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Googlers get creative while working from home

When the going gets tough, the tough bake sourdough bread. Or take up knitting. Or just really get into a new video game. In the months since the COVID-19 pandemic left many of us working from home and social distancing cut down on our calendars, we’ve had plenty of time to pick up a few new hobbies here and there. Others have spent time figuring out how to adapt their passions to the inside of their homes. And that’s the case for Googlers, too, who are still playing in orchestras and working on arts and crafts in quarantine. Here are a few inspiring projects Googlers are working on in their spare time, from home. 

Dancing on their own, together

Incognito Mode dance troupe

Last year, a group of 20 San Francisco-area Googlers got together to compete in a local dance competition. They called themselves Incognito Mode and won second place. Since then, they performed in showcases both inside and outside the office, but the pandemic put a stop to performing in person anytime soon. Instead, they recorded a dance video from their homes, dodging friends, roommates and pets in the process. Each of the 18 participants choreographed a portion of the routine, and they later edited the footage together. “We faced new challenges of dancing together virtually, but it also allowed us to connect in ways we wouldn’t have otherwise,” says Jason Scott, head of Google’s U.S. startup developer ecosystem and one of the group’s creative directors. “Many of our members now live around the country, but remote dance projects have let them continue dancing with us.”

A work-from-home virtual orchestra

The Googler Virtual Orchestra
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In the summer of 2016, around 30 Googlers picked up their instruments and played in The Googler Orchestra’s very first concert. Ever since then, they’ve rehearsed weekly and grown in numbers, with their last in-person performance featuring 80 Googler musicians. After Googlers started working from home, one orchestra member posted a call to get people to play together virtually. That started the Googler Virtual Orchestra, which has increased the group’s membership; their third recording will feature more than 100 musicians across three countries. 

Members each individually record their parts and then edit the footage together into one track. “It’s a logistical challenge,” says Colton Provias, the group’s lead audio engineer and a software engineer based in Sunnyvale, California. “It takes about three months from first discussions of what piece to play through the released video.”

The group intends to continue their work-from-home performances, and potentially adding other instruments or even a choir. “It speaks to the many talents that Googlers have, not just in the workplace, but outside of it too,” says Derek Wu, the orchestra’s founder and a software engineer based in Palo Alto, California. “The orchestra, for myself and others, allows everyone to unite together and create music that as a whole is greater than the sum of its parts.”

Comic relief from the pandemic’s stresses

Gao Fang comic

Gao Fang, who works in information security from Google’s Singapore office, had never drawn a comic before she started working from home in March. “Before the pandemic, I could roam around and sketch landscapes,” she says. “Then the lockdown happened and there was only that much I could sketch in my apartment. My hands got itchy for things to draw, and since I would like to keep a diary of this historical event, it's a natural step to record my days with some drawings.” 


She ended up drawing more than 80 comics while staying at home, and it ended up being a way to cope with living in isolation. Gao Fang’s comics touch on topics like awkward video chat moments and how stressful it can be to keep up with global news. Many of her sketches feature a rabbit as a main character, which she says was a stand-in for herself. “When I woke up everyday to frustrating news around the world, this little bunny did an amazing job keeping me company and guarding my sanity,” she says.

Focusing on the small things—the really small things

Miniature sculptures

Adam Stoves, who works on the Real Estate and Workplace Services team in New York, has been working from his 600-square-foot apartment alongside his wife and their toddler. Back in May, on a whim, he bought a pack of Play-Doh to entertain his daughter, but it ended up entertaining the parents, too. He and his wife started crafting miniature sculptures, which they now share online. They’ve created miniature foods, animals and even a teensy face mask. “Our daughter will pitch in from time to time, but her true talent lies indisputably in being the cutest hand model ever,” Adam says. “We have a limited window where she remains attentive, so we do a little chant: Big flat hand! Big flat hand!, when it’s time to photograph. It helps sharpen her toddler focus.” 

Building on our workplace commitments

Editor’s Note: The following email was sent to the company today from Eileen Naughton, VP of People Operations. 

Hi Googlers,

Over the past several years, we have been taking a harder line on inappropriate conduct, and have worked to provide better support to the people who report it. Protecting our workplace and culture means getting both of these things right, and in recent years we’ve worked hard to set and uphold higher standards for the whole company. Thank you for your clear feedback as we’ve advanced this work.

The changes we’ve made to build a more equitable and respectful workplace include overhauling the way we handle and investigate employee concerns, introducing new care programs for employees who report concerns, and making arbitration optional for Google employees.

In late 2018, Alphabet’s Board responded to employee concerns by overseeing a comprehensive review of policies and practices related to sexual harassment, sexual misconduct, and retaliation. An independent committee of the Board also reviewed claims raised by shareholders in early 2019 about past workplace misconduct issues. Today we’re committing to five guiding principles and a list of detailed changes to our workplace policies and practices agreed to by the committee. These principles and improvements incorporate input from both employees and shareholders. 

Below are some of the key changes we’re making.

  • We’re setting up a new DEI Advisory Council to advise on and oversee these efforts, with experts Judge Nancy Gertner (retired), Grace Speights, and Fred Alvarez joining Sundar, Chief Diversity Officer Melonie Parker, SVP of Global Affairs Kent Walker, and SVP of Core Jen Fitzpatrick. They will report to the Leadership Development and Compensation Committee of the Board (LDCC) on a quarterly basis on the company’s progress against these commitments.

