What the Government Can Learn from Google

Ann All

Google has long been held up as a great place to work even though it slid from the No 1 spot to No. 4 on Fortune magazine's annual list of the 100 Best Companies to Work For in 2009. So maybe it's not surprising that John Berry, head of the U.S. Office of Personnel Management (Hmmm, is he a czar?) is looking to Google and other Silicon Valley companies for cues on meeting his goal of making federal employment "the model workplace for the country."


As Computerworld reports, Berry is especially interested in how companies like Google and Facebook have designed their workplaces with an eye toward flexibility and also in their health and wellness programs for employees. Said Berry:


"When you are trying to take the title and you want to be the best you need to meet with the best and find out what they are doing that we're not."


It will be interesting to see how it all plays out. In announcing its 2009 list, Fortune described the cultures of Google and other technology companies as "egalitarian," a word that few have ever applied to government agencies. I can't imagine the feds offering free gourmet food, as Google famously does. But maybe they'll adopt practices like having top executives call employees to personally thank them for their efforts, a perk at Network Appliance, a tech company that usually shows up on the Fortune list.


Writing on The Huffington Post, Craig Newmark contends "there's new excitement among federal civil servants," thanks to the government's emphasis on the value of public service. He writes:


"They feel they're part of something bigger than themselves, and that they have buy-in and support from top leadership, that now it's cool to do their jobs and do it well. Specifically, they feel the the President has their back."


As evidence, Newmark mentions internal collaboration sites at agencies like the State Department and the Veterans Administration. And I've written about successful use of wikis by agencies like the Office of Management and Budget. Collaborative sites do not a sweeping cultural movement make, but I'd say they show a greater willingness for government to consider new things. This willingness puts the feds ahead of many private-sector companies.


The Computerworld story also mentions Berry's desire to improve telecommuting programs. That'll be a challenge, as budget cuts and security concerns have kept many federal employees from telecommuting.

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