Companies are getting weirder on purpose, and it’s working.
Publicity has shone an approving spotlight on Google’s (GOOG) and Facebook’s (FB) laid-back corporate cultures. Much as these companies have set the precedent for the Internet, they have affected the way others interact with their employees both in and out of the office. What every successful CEO is recognizing is that while the customer may be king, the employee is more than a footservant.
Much of the shift has come from an effort to make employees feel that the office is a second home where they are free to exercise their creativity and originality. Google is the most well known example of corporate adaptability — offices in Japan are furnished with a blend of traditional Japanese aesthetics and signature Google beanbag chairs and pool tables. Google Toronto sticks to Canada’s green streak, using recycled materials throughout the office and generating 100% of its power from clean sources. But for those companies working to get their feet off the ground with only one office and a limited budget, a more individualized corporate culture becomes the primary tool to unite all employees.
Unique Corporate Atmosphere Attracts Unique Talent
Eric Ryan, CEO and cofounder of Method Home Products, a home-cleaning product company, explains that the rush to laidback corporate culture arises from a necessity to attract the best candidates. In his opinion, companies like Method must now set themselves apart “because we have to be different. We’re in a war for talent.” Trying to recruit jobseekers to sign on with a soap company sounds like a challenge. Add the uncertainty of employment in a startup, and the necessity of a unique culture becomes evident.
And his employees — known internally as the “People Against Dirty” — are all on board. Method’s own blend of “weird” is less rule-based and more self-directed. Ryan shared that employees are encouraged to organize yoga outings, bring breakfast burritos for the team, even going so far as promoting horse betting as a corporate bonding activity. Sombreros are donned at Monday morning huddles, and one team member leads the crew to set the week’s goals and schedule. Personal news and ‘Shout Outs of Awesomeness’ are shared at each huddle, giving employees the chance to connect as individuals.
Not A Good Fit? Get Paid to Leave Early
Tony Hsieh, CEO of Zappos.com, penned a book on success that is part memoir, part self-help narrative. In an account of his own path to Zappos and his experience therein, Delivering Happiness teaches entrepreneurs the method for employee and customer satisfaction, from the inevitable first failures to the final successes. Hsieh was himself a graduate of the typical corporate environment, leaving his position at Oracle feeling dissatisfied with the stuffy and confining culture.
While a sincere, committable set of core values centered around being outspoken and uniquely odd is intriguing, Hsieh doesn’t assume that every new hire will feel connected to Zappos culture. On top of pay for the time they’ve spent training, Hsieh offers new hires $2,000 to leave in order to weed out those who are only there for a Friday payday. He is also unafraid to fire at the drop of a hat — or rather, a shoe — if a new hire doesn’t fit Zappos culture, regardless of technical performance.
Free Housecleaning and Unlimited Vacation, Anyone?
Evernote CEO Phil Libin has done away with office phones, and lengthy email threads are discouraged. What is promoted is real face-to-face communication, which is notably unique in a general tech culture of quick texts and tweets (especially when Evernote pays for employees’ cell phone plans). What could be interpreted as overly restrictive is, for Libin, an effort to remove distraction and miscommunication. The real challenge in his opinion lies in reintroducing an appreciation for traditional employee interaction.
And while a cellphone-only policy may be terrifying for some, Evernote’s unlimited vacation policy more than makes up for it. As long as Evernote employees complete their projects, Libin supports any length of vacation time. It is his goal, and the goal of every new company striving for success and corporate appeal, “to ask whether a particular policy exists because it’s a default piece of corporate stupidity that everyone expects you to have, or does it actually help you accomplish something?”
He and his Evernote team discovered that phones detract and vacations add to productivity, but even more bizarre is Evernote’s coverage of professional housecleaning twice a month. The reasoning behind this business expense is secure home life; when the domestic chores of dishes and dust bunnies are removed, spouses no longer have to question whether employment at Evernote is distracting from home duties.
Is This A Good Thing?
For those seeking employment, while the opportunity to be weird on the job may seem great on paper, it weeds out those who prefer to keep their quirks to themselves. The most popular employers are quickly adopting their own prerequisites of employee uniqueness, and while most companies are not as quick to fire the humdrum coworker as Zappos’ Hsieh, it does call into question whether this obsession with the weird is eliminating reserved, more tradional talent.
And while we all want to be comfortable in our workspaces, the concern over underlying corporate motives is worth exploring. What better way for Google to keep you working longer hours if the office complex has a gym, an espresso bar and ergonomic chairs to for midday naps?
But the underlying drive is not sinister. Companies that rely on rapid evolution and creativity are working to make employees feel more at home because, as Method’s Eric Ryan notes, employers are battling with each other as intensely as job seekers are with their competitors in the application pool.
What this fixation appears to be is a new angle on communication. An article published in Psychology Today found that those who consider themselves unique or odd are more likely to be outspoken, a crucial characteristic for pitching creative ideas without hesitation. Companies, especially startups, are looking for employees who are both talented and unafraid to push boundaries, and the perks they offer in return encourage unlimited creativity and an entire re-envisioning of the typical workplace.
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