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
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.
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