9 Quirky Things Every 'Cool' Workplace Is Required to Have
If you have any interest in games or animation or technology, you've probably watched a "look how fun and crazy our workplace is" video or photo tour of some company. They'll throw everything from scooters to Nerf guns at you to show you how their company is basically Willy Wonka's Chocolate Factory if Willy Wonka made software.
But if you watch enough of these tours you start to notice the same things coming up again and again. Exactly how "out of the box" is something when every single one of your competitors is doing the exact same thing? Take a look at these things and you decide:
I know what they were thinking here. "What would be a really great way to show our company is FUN and CRAZY? What if we had Nerf gun fights? I KNOW! Who DOES that? In an OFFICE!"
I'm just saying, it's not exactly Die Hard.
Each person posts theirs as if people's minds are going to be boggled that Nerf guns would be used in a workplace. This video actually uses the CEO (and possibly the only employee) of a web design company talking about Nerf gun strategy as an advertisement for the company. "THAT'S who I want designing my website!" you are meant to say. "This is no boring Joe Schmoe who will give me a beige-colored website. He is a craaaaazy thinker!"
There is nothing more exciting than a guy standing in front of a company logo without a Nerf gun, talking about Nerf guns.
But wait! What about CashLinq, which doesn't just allow Nerf gun fights in the office but actually issues an official Nerf gun to every employee hired? Nobody else would be so crazy as to take fun to the edge like that! Except TerraCycle, and Sudden Impact Marketing, and so many dotcoms in the '90s that it's a standard cliche for a wannabe-edgy company.
The other cliche would be the high-visibility mascot you have to sell when your company goes bankrupt.
The worst part is that Nerf guns probably knock down as much office morale as they boost, leading to a wash. For every employee that loves spontaneous cubicle battles, there is a terrified quiet person or grumpy curmudgeon that will either shut down or snap when the darts go flying. But if the bosses are wacky fun types, they'll just write these people off as party poopers who have negativity problems or something, and keep telling themselves that the forced Nerf culture is great for anyone who really counts.
"Cool" Pop Culture Decorations
The thing about a "cool" workplace is it has to show off how trendy and current it is, so the decorations have to be the most popular Internet memes or whatever the Internet thinks is cool that day, like goddamned Charlie Sheen or some old school Star Wars-original Legos if possible (to show that they liked Star Wars before it was cool).
YouTube is really going against the grain here by liking Star Wars.
Facebook demonstrates they are aware of the Charlie Sheen meme and the Obama Hope poster.
It can be a homey background decor if everybody's genuinely into that stuff, but when you display it prominently and make sure it gets photographed on a tour as a badge of how cool your company culture is, that's like a hipster pointing out their TMNT T-shirt to anyone in earshot.
Here are Zappos and Groupon showing that they remember something old that is supposed to be cool to remember now.
I might be impressed if it wasn't all Marvel titles.
I bet they quote lines from Labyrinth at each other too.
Meanwhile, Mashable put up an ironic Justin Bieber poster:
... only to find out that Twitter had done the exact same thing.
It's the same deal with foosball tables. If you have a foosball table and the employees enjoy it, that's cool, but these things are virtually standard equipment in every tech and game company. Showing them off during a tour with the tone of, "Can you believe we have one of THESE?" is just kind of sad if this is the seventh time your visitor has heard the same spiel.
If you really wanted to blow them away, I'd suggest getting an actual soccer field, or I guess maybe a basketball court if you want something your employees would actually want to use.
"Creative" Conference Room Names
Etsy also has "Slayer Cake" and "Wu-Tang Clams" conference rooms, because they are artistic.
Naming conference rooms after something punny or some kind of retro pop culture theme might sound good to a marketer or an image-conscious executive who wants to tell reporters how different their company is, but 9 out of 10 people who actually have to go to meetings will tell you they prefer conference rooms to be named in some fashion that tells you where the damned rooms are. "Second Floor Northwest" might not sound sexy, but your odds of actually getting all the participants to show up on time will go up exponentially compared to if you name it "Johnny Ewoker" or "Fighting Chuck Norris" or "Land War In Asia" or "fl33twood mac" or "LOLCat Stevens" or "Jay-ZOMG."
Those are all Facebook conference room names if anyone was looking for another reason to hate Facebook.
Another Facebook room.
As mentioned, "creative" naming of conference rooms can lead to internal chaos, such as when a Yahoo! employee was told a meeting was "in Limbo" and went back to his desk assuming the location hadn't been decided on.
