Why does every damn place—even old-school corporate offices—have to be fun and full of foosball
You stroll into the office a little past 9 am. You got here in a company-sponsored bus that featured cushioned seats, Wi-Fi, and a distinct lack of eye contact. You are wearing weekend casual, even though it is a Wednesday. The office kitchen has green juice and kombucha growlers, which are free, as are breakfast and lunch. The office is lined with screens where your remote colleagues might pop up as talking heads. The CEO hoverboards past you. Then you find a desk—no one has assigned seats here—where you put down your laptop, don your over-the-ear headphones, and turn up the EDM to tune out the world around you for the next 12 hours. You are crushing it!
Sounds like Silicon Valley circa 2009, right? Well, surprise—this is Corporate America in 2020. More and more offices are adopting the work culture invented by the technology upstarts. These are not the offices where your grandparents worked, clocking out at 5 sharp, eyeballing the corner office. There is no corner office here—just “hot desks” and open floor plans, wide as the prairie.
Offices used to be gulags, but at least they had a clear purpose. You wouldn’t hang out in a cubicle farm, let alone spend time there on the weekends. Then companies like Google came along and reinvented the rat race into something with purpose and, along the way, confused work with the rest of life. Now, your coworkers are supposed to feel like a family. Hierarchies have been flattened, conventional job titles replaced by ones like “wizard” and “ninja.” The vacation days are unlimited (not that you’d ever take them). And forget about work-life balance. It’s all about work-life integration. Why else would the office have on-site acupuncture, nap pods, and free dinner after 7 pm?
These fanciful ideas were meant to liberate employees from the drudgery of the office. Instead, Silicon Valley ruined work culture—not just for people in tech but for all of us. (WIRED, in full disclosure, has open offices, a bring-your-dog-to-work policy, and a chef. But we do have to pay for our food.)
The hallmarks of Silicon Valley work culture have now spread. United Shore, a mortgage company in Michigan, has its own in-office escape room full of puzzles and ready for team-building exercises. Commvault, a data management company in New Jersey, has a slide that runs between the third and fourth floor—in addition to the requisite Ping-Pong, foosball, and pool tables. Now, at any old company, it is not out of the question to find a built-in meditation space, an on-call masseuse, or a chef, like the one offered by Ohio-based health care company CoverMyMeds. Then there are the seemingly generous policies around vacation days and time off. Nationwide, the insurance company, gives employees the option to take two Fridays off per month in its Ohio headquarters. This is not just to be nice. “We think we’ll get a productivity lift from this perk,” Gale King, the company’s chief administrative officer, told Columbus Business First.
Even super-old companies are bending toward Silicon Valley’s new rules. Cargill, a major distributor of agricultural products, recently redesigned its offices with an open layout and adopted a more liberal remote-work policy. “I can tell you we spent 34 million minutes on video calls last month alone,” says Justin Kershaw, Cargill’s CIO. Cargill is 155 years old but has recently begun to modernize by modeling itself after a tech company, including a shift toward the agile methodology favored in the Valley. “We have made trips to Silicon Valley, the entire executive team, to meet with founders and investors in innovation,” says Kershaw. “We’ve certainly brought back ideas.”