  • We’re building on our current practice of prohibiting severance for anyone terminated for any form of misconduct, and expanding the prohibition to anyone who is the subject of a pending investigation for sexual misconduct or retaliation. Managers will also receive guidance instructing them on how misconduct should impact an employee's performance evaluation, compensation decisions, and promotion outcomes. 

  • If there are allegations against any executives, a specialist team will be assigned and the results of any case will be reported to the Board’s Audit Committee.

  • We’ll ensure that $310 million in funding goes toward diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives and programs focused on increasing access to computer science education and careers; continuing to build a more representative workforce; fostering a respectful, equitable and inclusive workplace culture; and helping businesses from underrepresented groups to succeed in the digital economy and tech industry.

Other Bets are required to adhere to our new principles too. Changes they are making now include making arbitration optional for all employees, temporary staff, vendors, and independent contractors for individual harassment, discrimination, and retaliation disputes with Alphabet; as well as following the new Alphabet model for executive investigations. Every Alphabet company (including Google and all Other Bets) will be required to undertake an annual review of their own individual policies and practices to ensure they are consistent with Alphabet’s guiding principles in this area.

Together, Sundar, the DEI Advisory Council, and the Board will uphold Alphabet’s unwavering commitment to prohibit and respond effectively to complaints of sexual harassment, discrimination, and retaliation and promote diversity, equity, and inclusion in the workplace.

Recent years have involved a lot of introspection and work to make sure we’re providing a safe and inclusive workplace for every employee. That doesn’t stop here and you’ll receive reports on our progress as we move forward. I’m grateful to everyone, especially our employees and shareholders, for providing us with feedback, and for making sure that the way we tackle these vital issues is better today than it was in the past.

Eileen

The rise and fall and rise again of “now more than ever”

One of my favorite Google tools is the Google Books Ngram Viewer, or “Ngrams.” Originally created in 2009 by part of the Google Books team, Ngrams shows how books and other pieces of literature have used certain words or phrases over time. You can chart the rise (and fall) of colloquialisms like “sockdollager” or “take the egg”—or even “that slaps.” 

“Ngrams simply aggregates the use of words or phrases across the entire Google Books dataset,” says Michael Ballbach, a software engineer who works on Google Books. “It then allows users to graph the usage of those words or phrases through time.” Each word being searched is a “gram” that the tool searches across its database. 

Ngrams’s capabilities have grown recently, thanks to an update in 2019 that added approximately 19 million more books to its dataset. “For the English language corpus, that adds trillions of words,” Michael says. For context, that’s roughly the equivalent of three million copies of “War and Peace!”

But there’s one phrase—er, four grams—that’s been surfacing more and more during these...challenging, unprecedented, uncertain, unusual times that I’m particularly interested in: “Now more than ever.” 

Perhaps you’ve even noticed it? “Now more than ever” has invaded our vernacular; in fact, I’m sure you’ve read it (or a similar phrase) in a Keyword post or two. So I decided to dive into Ngrams to see if “now more than ever” is showing up...now more than ever. While we’re currently experiencing a spike, there have been others: In the early 1940s, around 1915-1920 and in 1866. Between 1805-1809 it was particularly high—nearly as high as it is today.  

And then of course there was the banner year of 1752, when things peaked for “now more than ever.” 

Now more than ever

Today, as we’re living through a pandemic, wildfires, racial injustice and so, so much more, it feels obvious why we’re increasingly saying and hearing “now more than ever,” but what about back then? What things made people feel like everything had a certain crucialness? 

While the Ngrams team doesn’t investigate the causes of the booms and busts of words and phrases, for this particular exercise, I thought a little about what could have possibly been happening during these periods of “now more than ever.” I can imagine in the 1940s, World War II changed the lives of people everwhere. 1915-1920 was marked by World War I—and of course, the influenza pandemic of 1918. In 1866, the United States was emerging from civil war. 1805 to 1809 was a heady time for the young U.S. government.

“If you have the time or inclination, you can use Books Search to try and get some insights,” Michael explains. So I plugged in “now more than ever,” searched under Books, and toggled the time settings for 1751 to 1753 to try and see if I could glean anything about the peak year of 1752. And while I can’t say I know what about that time really pushed the “now more than everness,” a handful of British literary journals were definitely using the phrase. 

But things don’t stay at a “now more than ever” pitch. From 1955 to 1996, “now more than ever” was relatively uncommon, before climbing steeply up through the late 90s and early aughts to today. 

Maybe you, like me, may find some comfort in knowing that this moment in time—as unprecedented, challenging and uncertain as it may be—is not the only one in which everything is “now more than ever.” Maybe you, too, can appreciate the light Ngrams sheds on the lives of the words we choose. 

“I think that language is evolving just like society is evolving. That is, language is a reflection of the society that used it, and vice versa,” Michael says. “How the use of language changes over time reflects at least some of the changes taking place in the wider world. Having better tools to look at one can hopefully lead to insights in the other.” 

And if you’re feeling very “now more than ever,” just remember: This too shall pass


 
 
 

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