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Last week, I took a group of high school students on a tour of Google Pittsburgh. The goal was simple. Give these students an experience that would change their perception of the workplace and their role in it.

There’s probably no better place to do that than at Google.

The lessons we learned along the tour made it easy to understand why Google made the #1 spot on Fortune Magazine’s list of Best Companies to Work for in 2012.

It’s all about teamwork – No matter how smart a software engineer or another employee is, they don’t work alone. At Google, it takes multiple skill sets to create internet products and services. The workplace environment is built with that in mind. Instead of closed cubicles, you’ll find open pod spaces and lots of other creative and collaborative spaces. Places where employees can be alone and most especially, where they can work together.

Communicate openly and respectfully – If Google employees don’t agree with someone’s idea, they say so, but they also explain why they don’t agree. It’s not only respectful, but that kind employee engagement could lead to a better solution.

Get away from the desk – Often times, this is when the best ideas come. Google Pittsburgh’s work spaces offer ample freedom to move about the cabin – including an area for video games and foosball; a music suite complete with guitars and a drum set; a library outfitted in over-sized brown leather couches; and a giant, yellow hammock hung high and decked with colorful pillows.

Make time to learn new things – Employees get to spend 20% of their work week exploring other areas of interest unrelated to their current project. Google Art Project, an online platform that enables users to take a virtual tour of world-wide museum galleries, was born from the company’s 20 Percent Time. What could you create if you devoted 20% of your week to learning something new?

Reward employees well – Google did the research on what makes employees happy and designed benefits to keep them that way. After all, happy employees stick around. Benefits include five months paid leave for new mothers; fully stocked kitchen pantries and an onsite chef; an exercise room; message rooms; and the benefit that got the most “ah’s” on the tour, Rufus – the freedom to bring your dog to work.

To think outside of the box, you need to get outside of the box. These eight high school students, all from Geibel Catholic Jr/Sr High School in Connellsville, PA, did and discovered that they, and their future workplaces, can be anything they imagine.

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