Although the current business climate has caused a number of major corporations to scale back their workforces in and around Toronto, online giant Google, which first opened its local operation in 2002, recently bucked the trend by moving into a new custom-built space overlooking Dundas Square from the sixth floor of the Toronto Life Square complex. And unlike the company’s old digs—a general-purpose office near Union Station—its new Canadian headquarters is very much in keeping with the legendary Google vibe.
“Google likes to create office space that matches a lot of things that are important to [us],” said Ian Caminsky, Google Canada’s head of business development. “For Google, having a healthy lifestyle is really important for its employees, and also projecting that lifestyle into the community that you fit into. So for us, having a space where we can have a lot of environmentally conscious choices as we were doing the renovation and construction is really important to us, and then putting in features that we feel are going to enhance the use of the space for the employees.”
Among those features are incentives for employees who choose environmentally friendly commuting options—including storage space and showers for cyclists and a monthly subsidy for workers who take public transit—and even a treadmill equipped with Internet and phone access to encourage activity during the work day. As for the green credentials of the office itself, KBH, the Toronto firm which designed the new space, used a variety of alternative building materials to reduce waste and environmental degradation. (For an obsessively detailed account of the eco-friendly aspects of Google’s Toronto office, check out Kris Abel’s tech blog at CTV.ca.)
Asked about the wisdom of expanding operations in the middle of an economic crisis, Caminsky said that the downturn had no effect on Google Canada’s move to the new headquarters. “I can’t speculate what may have happened if we were starting today, but I’ve been working on [the project] myself for almost two years, so it’s been in the works for quite a while, and a lot of it was happening and planned and all the budgets were created quite a while ago,” he said.
That emphasis on the long-term permeates the project. Said Caminsky of the end result, “We can be proud of the space that we created, and although I think it’s beautiful and I think it’s really functional, it really makes a statement towards saying this is an office that used the right kind of materials, that used the right perspective in terms of building it, and [we] built it for long-term success, and not just to get a quick office put together.” If only more companies felt the same.
Photos by Jerad Gallinger/Torontoist.