The move away from more traditional office spaces was spearheaded by Google in 2003, when the tech giant relocated its headquarters to an extensive 2m square foot (45.9 acres) campus aptly titled Googleplex in Mountain View, California. With this move, Google set the standard for the fun office space, with features including ball pit meeting rooms, free food, and alcohol serving bars on site. The innovative workspaces and incredible amenities saw Google redefine the very idea of office life and permanently change the way we view the workplace.
“he additional amenities in Google’s new workspace altered the conventional employee-boss dynamic and saw employee needs and welfare pushed to the forefront of the company.”
The modern office space was part of their “motivation model” to promote productivity, creativity, and greater collaborative efforts. From their infamous playground-like slides to more sophisticated perks, such as in-house massages and mindfulness courses, the additional amenities in Google’s new workspace altered the conventional employee-boss dynamic and saw employee needs and welfare pushed to the forefront of the company.
Following the success of Google’s new office design, the fun workspace concept was quickly adopted by various other companies, particularly in the technology sector. Even Ryanair, the famously no-frills airline, got on board, moving its headquarters to an office space in Swords that boasts a slide, life-sized chess board, and cocktail bar.
Within the tech industry, these perk-filled, community-based work environments have become a staple. For employers, the benefits of this new model are twofold. Firstly, research suggests that the open, fun spaces that Google created resulted in a better environment for colleagues to exchange ideas and create collaboratively. Secondly, in a demanding sector with high staff turnover, this enticing environment also operates as a talent retention tactic.
“At the peak of the pandemic, employees all over the world were forced to work from home; now, two years on, many are still choosing to do so.”
However, the recent pandemic forced companies to reimagine the concept of the office once again. At the peak of the pandemic, employees all over the world were forced to work from home; now, two years on, many are still choosing to do so. With the push for a return to the office gaining traction, will the concept of the modern workspace continue to grow and develop, or has the pandemic put an end to the fad of the fun office and enticed us back to a work-from-home alternative?
Trinity News spoke with employees in the tech industry about their experience at these unique offices: do they find the perks helpful and motivating, or would they trade it all to be back working from home in a pair of pyjama bottoms?
Shyam Pradheep is an employee of Zogo, a financial literacy app that encourages teens to learn about personal finances by “gamifying” the process. He spoke to us about his experience working for the company in Austin, Texas.
Pradheep told us the office’s amenities include free food, massage chairs, meditation rooms, drink fridges, an espresso bar and a free subscription to the meditation app CALM for every employee. While this list may seem impressive, Pradheep notes the competitive nature of the industry: “The norm is set by the biggest tech companies in the world. They are known to have the most luxurious perks possible — not only massage chairs, but massages. To be able to compete and to be able to have talent, these are just considered standard, basic.”
“The [amenities’] worth comes from being able to attract the best talent, who expect something like that.”
In more competitive spaces, companies continue to pile on the perks in a bid to acquire the best talent. Pradheep told us about Zogo’s office in New York, noting the pool of talent that drives a competitive workspace: “New York is a very competitive space. A lot of the best talent in the world is over there, so they have higher expectations. The New York office has a gym that overlooks Central Park. The [amenities’] worth comes from being able to attract the best talent, who expect something like that.”
As well as a bid for talent, the perks are often centred around employee well-being. Speaking with an employee who previously worked for TikTok Europe, they noted that their perks of free food and coffee were pretty standard for a tech company. Amenities offered in the company’s New York office went a step further, providing employees with an in-house cinema and bowling alley. But beyond impressive facilities, TikTok had various employee engagement days, no-meeting days, and days off scheduled into your calendar. They note: “employee wellness was at the forefront of the company.”
When asked if they think the extra perks are worthwhile, they said it encouraged them to go into the office more, and stopped them spending money on food and drinks. They found the “fun” workspace environment to be more time efficient, boosting productivity and enjoyment levels.
However, they discussed the potential drawbacks of the fun workspace concept, noting: “I couldn’t help [but] wonder, what’s the environmental impact of having things on tap? The cans or bottles we go through in a day are all individually packaged. It’s a double-edged sword because you love to have stuff, but in an age where we are so aware of our consumerist nature, and also considering the cost-of-living crisis, being aware of how much free stuff I was getting [..] was a bit of a jarring experience.”
Following the pandemic, both Zogo and TikTok are operating a hybrid work system that allows people to work remotely and in person. The companies encourage coordination between staff so employees are in person on the same days to work together.
When asked about his preference of working in the office or working remotely, Pradheep says: “Personally, I like having the option to work remotely. I used to only work remotely as I started working during the peak of the pandemic. I have realised I have no boundaries and I just end up working 12-14 hours a day — that’s just messy. Right now, I go to the office every single day. I know that when I leave the office, my work day is done; I can just close my laptop and forget about it.”
Larger companies, like Google, also seem to be taking a more adaptive, hybrid approach as they redesign their office spaces to facilitate remote workers. They have designed new circular meeting spaces called Campfires that aim to intersperse video callers on large screens amongst the in-person staff. There has also been an expansion of outdoor meeting spaces in an effort to facilitate social distancing if necessary.
It’s still unclear what the future holds for these offices, and whether their seemingly unending perks will act as enough of an incentive to draw employees out from the cosy comforts of working from home. What employees need from a workplace is ever-changing, and in the aftermath of the pandemic, fresh question marks over the need for a physical workplace only add to the uncertainty. For now, at least, it’s safe to say that hybrid working is the newest workplace trend — and it’s not going anywhere any time soon.