16 July 2020

Google-Style Office Perks Go Mainstream

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Offices outside of Silicon Valley are making their offices more employee friendly with recreational space, free food and other perks.  The offices of Alterra LLC house an NCAA-regulation-size basketball court, a TruGolf simulator and a 90-inch television permanently tuned to ESPN. Food trucks come monthly to treat the staff to lunch, and fridges stocked with free bottles of Propel water dot the office. Alterra doesn’t make software, computer chips or driverless cars. The Provo, Utah, company sells pest-control services. But its managers want employees to feel as cosseted as any in Silicon Valley.

As companies try to put themselves on a path to faster growth, some are mimicking the workplace practices—and lavish perks—at technology behemoths like Google Inc. and Facebook Inc. In industries as varied as insurance, electrical contracting and auto loans, managers are spending millions on office upgrades and amenities like free food and comped vacations, claiming that such trappings elevate jobs in unglamorous sectors, helping to recruit employees and to convince high performers to stay.

More than 11% of waste-management companies provide free snacks and drinks for employees, according to 2013 data from the Society for Human Resource Management, and 16% of insurance companies offer dry-cleaning services. Employers have begun paying more attention to their workplaces over the past two years, says John Bremen, a managing director with human-resources consulting firm Towers Watson. He has seen squash courts and lap pools at some companies, and at one bank, rest areas for employees complete with sofas and soothing music—something that wouldn’t have occurred a decade ago.

Alterra Chief Executive David Royce says the writings of Zappos.com Inc. CEO Tony Hsieh prompted his focus on employee happiness, which Mr. Hsieh claims breeds corporate success. Mr. Royce later spent hours scrolling through photos of tech-company offices online, concluding “it’s not fair that they have all the fun.”

Tech giants have long used whimsical workspaces and generous perks to impress recruits and set themselves apart from typical corporate offices. Workplace designers like Primo Orpilla, whose design firm Studio O+A has created offices for Uber Technologies Inc. and Yelp Inc., say they are hearing from finance and contracting firms looking for similarly eye-catching amenities—even as some Silicon Valley companies play down the wacky touches.

Scott Lesizza, a founding principal of WorkWell Partners, which sells office furnishings, says about half the clients he meets cite Google as a model for their workplaces. But those ambitions ebb once he lays out the costs. For example, clients love a fake bookshelf that opens to reveal a private room—a setup found in Google’s Manhattan offices—until they learn such furnishings can cost around $40,000, he says.

Asher Raphael says Power Home Remodeling Group LLC had a few cubicles and a vending machine when he began working there in 2003. The home-improvement contractor’s leaders say they are now pushing to take the business from “good to great”—quoting the title of Jim Collins’s best-selling business book—and the firm spends upward of $4 million each year on employee perks. That money pays for things like an annual trip for all 1,550 employees and their guests to a Cancún resort, with performances by acts like Snoop Dogg, as well as a plant-covered “living wall” being installed in its Chester, Pa., office.

Stronger candidates are applying for jobs, according to Mr. Raphael, and employee retention has improved by 43% in the past three years. In 2012, the company offered a position to 29% of applicants; today only 14% get offers, and more candidates accept offers, too. Hiring via employee referrals has also risen—70% of this year’s hires will come on board that way, according to the company—a sign that employees like the workplace enough to recommend it to others. And employees work longer hours now, too.

Other companies accept their limits. The first year that Kansas City, Mo., engineering, construction and consulting firm Burns & McDonnell was on Fortune’s 100 Best Companies to Work For list, CEO Greg Graves told two deputies to find out which company was No. 1 and how his firm could beat it. They informed him that the top spot was held by Google, which offered nap pods, free food and pet care.

Click here to access the full article on The Wall Street Journal.

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