From skate ramps to chocolate fountains: Why dotcom offices still party like it's 1999
Saturday 09 July 2011
It used to be company cars, pensions and private healthcare plans that lured bright young things in to otherwise dull office careers.
Now, with the second tech boom in full swing, a new generation of companies is luring talented people in rather different ways.
Skating ramps, tents for napping, indoor treehouses, chocolate fountains, gourmet meals and "Yoga Tuesdays" are among the latest examples of the "perk bubble", as emerging tech companies compete for the hottest coders in town.
Airbnb.com, founded by 29-year-old Joe Gebbia, is a website where people rent their homes or rooms directly to holidaymakers. At the centre of its San Francisco offices is a two-storey tree-house, as well as an Eastern mysticism-themed "peace room", and a section of an out-of-service jet.
Staff regularly work late into the night, and at weekends, so playtime needs to be taken seriously. "Moustache Monday" is regularly declared on a social calendar stuck on the wall, encouraging staff to wear false moustaches for the day. Yoga sessions are before a company lunch on Tuesdays.
Thursday is the day for "recess", with accompanied fun and games. Last Friday there was a rooftop barbeque, on Saturday an air-guitar contest. This month, rapper M.C. Hammer is visiting.
Technology companies maintain it is a crowded marketplace for young talent, and the esoteric perks are necessary to attract, and keep, staff. Although California is the centre of the perk bubble, it is a phenomenon increasingly seen in the UK. Music streaming website Last.fm, a British company founded in 2002 and sold to CBS for £140m in 2007, often throws parties in the giant ball-pit in its east London office.
Back in the US, at Yelp.com, a user review site which passes verdict on everything from rock concerts to supermarket pies, three beer kegs sit in the "break-room", with inbuilt iPads informing staff what brew is inside.
Online storage site Dropbox features a "rock-room" where employees play guitars and drums. Another is used to play dance arcade games. At Google's Zurich office, staff descend to the canteen down metal slides.
Yet worryingly, the extravagance of one's office is by no means an accurate barometer for a company's success. The iPhone app Color launched in March to much fanfare, promising to revolutionise the way photos were shared, but four months later, the president has gone and the revolution has not been forthcoming. Yet the staff still sit on beanbag chairs, indulge in nap-time in special tents and take turns on a hand-built half-pipe skateboard ramp in the middle of the office.
Airbnb is faring rather better. Bookings have increased by 800 per cent in the last year. "I think it feels like home," founder Joe Gebbia told the Wall Street Journal, perhaps because the entire 25,000sq ft office is based on his own apartment.
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