They also often cross the line from a winky "We have a sense of humor and aren't stuffy office types," to an obnoxious "HEY LOOK AT ME I'M WACKY," as seen in the Facebook conference names. Other offenders include SoftLayer, which names its conference rooms after obscure inside jokes, which I'm sure visiting vendors and consultants enjoy as much as adults enjoy hearing a gaggle of teenage girls joke about which one of them is the craaaziest.
Poggled names its rooms after memes people won't remember six months from now, and SEOmoz names its rooms after comic/sci-fi locations (Batcave, Mos Eisley) that their children tell them are supposed to be cool.
Another feature that trendy loft offices might as well rent to their tenants as a standard option is the office dog. I'm pretty sure the only tech/animation/gaming/design workplace that doesn't allow dogs is mine because they are mean and have hearts of stone. I keep telling them all the other companies let their employees bring dogs and it's not fair, and they just respond by asking if all the other companies' employees jumped off a bridge, would I jump off a bridge too?
Well yes, if it wasn't a very high bridge, and it meant I could bring a dog to work. Here are some of what looks like 10 million companies that not only allow dogs but have an "official" office dog.
Blue Slate Digital.
The office of Senator Al Franken.
As you can see, having an official dog is adorable, but isn't a great move to make your office stand out.
Probably the most common symbol of the wacky workplace is the Razor scooter, or a skateboard, or some other child's toy that employees supposedly use to travel everywhere on campus.
Here's Pixar boss John Lasseter showing off the fun they have scooting around on scooters at Pixar:
Here's Mashable boss Pete Cashmore showing off the fun they have scooting around on scooters at Mashable:
Here's some dudes at PopCap Games showing off the fun they have scooting around on scooters at PopCap:
Here's some guy at Facebook showing off the fun they have skatboarding around on skateboards at Facebook:
And here's some parked scooters at Google New York that no one could be bothered to demonstrate for the tour:
At this point, it's been copied so much that you'll probably have to have your CEO putting around on a Big Wheel to get any attention.
Less dignity = more industry cred.
Another thing that everybody does to stand out from each other that makes them all look alike is the red accent wall. Beige and white walls symbolize a dull, conventional office environment. Why not show how different you are by painting one wall bright red? Who else is going to do that? Other than Blend ...
... Autodesk ...
... Etsy ...
... YouTube ...
... TechStars ...
... Valve ...
... and many more, but you probably don't want to sit here looking at red walls all day. If you do, I have good news for you, the tech sector is hiring.
Red accent walls have nothing on orange couches though. I know it's easy to look at an orange couch and go, "What if we had THIS in the office? Everybody has office couches but nobody has ORANGE ones, since it's such a bright and unconventional color!" Apparently about 100 tech company decorators went to their various IKEAs at the same time and had the exact same thought.
That's why cutting edge workplaces like Google London ...
... Twitter ...
... PopCap ...
... Skype London ...
... Digg ...
... Mozilla ...
... Groupon ...
... Google Stockholm ...
... and a ton of other companies all look suspiciously similar.
By this point, the frustrated office designer is tearing their hair out, seeing as every idea for making the office different is being used by every other office that wants be different. "But wait!" they go. "I've got it! What if, instead of using the stairs, you took a SLIDE from the second floor to the first floor! That's NUTS!" Sure, no one else would think of that. Just every Silicon Valley firm in the '90s. And every Google office today:
Google New York.
Google San Francisco - hey! Orange couch.
And Red Bull.
And Epic Games.
And some office complex in England.
This isn't even a company. This is just an office building that some developer built and is going to rent out to a bunch of businesses, with the deal sweetener of, "Also, it has a slide." That's how ho-hum slides are now. You use them to sell office space to people.
Now a lot of these workplaces are a big step up from working at your average standard-cubicle distribution office or investment firm, sure. But the way they gush about these traits like they're reinventing the workplace or something is ridiculous considering how many other companies are doing the exact same things, in the exact same colors even. As far as who's really setting the bar for a "different" workplace, take a look at Inventionland:
Love it or hate it, you got to admit they don't half-ass it when trying to make a "different" kind of office. They're not just painting a wall red or bringing in a foosball table, they're planting their employees in the middle of goddamned Disneyland. I don't know if that helps them work or not but it sure as hell is commitment to being different.
When your average Nerf-gunning PR person brags to the media about how they're doing wacky, creative things with offices that nobody's done before, they should look at this place and hang their heads in shame. And then take down those stupid internet meme posters.
For more from Christina, check out 5 Reasons Why Anticonformity Is Worse Than Conformity and 6 Things Movies Love to Get Wrong About The Workplace.