlers and held focus groups with about a hundred employees across the globe. We measured well-being, performance, and connectedness (among other things) and came up with recommendations on how to ensure that those things remain consistent, even if your team is spread out across the world.

What we found

We were happy to find no difference in the effectiveness, performance ratings,  or promotions for individuals and teams whose work requires collaboration with colleagues around the world versus Googlers who spend most of their day to day working with colleagues in the same office. Well-being standards were uniform across the board as well; Googlers or teams who work virtually find ways to prioritize a steady work-life balance by prioritizing important rituals like a healthy night’s sleep and exercise just as non-distributed team members do.

At the same time, we did hear from Googlers that working with colleagues across the globe can make it more difficult to establish connections—in many senses of the word. Coordinating schedules across time zones and booking a conference room for a video chat takes more logistical brain power than dropping by a coworkers desk for a meeting over coffee. The technology itself can also be limiting— glitchy video or faulty sound makes impromptu conversations that help teammates get to know, and trust each other, seem like more trouble than they’re worth.

Making teams feel more connected

We consolidated our findings and best practices for distributed work in a set of playbooks to share with Googlers andother companies, too. Here are our top three tips for making distributed work feel more connected and enjoyable:

  • Get to know each other as people:Instead of jumping right into an agenda, allow some time at the top of the meeting for an open-ended question, like “what did you do this weekend?” It’s an easy way to build remote connections and establish a rapport. We found managers leading by example and making an extra effort to get to know distributed team members can be extra impactful. 
  • Set boundaries: Instead of making assumptions about preferred working hours, take the time to ask your co-workers when they like to take meetings; some may opt for a certain time of day if given a choice or like to disconnect completely from their computers at other times.
  • Forge in-person and virtual connections: Sometimes it’s just easier to be face to face. Managers should provide clear guidelines and opportunities for team members to travel for in person meetings. On a video call, express reactions to coworkers ideas noticeably to indicate they’re being heard. When you do have the opportunity to meet for face to face interactions - take advantage in order to reinforce connections forged virtually.

As a manager of a distributed team, I’ve started to put these tips into action myself. I host virtual weekly lunches to create space for casual conversations between teammates and send weekly “Pi” (from PiLab) emails to share goals for the week, potential barriers to getting work done, wins or accomplishments, and an emoji to make it fun and personal. At Google, we're always looking to improve our practices to help Googlers do their best work, and hope this research will make it easier for teams to effectively and happily work together, no matter where they are based.