Silicon Valley firms betting that perks will work

Hope incentives inspire employees to join and stay

Pool tables and massage chairs are made available to Google employees in Mountain View, Calif.
Jeff Chiu/Associated Press
Pool tables and massage chairs are made available to Google employees in Mountain View, Calif.

CUPERTINO, Calif. — Apple’s ring-shaped, gleaming ‘‘Spaceship Headquarters’’ will include a world-class auditorium and an orchard for engineers to wander. Google’s new Bay View campus will feature walkways angled to force accidental encounters. Facebook, while putting final touches on a Disney-inspired campus including a Main Street with a barbecue shack, sushi house, and bike shop, is already planning an even larger, more exciting new campus.

More than ever before, Silicon Valley firms want their workers at work.

Yahoo’s chief executive, Marissa­ Mayer, has gone so far as to ban working from home, and many more companies offer prodigious incentives for coming to the office, such as free meals and massages.


This spring, as the tech industry is soaring out of the Great Recession, plans are in the works for a flurry of massive, perks-laden headquarters.

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‘‘We’re seeing the mature technology companies trying to energize their work environments, getting rid of cube farms and investing in facilities to compete for talent,’’ said Kevin Schaeffer, a principal at architecture and design firm Gensler in San Jose. ‘‘That’s caused a huge transition in the way offices are laid out.’’

New Silicon Valley headquarters or expansions are underway at most of the area’s major firms, including eBay, ­Intel, LinkedIn, Microsoft, Netflix, Nvidia, and Oracle. Many will be huge: Apple’s 176-acre campus will be one of the world’s largest workplaces.

On the outside, many of the new buildings boast striking designs and will collectively be among the most environmentally friendly in the country. Inside, there are walls you can draw on, Ping-Pong tables, Lego stations, gaming arcades, and free haircuts.

Critics say that while some perks and benefits are a good thing, the large, multibillion- dollar headquarters are colossal wastes of money that snub the pioneering technology these companies create.


‘‘Companies led by older management tend to be very controlling, but when I look at people in the 20s or 30s, they’re totally capable of working on their own and being productive,’’ said Kevin Wheeler, whose Future of Talent Institute researches and consults on human resources for Silicon Valley businesses. ‘‘To have artificial structures that require everybody to be in the office at certain hours of the day is simply asinine.’’

Wheeler said he thinks that Yahoo called everyone back to the office ‘‘because they had gotten into a culture of laziness,’’ and that the firm will probably loosen the restrictions soon.

Yahoo was, in fact, an early model of Silicon Valley’s happy workplace culture, touting its espresso bar and inspirational speakers as a method of inspiring passion and originality.

Yoga, cardio-kickboxing, and golf classes at the office, as well as discounts to ski resorts and theme parks, today help it receive top ratings as one of America’s happiest workplaces.

Companies say that extraordinary campuses are necessary to recruit and retain top talent and to spark innovation and creativity.


And there are business benefits and financial results for companies that keep their workers happy. The publicly traded 100 Best Companies to Work for consistently outperform major stock indexes and have more qualified job applicants and higher productivity, according to the San Francisco-based Great Place to Work Institute. That may not always be obvious, however.

‘‘People do work really, really hard here,’’ Facebook spokesman Slater Tow said as an engineer glided past second-floor conference rooms on a skateboard. ‘‘They have to be passionate about what they do. If they’re not, we would rather someone who is.’’

He points out the Jumbotron frame for outdoor movies, the Nacho Royale taqueria, a bank branch with tellers standing by, an artist in residence.

Traditional benefits are part of the Silicon Valley packages, as well. Facebook offers free train passes, a shuttle to work, a month of paid vacation, full health care, and stock options.

About 6 miles north at Google’s headquarters, workers on one of more than 1,000 Google-designed bikes rolled from one building to another. Others stepped into electric cars, available for free checkouts if someone has an errand. In one office, two young engineers enjoyed a beer and shot pool.

Google doesn’t want its Googlers to have to worry about distractions in their life.

Concerned about the kids? Child care is on campus. Need to shop and cook? Have the family dine at Google. Dirty laundry piling up? Bring it in to the office. Bring Fido, too, so he doesn’t get lonely. There’s a climbing wall, nap pods (lay down in the capsule, set the alarm, zzzzz), a bowling alley, multiple gyms, a variety of healthy cafes, mini kitchens, and classes on anything from American Sign Language to Public Speaking. And in a community garden, Googlers plant seeds, knowing that if they get too busy, a landscaper will pull the weeds.