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The future of the office is ... inflatable walls, apparently

The future of the office is ... inflatable walls, apparently
Photo: Smith Collection/Gado/Getty Images

Google has some pretty wild ideas about the future of work. Like so many other companies, it's getting ready to welcome thousands of employees back to the office, while trying to figure out how to make the office a safer, more functional, more collaborative environment for a hybrid future. And according to The New York Times, Google is devoting millions of square feet of office space to new ideas from modular meeting rooms to inflatable walls.

Here are just a few of the things Google is trying out:

  • Campfire, a new type of meeting room that intersperses seats with screens to make it feel like virtual attendees have a dedicated space in the room.
  • Open-air tents in outdoor spaces, so groups can gather and get work done together. It's like camping, but at the office and less fun.
  • Team Pods, which amounts to a pile of furniture on wheels that can be easily rearranged to suit the team's needs.
  • Inflatable walls that can quickly blow up to give a room or a meeting more privacy, and then quickly deflate to open the space back up.
  • Office chairs with built-in speakers playing white noise to keep distractions to a minimum.
  • Hot desks that automatically adjust to an employee's settings when they swipe their badge to log in.
The overarching theme for Google is flexibility. Every space and every desk will need to be used for multiple purposes and by multiple people, and will need to be able to adapt practically instantaneously. (If the future of work involves spending half the day rearranging the office, that's a bad sign.) Safety is a priority too, of course, and has led Google to even rethink bathroom fixtures.

The Times report is a good look into exactly how large a project this is, and a preview of what a lot of offices might look like going forward. Google is responsible for so much of the way the modern office works: It was an early proponent of the idea that by giving employees outlandish perks, companies could get them to work harder, longer and happier. From slides to micro-kitchens to ping-pong tables, when you close your eyes and think of "a tech company office" it's probably in the Googleplex. Whatever the Noogleplex looks like will likely be just as influential on the industry.

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