The myth of the cool office

June 25th, 2014

This piece on The Wire is over a year old but this morning Unmark reminded me that I had read it last year around this time. I think it still rings very true today.

In general it speaks to how the perks of the modern-day tech company are really a waving-of-the-hands to entice people to work there — when in reality the perks don’t really add up to perks at all.

On unlimited vacation days:

The marketing company Xiik, for example, boasts the limitless vacation offer, but in its fine print discourages long hiatuses. “There are no hidden agendas; xiik employees can take as much paid time off as needed,“ claims a Xiik project manager on the company website, before clarifying what that really means: “As nice as it would be to regularly leave for months at a time, common sense prevails: In most cases, it simply doesn‘t make sense to be away from work for extended periods.”

On open office spaces:

Despite all the idealized talk from the Yahoos and Googles of the world all about lofty, cubicle-free, office-less offices and how they increase productivity and serendiptiy and “casual collisions of the workforce,“ they actually don‘t work like that.

This is a tough one. Using a software company as the only use case one could argue that at certain points during the product planning phases a shared, collaborative office space is ideal while later on it proves to be a productivity suck.

I fall on the side that with the right team that knows when to stay out of each other’s hair you can get a lot of work accomplished in a shared office space environment. It isn’t always the fault of a space that someone isn’t getting work done. It is often the people.

And, finally, on free lunches:

And while a stocked office fridge might keep people hanging around for an extra hour on either side of their official eight hours, eating at your desk does not, in fact, make workers more productive.

The article loses me a bit here. A free lunch doesn’t, or at least shouldn’t, mean “eating at your desk”. At larger companies like Google or Twitter, there are large well-lit areas to enjoy a very health meal. This sort of set up is ideal and keeps teams together, collaborating, builds team relationships, causes “collisions” as they say in the biz. But, for the love of everything, don’t make your employees eat at their desks.